Sep 08

Qld MP could face CCC probe

Queensland police minister Jo-Ann Miller’s phone call to a man making criminal allegations against a Labor MP has raised jurisdictional issues between police and the corruption watchdog.

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Ms Miller has admitted to calling her Labor friend Bruce McLean – who has made harassment and forgery allegations against his former employer, first term Pumicestone MP Rick Williams.

The police minister insisted the call, which premier Annastacia Palaszczuk labelled an “error of judgment” on Thursday, was merely a welfare check on a constituent in her Bundamba electorate.

It was referred to both Queensland Police and the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) by opposition police spokesman Jarrod Bleijie on Thursday afternoon.

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart has sought jurisdictional advice from the CCC, saying any investigation would be based on the facts.

“I think it appropriate that the CCC make a decision around jurisdiction in the first instance,” he told reporters on Friday.

Mr Stewart declined to comment on whether the timing of Ms Miller’s phone call on Wednesday morning – which happened after the allegations were made public and before any police involvement – could be key to any probe.

A string of allegations against Mr Williams were also being considered by a police assessment team.

“We will also look at whether that has to be referred to the CCC in terms of their jurisdiction as opposed to ours,” Mr Stewart said.

He said the police jurisdiction specifically covered criminal investigations, “but if there are other matters that is potentially a matter for the CCC”.

“I’m hoping the assessment phase will be very quick.”

The Courier-Mail this week reported a string of untested allegations against Mr Williams, including claims he tried to hire someone to have his ex-wife’s boyfriend “done over”, sexually harassed a teenager and engaged in business impropriety.

Mr Stewart said the situation was not unprecedented as it came amid an ongoing police investigation into domestic violence allegations against Cook MP Billy Gordon.

“That matter is being handled by a small team and we will have an outcome to that fairly shortly,” he said.

Mr Gordon quit the Labor party in April over unpaid child support, his undisclosed criminal history and domestic violence allegations made by a former partner – leaving the government to rely on cross-bench support for their hold on power.

Sep 08

This blood test can tell you every virus you’ve ever had

Researchers have developed a DNA-based blood test that can determine a person’s viral history, a development they hope could lead to early detection of conditions, such as hepatitis C, and eventually help explain what triggers certain autoimmune diseases and cancers.

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The new test, known as VirScan, works by screening the blood for antibodies against any of the 206 species of viruses known to infect humans, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. The immune system, which churns out specific antibodies when it encounters a virus, can continue to produce those antibodies decades after an infection subsides. VirScan detects those antibodies and uses them as a window in time to create a blueprint of nearly every virus an individual has encountered. It’s a dramatic alternative to existing diagnostic tools, which test only for a single suspected virus.

“The approach is clever and a technological tour de force,” said Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, who was not involved in the creation of VirScan. “It has the potential to reveal viruses people have encountered recently or many years earlier … Thus, this is a powerful new research tool.”

Scientists on Thursday reported intriguing findings from their initial tests of 569 people they screened using VirScan in the United States, South Africa, Thailand and Peru. They found that the average person has been exposed to 10 of the 206 different species of known viruses — though some people showed exposure to more than double that number.

“Many of those [people] have probably been infected with many different strains of the same virus,” said Stephen Elledge, a professor of genetics and medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who led the development of VirScan. “You could be infected with many strains of rhinovirus over the course of your life, for instance, and it would show up as one hit.”

In addition, he said, certain viruses were far more common in adults than in children, who presumably have yet to encounter much of the world’s viral landscape. People infected with HIV tended to have antibodies against many more viruses than people without the disease. Researchers also saw striking geographic differences in the way viruses affected different populations. People in South Africa, Thailand and Peru generally displayed antibodies against many more viruses than people living in the United States.

“We don’t know if this has to do with the genetics of the people or the strains of the viruses that are out there,” Elledge said of the differences by country. “Or if it has something to do with cultural habits or sanitation.”

Elledge said the VirScan analysis currently can be performed for about $25 per blood sample, though labs could charge much more than that if the test becomes commercially available. He also said it currently takes two or three days to process and sequence about 100 samples, though that speed could increase as technology improves.

Ultimately, Elledge said he hopes the test could be used to more quickly detect conditions, such as HIV and hepatitis C, which patients can carry for years before displaying any outward symptoms. Experts believe VirScan also could lead to insights about the role long-ago viral infections play in the later development of certain cancers and autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

“There are a lot of chronic diseases where we think a virus might be involved, but we can’t quite pinpoint it … Right now we can’t quite make the connection,” said Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia, who was not involved in developing VirScan. “I think this is really going to be helpful. It’s very cool.”

Racaniello said he envisions a day when patients will get the VirScan test as part of a regular checkup.

“This is going to be routine, I think,” he said. “It’ll be good to know what viruses have been in you.”

©The Washington Post 2015

 

Sep 08

NT centre fighting youth ice use

When 14-year-old Jai talks about horses, his face lights up.

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“When I’m with them, just standing with them, I feel different, happier,” he says.

“They’re really nice, lovely looking. And when I’m on them, I’m excited, my heart’s beating real fast. Like nervous but excited at the same time.”

It’s a different kind of high for the Year 9 student, who was using ice, stealing and “running amok” in Darwin before he enrolled himself in the BushMob rehabilitation program in Alice Springs a month ago.

The 20-bed facility for youth aged 12-25 takes young people with addiction problems from all over the NT in a 16-week program that includes indigenous equine therapy and bush trips to give the patients a taste for healthy living and making better life choices.

“Most of the kids we get are from communities where there’s been a spike in sniffing, alcohol use, ganja, now ice; ice has crept into the communities,” says program manager Melissa Nichols.

“They’re mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, there’s been a breakdown in families; they haven’t had a lot of schooling.”

She says almost all of the kids BushMob treats have been through the criminal justice system.

“The way a lot of young people who come through a service like this are looked at, I think it’s a shame people don’t see the bigger picture,” Ms Nichols says.

“These are beautiful young people that come through here, and I’ve met some of the most amazing, incredible kids with bright futures. We need to do more to support them when they leave, and that’s where the fall-down is: they go home to the same circumstances.”

Iasha, 14, has been to BushMob twice before to escape ice in her hometown of Katherine.

“I realised it’s not good for you, and I don’t want to do it anymore; being back home, it’s really hard because all my friends do it and I just can’t stay away from it when I’m there,” she said.

“I feel healthy when I’m here, I feel safe … Every day you do something new instead of sitting around getting high with your friends.”

She says the program has helped her learn to communicate better, and has improved her relationship with her family.

“The first time I came here and I went home I improved so much: my attitude, the way I was towards my brothers and sisters; before, I wasn’t able to do that,” she said.

“But when I went back for a week I sat down with my mum, had good conversations. My little sisters never liked me and then all of a sudden they just loved me, they wanted me to be around, they didn’t want me to go.”

Ms Nichols said that although most of the young people who go to BushMob have alcohol problems, ice is on the rise in communities.

“Ice is going to be massive, it’s going to be absolutely devastating,” she said.

“You’ve got young, vulnerable kids that don’t have anything on their agenda but boredom and they don’t have any self-esteem, those kids, so it’s going to get really hard.”

She says the centre is hearing more from remote communities that the marijuana young people are smoking has been laced with ice.

For children aged 11 or 12 that poses an even greater risk.

“It’s the immediate addiction and the damage it does so quickly,” Ms Nichols says.

“The longer you’re on it, the less choice you’re going to have to get off it.”

For Iasha and Jai, now in recovery, the future looks promising: both want to finish their schooling and find work.

Iasha has aspirations of becoming a model, or working in Katherine to support her mother.

When Jai finishes the program, he said his family has offered him a traineeship in Darwin working as a youth wildlife ranger between the NT and Western Australia.

Ms Nichols said success was difficult to measure.

“Its always little things, that’s success,” she said.

“Success is when a young person turns around and says thank you… (when they) feel they’ve been appreciated for that small token, that builds a lot of esteem inside a young person.”

Sep 08

Crows coach wary of Barker’s Blues

Adelaide coach Phil Walsh says facing a John Barker-coached Carlton makes him nervous.

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The Crows meet the AFL’s bottom side at the MCG on Saturday with Walsh wary of what the Blues’ interim coach can bring.

“There is an element of unknown,” Walsh told reporters on Friday.

“John Barker, he has had a week with them whereas last week he probably only had one training session.

“So we expect the unexpected. It makes me slightly nervous.”

Walsh’s Crows, on a two-game losing stretch, have been bolstered by the return of prime movers Rory Sloane and Brodie Smith.

Sloane missed the past three games because of a fractured cheekbone while Smith was sidelined a fortnight after being concussed for a second time this season.

“The names look good but they have got to play their role, as simple as that,” Walsh said of the inclusions.

Carlton, winners just once this season and with Barker in charge for a second game after the sacking of Mick Malthouse, summoned Matthew Kreuzer for his first AFL match since round one last season.

Kreuzer has overcome a foot injury and the Crows expect him to be deployed as a forward target.

“He has obviously had his injury problems but he has been a really good player and I’m sure they’ll try and stretch our backline with him at some stage,” Walsh said.

Carlton captain Mark Murphy and star midfielder Chris Judd also return, though Dale Thomas (toe) will miss Adelaide’s sole game at the MCG this season.

The seventh-placed Crows have lost their past two games at the venue, a fact not lost on Walsh who believes non-Victorian clubs aren’t rated until they consistently win in Melbourne.

“We’re looking forward to getting back onto that ground, it’s our only game at the MCG, a lot of our fans come over for this game,” he said.

“We want to win. It’s a performance industry and we haven’t performed for two weeks. So expect to see a reaction from our players this week.”

Sep 08

Hanson-Young rejects Abbott’s Nauru claim as ‘creepy’

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the prime minister is being “creepy” by saying she had been looked after on Nauru.

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A former contractor to Wilson Security claims employees at the Australian-run immigration detention centre spied on the senator during her recent visit to the island.

Senator Hanson-Young said Tony Abbott’s claim that she had been “looked after” on Nauru showed he did not understand that “women don’t like to be watched and it is just creepy, frankly”.

Tony Abbott has rejected the suggestion of surveillance on Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young while she was on Nauru.

Asked whether the senator was subject to surveillance, Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney: “I don’t accept that characterisation. I believe she was being, in fact, looked after while she was there.”

The unnamed whistleblower said security staff followed her around the island and set up an observation post to watch her hotel room.

In a submission to the Senate committee examining allegations of misconduct at the centre, the person said Wilson Security ordered the spying, with the team briefed by a supervisor from the Emergency Response Team.

“This briefing included her room number, vehicle registration and even using code name Raven over the radio to make reference to her,” the submission says.

The Senate inquiry was launched in March and follows an independent review which uncovered cases of abuse of women and children at the Nauru detention centre, including guards trading drugs for sexual favours.

John Rogers, Wilson Security’s executive general manager for the Southern Pacific, said the company strongly rejected the claim that it organised a team to spy on Senator Hanson-Young.

But he said the company was aware of individuals who attended the hotel at the same time as Senator Hanson-Young.

“We understand that their primary motivation was the security of the Senator,” he said in a response to the whistleblower allegations.

Mr Rogers said that was not authorised by Wilson Security and was not part of their work in providing security at the centre.

“The matter was immediately investigated by Wilson Security and the individuals involved were subject to disciplinary actions for acting beyond their brief,” he said.

Senator Hanson-Young said she would be referring this to the privileges committee.

She said this was a company contracted by the Australian Government, under scrutiny for its poor management of detention centres and now spying on a Senator of the Australian Parliament.

“It is only appropriate that a full explanation of what occurred is given. What information was gathered and kept, who has access to the information and, importantly, who on Nauru and the government knew,” she said in a statement.

Senator Hanson-Young said it was simply unacceptable that neither the contractor or the Immigration Department have bothered to inform her that her privacy and parliamentary privilege had been breached.

“Some very serious questions need to be answered,” she said.