Former detention centre comes back into service

THE federal government will reopen a mothballed immigration detention centre in remote north-western Australia to hold Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status have been put on hold.The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said yesterday that the Curtin air force base would be used to hold asylum seekers affected by the government’s decision to suspend processing claims by newly arrived Sri Lankans and Afghans for three and six months respectively.The base is about 40 kilometres south-west of Derby in Western Australia and was closed as a detention centre by the Howard government in 2005 after a riot.But Senator Evans said that it would be upgraded in coming weeks to provide accommodation for up to 300 single males who would be held separately from other asylum seekers.”It makes sense for the government to manage this group of asylum seekers in one secure location,” Senator Evans said.”We’re looking to use Curtin because we want to keep the caseloads separate.”Yesterday the government was also planning to send about 70 asylum seekers from Christmas Island to Darwin and another 60 unaccompanied minors to Port Augusta. But mechanical problems with a plane meant the transfers were postponed.The decision to reopen the Curtin detention centre was criticised by refugee advocacy groups and the opposition.The chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, Paul Power, said it was one of the most remote places in Australia and had been notorious in the past for being one of the worst onshore detention centres.”This population of asylum seekers will include torture and trauma survivors and services for them will be nigh on impossible to deliver,” Mr Power said.”There is next to nothing there. Why on earth would you choose to reopen Curtin as an immigration detention centre when there are more credible, humane and effective approaches which could be adopted?”The opposition’s immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said the decision to reopen Curtin showed that the Rudd government’s border protection policies had failed. ”They are going to open a detention facility that the Howard government closed some years ago because it simply wasn’t needed,” Mr Morrison said.Senator Evans said he had instructed his department to ensure that appropriate support services were available.
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Man dies after wheelie bin ride

A YOUNG man has died and another was in Gosford Hospital with serious injuries after riding a wheelie bin down a long, steep street on the central coast at the weekend.The practice, in which a wheelie bin is laid on its side and then ridden down the street, is well documented on YouTube.Sometimes the bins have modifications such as handled bars for steering; others are cut away to make seats. Some video clips have children riding them.The 22-year-old Umina man died after riding a wheelie bin down Lone Pine Avenue, which runs on to Kingsview Drive, at Umina Beach in the early hours of yesterday morning. Police believe that he and another man rode the bin down the street, lying one on top of the other, then struck the gutter and were thrown into a small tree.Another man had gone down the hill on another bin before realising his friends had not reached the bottom.A Lone Pine Avenue resident, Andrea Cartwright, said it was ”an accident waiting to happen”.”Kingsview Drive has been a favourite place for kids who would ride down the hill face-first on skateboards,” she said.”It’s such a steep hill that cars have trouble doing more than 20km/h up it.”A police statement said the men were treated by friends until emergency services arrived shortly after 3am. ”Investigators believe that while one man lay on the bin, the second was on top of him, but they struck the gutter as they continued with their descent,” police said.”A 22-year-old Umina man appears to have struck a small tree and suffered massive head injuries while a 19-year-old Umina man has broken ribs and internal injuries.”NSW Ambulance said staff performed CPR on the 22-year-old en route to Gosford Hospital, where he died. The other man was last night still in Gosford Hospital in a stable condition. A report will be prepared for the coroner.with Michelle Harris and Stephen Ryan
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Human rights act canned as election looms

THE federal government is preparing to announce that it will not create a human rights act for Australia despite the recommendations of a report it commissioned last year.The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, is planning to outline the government’s response to the report, by a human rights consultation committee headed by the Jesuit lawyer Father Frank Brennan, in a National Press Club speech on Wednesday.Sources say he is likely to promise improved parliamentary scrutiny of new laws for human rights issues, the addition of human rights to the national schools curriculum, and increased funding and functions for the Australian Human Rights Commission.But, as predicted, the government appears set to sidestep the key reform – a bill or charter of rights – because cabinet is divided on its political implications.It is unclear whether a bill of rights has been ruled out or simply shelved for further debate if the government wins a second term. Mr McClelland’s office would not comment yesterday.The expected response would be a victory for the federal opposition and Labor figures such as former premier Bob Carr and the NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, who have campaigned against a bill of rights. Mr Hatzistergos was heard to quip to former Labor MP and rights advocate Susan Ryan at a recent constitutional law conference at the Art Gallery of NSW that he was ”sorry for her loss”.Although most developed nations have one, resistance to a bill or charter of rights has centred around fears of a power shift from parliaments to judges, who would be asked to assess whether laws are compatible with human rights, although without the power of veto. There have also been fears it could prevent religious institutions such as schools from hiring religious staff.Cabinet has considered the issue several times, and is reported to remain divided.Some ministers are said to feel the political battle for a bill of rights is not worth the pain, especially before an election.But others are said to be concerned about the effect of squibbing the charter issue in marginal inner-city seats where the Greens – who support a bill – are posing a threat to sitting members.Ms Ryan, the chairwoman of the Australian Human Rights Group, said any government response that fell short of a human rights act ”would be a huge disappointment among all those organisations that work for vulnerable people and are hoping for a better deal from the government”.If not this week, she said she expected it would happen in the future.The Brennan report’s recommendations were based on public consultations across the country and 35,014 written responses, of which 27,888 supported a charter or human rights act, while 4203 were against it.
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Build fences, ban knives to cut suicides

LONG-POINTED knives should be banned and protective barriers should be built at all well-known jumping sights to lower Australia’s suicide rate, a psychiatrist says.Buy-backs of guns and car conversions that prevented them from being used for gassing suicides have coincided with a drop in suicides by those methods but no increases in most other methods of suicide, a University of NSW psychiatrist, Matthew Large, wrote in an article published in The Medical Journal of Australia today.”You would think that if you prevented one method, then the person would move on to another method but all the evidence is against that,” Dr Large said.”If you make suicide more difficult, then people won’t do it or they will choose a method that is less successful.”People who decided to commit suicide were often drawn to areas and methods that were known, such as The Gap, Dr Large said.Lifeline: 131 114
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Catholic system better for schools program: manager

THE man charged with rebuilding NSW public schools admits the state government’s $3.4 billion share of Commonwealth funds could have been better spent had he been given greater control of the program and greater flexibility in distributing funding between public schools.Robert Leece, the infrastructure co-ordinator-general for the NSW National Building and Jobs Plan Taskforce, said the Catholic school system had been more efficient at distributing funding between schools than the more rigid government system.Mr Leece said public schools would have had better value for money under the Building the Education Revolution program if it had been administered in the way used for the Catholic schools, which had centrally pooled funds.”The Catholic system is the ideal way of running a program like this,” Mr Leece said.He said there were only 104 ”disgruntled” schools that had complained after the delivery of 2386 government primary school projects under the federal government’s $16.2 billion program.The program delivered new classrooms, libraries, halls and outdoor learning areas. Of the schools that complained, 20 had serious issues and the remainder took up ”very minor issues”, he said.Among the complainants was Hastings Public School, at Port Macquarie. In its initial application for funds to the Commonwealth, the NSW Department of Education estimated the cost of new classrooms at $2.5 million and a covered outdoor learning area at $400,000.After contractors visited the school to make a more detailed assessment, the cost for the 803-square-metre covered area was estimated at $940,000.The final tender price for the area was closer to $720,000 for a streel structure, concrete netball court, special lighting, acoustics, disabled access, insulation and retaining walls with a balustrade.A smaller construction at the school had cost than $100,000 in 2003. It was 522 square metres in size, with sheet metal cladding on a prefabricated steel frame.Mr Leece described media reports about the costings as ”hot air”, adding that the school principal had changed his mind about wanting the covered netball court and opted for two more classrooms.Rejecting claims that the Howard government’s $1.1 billion Investing in our Schools program provided better value for money for public schools because the Commonwealth had funded schools directly, Mr Leece said the project management process had allowed for bulk purchasing of building supplies.”We are doing it far more efficiently than John Howard ever did it because we have the economies of scales for management costs,” Mr Leece said.Stephen O’Doherty, who heads Christian Schools Australia, said the positive experience of independent schools under the program ”contrasts with many of those in state schools”.”It raises an important policy issue [that it is] better to provide management of projects as close as possible to the local level. That way school communities get to have a very direct oversight of their project; they get what they want,” he said.Dan White, who heads the system of mainstream Sydney Catholic schools, said: ”Part of our secret was that we weren’t trying to put predesigned building in school communities without thoroughly consulting them in the first place.”Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools, said the program had been better value than the Investing in Our Schools program because funds were managed at the school site.
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Stimulus building chief in bid to take over NSW planning

THE man in charge of spending $7 billion of federal stimulus funds says the program has been so successful his office should take over most of the state’s major planning decisions.The infrastructure co-ordinator-general and chairman of the NSW National Building and Jobs Plan Taskforce, Bob Leece, says he will lodge a submission to a planning inquiry set up by the Premier, Kristina Keneally, last month arguing his office is well placed to handle big decisions because it is ”not political”.Mr Leece, the former No. 2 in the Olympic construction authority, said he had already met the inquiry head, Neil Shepherd, who he said was impressed with the speed at which public housing was being built and money spent on schools.Mr Leece’s office was granted extraordinary powers to bypass planning laws and speed up the spending of federal funds and, despite some ”grumbling”, he saw no reason why such powers could not remain in force permanently.”The planning approvals and the achievements we have made have been very good and I would like it extended to other areas of activity … it could be extended into many areas across the state,” he said.His office had allowed public consultation and the assessment to be done in parallel, speeding the process.”For instance, I have approved two things … that local councils could not have approved: one is the car park at Cabramatta station … and the other is sporting fields in Mudgee. Those councils recognise they could never have got them approved because of local politics so they came to the ICG for approval.”Mr Leece said his office should handle ”everything under part 3A” of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act: projects of state significance such as large housing, commercial or industrial developments now approved by the Planning Minister.He also argued he could assess smaller projects valued at more than $10 million and said ”there’s potential to lower that threshold”, although it would not include single houses.His push to extend his powers drew a furious response from the head of the Local Government Association and North Sydney mayor, Genia McCaffery, who said consultation by the office was a joke.She said local government was losing control over planning, and communities were understandably frustrated by their lack of influence. ”He reckons he’s consulted by telling people two days before the development is going to happen,” she said. ”I don’t call that consultation … Sometimes communities are consulted and sometimes not. It’s whatever they feel like doing.”She said the Shepherd inquiry was ”a rubber stamp” and she would not be surprised if Mr Leece got his way.”The community should be very fearful. It’s carte blanche for developers. Our experience of the government is it is all about giving the big end of town what they want.”
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Gillard faints at Anzac event

JULIA GILLARD needs to remember to eat before attending Anzac Day ceremonies.While low blood pressure may be an impressive achievement for a politician, yesterday, for the second time in four years, the Deputy Prime Minister swooned during an Anzac Day service in her Melbourne electorate of Lalor.”I’m fine, 100 per cent fine,” a slightly embarrassed Ms Gillard assured the Herald last night.In unseasonably warm weather, Ms Gillard fainted and needed to be helped to her feet during the service.Local Anzac Day services are held in electorates a week before the real thing on April 25.Ms Gillard completed the rest of her official duties at the ceremony. She blamed low blood pressure and standing for a long time in the warm weather.In April 2007, Ms Gillard, then the deputy opposition leader, was treated by ambulance officers after showing signs of fainting at the local Werribee Anzac parade.”I had rushed there from another commitment, hadn’t eaten lunch, so towards the end of the ceremony felt a tiny touch light-headed and was basically fine,” she said after the event.”So I thought I will fall out of the official lines … and take a seat, and some very dear St John Ambulance volunteers were then concerned about me and I sat in the … van and had a yak with them, and that was really it.”Yesterday, the ambulance officers were not so eagle eyed.
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Dumped at Heathrow, deportee died of overdose, Coroner rules

A DEPRESSED father with known drug and alcohol problems died from a heroin overdose two days after Australia deported him to Britain and left him at Heathrow Airport with a cash allowance of about $700 in his pocket, a British coronial inquiry has found.Scottish-born Andrew Moore, 43, had lived in Australia for 32 years, but had never become a citizen, when the government removed him last October for failing the Migration Act’s character test after he served a sentence for manslaughter.Mr Moore’s family in Australia, including a teenage son, and supporters had pleaded for him to be allowed to stay due to severe physical and mental illness. The family says the government failed him, and legal and migration experts say it could have prevented his death, but the Immigration Minister and his department deny any responsibility.Mr Moore’s government-appointed doctor, Ed Morgan, provided him with an open letter to British doctors warning that he was at risk of relapsing into alcohol, heroin and benzodiazepine abuse.”He has expressed fears that in a new country with limited support he will again be likely to relapse,” Dr Morgan wrote. ”Having known Andrew for many years I … feel drug and alcohol support is paramount to his ongoing care.”In a statement, Mr Moore’s family expressed their ”disappointment at the failure of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to put in place sufficient support networks for Andrew on his deportation to the United Kingdom. This is particularly given that Andrew had lived most of his life in Australia and was being deported to a country that he had no existing connection to.”The government does not owe a duty of care to non-citizens, but the family’s lawyer, Natasha Andrew, said: ”It begs the question, where the department has been put on notice of a detainee’s significant physical and psychological illnesses, as was the case with Andrew Moore, whether deporting an individual in these circumstances amounts effectively to an additional layer of punishment beyond any ever sanctioned by our judicial process.”The London policeman who investigated the death, Detective Constable Matthew Porter, concluded that Mr Moore had used the cash allowance to buy heroin, the inquest at London’s Southwark Coroner’s Court heard.Assistant Deputy Coroner Fiona Wilcox found the cause of death was ”dependent abuse of drugs”. She did not rule out suicide given Mr Moore had been depressed, but left the question open because there was no evidence of his state of mind at the time of his death.The Australian government booked accommodation and a drug and alcohol appointment for Mr Moore, but the inquest was unable to confirm whether he used either service before dying in the hallway of a South London apartment block two days after being escorted to Britain by a doctor, two federal police officers and an immigration official.The coroner noted removal happened despite representations from Mr Moore’s parents.Greg Barns, a director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said a government welfare worker should have accompanied Mr Moore in London to ensure he used the appropriate services.”[The death] could arguably have been avoided if the Australian government had not been so determined to apply the law inflexibly,” Mr Barns said.Michael Grewcock, a lecturer at the University of NSW and an expert on character-test deportations, said that, notwithstanding the coroner’s finding, ”the Australian government still bears a moral responsibility for what happened”.”It was known Andrew Moore was seriously ill and that he had a history of substance abuse. It was entirely predictable that having been abandoned at Heathrow without any meaningful social support that he would be a risk to himself or others. He was, to all intents and purposes, Australian and his risk should have been addressed here via the parole system and the welfare services generally available to ex-prisoners”.A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, referred questions about responsibility to the department.A department spokesman said: ”The coroner’s findings do not alter the department’s earlier position that Mr Moore had no lawful right to remain in Australia. He was assessed by a medical professional as fit to fly, he had an appropriate treatment plan in place and the department had made contact with relevant UK authorities about his ongoing care”.
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YouTube rap sensation isn’t taking TB lying down

SINCE Christiaan Van Vuuren was locked in quarantine with tuberculosis in December, he has become a wanted man. Women send him naked photographs, offering to keep him company at night, gay men swoon when he dances in his underwear and his YouTube hits have almost reached 1 million.That’s because Van Vuuren is the Fully Sick Rapper, the latest internet celebrity sensation.It started as a way to pass the time and entertain his mates after Van Vuuren was diagnosed with multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis and placed in quarantine at Sydney Hospital.Now, 110 days into his stay, his hospital-themed rap video parodies have circled the world and caught the eye of the World Health Organisation, which is using him to promote tuberculosis awareness.”At first there were a couple of really awkward moments with the nurses,” Van Vuuren says. ”One walked in and I had all these heart monitors strapped to my head.The nurse was like, ‘Are you ok?’ Another time I was caught dancing with a cape on. Now they give about five or six knocks before they even peer in.”The WHO’s Stop TB program asked Van Vuuren to make a video for World Tuberculosis Day last month and he hopes to continue promoting awareness of the infectious disease.”[Stop TB] told me that whether I know it or not, what I’m doing is actually really good for tuberculosis, letting people know it’s not just a Third World issue.”Less than 1000 cases of tuberculosis, which is a bacterial disease mainly affecting the lungs, are reported in Australia each year and only 1 per cent of those are multi-drug-resistant.Van Vuuren, a 27-year-old outdoor advertising sales rep from Sydney, contracted the potentially deadly disease during travels in South Africa.Doctors discovered a hole in his lung after he was rushed to hospital last year coughing up blood. He has remained in hospital ever since with no discharge date in sight as doctors find the right combination of drugs to successfully destroy the bacteria.”It has made my experience in here a lot lighter and taken the intensity away from the medical side of it,” says Van Vuuren, who is not the only unsuspecting person turning to YouTube to vent only to become a viral sensation overnight.The video-sharing site with a tagline ”broadcast yourself” continues to fuel bizarre celebrities such as Chris Crocker who, after posting an impassioned video called Leave Britney Alone that received 4 million hits in two days, was offered TV roles and promotional deals.A Canadian musician, David Carroll, became an international media sensation when he wrote and posted a song called United Breaks Guitars after United Airlines refused to compensate him for breaking his guitar. The Times reported that four days after the song’s release, the company’s share price plunged by 10 per cent. Jean Burgess, a senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology and author of YouTube: online video and participatory culture, calls it the ”network effect”.”Because of the sheer number of people who use YouTube and the large number of media channels that videos can pass through, it just takes a little scrubfire to start a massive bushfire,” she says.
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$100 a day per child – and rising

PAYING $100 a day for childcare in Sydney’s inner suburbs is fast becoming the norm, fuelling calls for the federal government to pay the childcare rebate weekly instead of quarterly.Almost a third of parents pay more than $80 a day in fees, compared with one in five last year, and 15 per cent in 2008, according to the Annual Child Care and Workforce Participation Survey conducted by the childcare resource website Care for Kids.And a Sun-Herald poll of 20 childcare centres in Sydney offering places for children aged 0-2 found fees of more than $100 a day were not unusual.Care for Kids founder Roxanne Elliott said the survey of 2112 parents with preschool-aged children showed although parents were generally happy with the quality of childcare, there was concern that costs were continually creeping up.”A lot of people equate [childcare] to paying private school fees,” Ms Elliott said. ”People are weighing up the pros and cons as to whether it’s financially viable.”The Care for Kids survey found the Rudd government’s 50 per cent childcare rebate introduced in 2008 to meet an election promise had improved affordability.However, 25 per cent of survey respondents said being back at work was still not financially viable, and a third said the financial ”balancing act” was one of the hardest things about returning to work.A Treasury paper this month confirmed a direct link between childcare costs and women’s participation in the workforce, finding that every 1 per cent rise in childcare fees reduced mothers’ employment rates by 0.3 per cent and cut their hours worked by 0.7 per cent. There are 59 per cent of married women with children in the workforce, according to latest figures from the National Institute of Labour Studies.Ms Elliott supported the recent budget submission by the Australian Childcare Alliance for the government to pay the childcare rebate weekly, instead of quarterly, saying it would help families.”It’s an administrative thing and the system should be able to cope with that,” she said.The Alliance’s president Gwynn Bridge said weekly rebate payments would provide more tangible help to families. ”They would not be so pushed to meet [payments] out of their weekly paypacket,” she said.Ms Bridge said since the rebate was capped at $7778 per child per year, it did not cover 50 per cent of childcare costs for parents, particularly in inner Sydney.Childcare fees are expected to rise sharply from next January in NSW when new national staff-to-child ratios are introduced. Childcare centres will need to employ one carer for every four babies aged 0-2, instead of one carer for every five babies.Alliance research shows the change could add between $13 and $22 to the cost of long day-care. ”Childcare fees will rise further – there’s no question about it,” Ms Bridge said.
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