Deals and wheels under the spotlight

PART ONE of the trilogy of corruption inquiries starring former Labor ministers will get under way today in a purpose-built hearing room to accommodate a battalion of barristers who, over the next five months, will represent more than 70 witnesses.
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The Independent Commission Against Corruption’s three-part inquiry is expected to be one of the most sensational in NSW history and will examine explosive corruption allegations against the former ministers Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald and Eric Roozendaal.

Also on the witness list are three former premiers – Morris Iemma, Kristina Keneally and Nathan Rees – along with senior ministers including Frank Sartor.

Mr Roozendaal, who is the only one of the three Labor heavyweights still in Parliament, will feature in the first of the inquiries, which will start at 10am and is expected to run for a week.

Operation Indus will investigate the circumstances in which Moses Obeid, one of the five sons of the former minister, provided a brand new Honda CRV to Mr Roozendaal, the then minister for commerce and roads.

The first witness scheduled to give evidence is a Camperdown panel beater, Peter Fitzhenry, who will be followed by a car dealer, Keith Goodman.

The pair are expected to provide details of Moses Obeid’s 2007 request that the pair source a black Honda CRV for Mr Roozendaal but to put the car in the name of Nata Re.

Once Mr Roozendaal had taken delivery of the Honda, Moses Obeid organised the $44,000 payment from an account of his business partner, the property developer Rocco Triulcio.

Nata Re is the sister of Mr Triulcio. Mrs Re has previously told Fairfax Media that she had never owned a Honda CRV and that she had never heard of Eric Roozendaal.

Mr Triulcio said he could not remember any payments but he was planning to buy the Honda for his sister. He then changed his mind and gave her his old Mercedes.

Last year Mr Roozendaal confirmed that Moses Obeid had organised the purchase of the car for him, and that it was subsequently registered to his wife Amanda, but the former minister said his actions had ”all been completely kosher” and that he had paid $34,000 to the dealer for his car.

Mr and Mrs Roozendaal and Moses Obeid are expected to give evidence next week.

The ICAC Commissioner, David Ipp, QC, will preside over the public inquiry. Counsel assisting the Commission for Operation Indus are Geoffrey Watson, SC, and Nicholas Chen.

After Mr Roozendaal and his set of wheels are finished, the corruption commission will move on to allegations of corruption over coal exploration licences which involve Moses Obeid’s father, Eddie, and the former mining minister Ian Macdonald. Some time in March next year the third inquiry will examine Mr Macdonald’s granting of a training mine to his friend, the former union boss John Maitland.

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Call for a rethink on breast screening

AUSTRALIA’S breast-screening program should be reassessed to make sure it is not causing more harm than good, leading epidemiologists say.
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The deputy director of the Women’s Health Research Program at Monash University, Professor Robin Bell, said it could be argued that women should no longer be routinely invited to have mammograms because of the significant risks of ”over-diagnosis”.

On Tuesday an independent panel of experts in Britain said that for every life saved by its breast-screening program, another three women would be over-diagnosed and treated unnecessarily for cancer that would never have caused them harm. This meant the program was preventing about 1300 breast-cancer deaths every year while causing 4000 women to be over-diagnosed.

The experts said that while the benefits of the program still outweighed the harm, women should be given detailed information about the risk of over-diagnosis to make a more informed decision about screening. They also called for a reassessment of the cost-effectiveness of the screening program.

In response to the British findings, Professor Bell said Australia needed to rethink its approach to breast screening because the balance of harms and benefits had shifted considerably since the BreastScreen program began in the 1990s.

While the British panel used data from the 1970s and ’80s to estimate a 19 per cent rate of over-diagnosis through breast screening, Professor Bell said more recent Australian research suggested 30 to 40 per cent of cancers detected in the BreastScreen program were over-diagnosed.

This meant the ratio of lives saved to over-diagnoses could be one to six in Australia, as opposed to the British estimate of one to three. Given that a screening program has to produce more benefits than harms to be viable, she said it could be argued that Australian women in their 50s and 60s should no longer be invited to attend screening because the invitation implies the benefits outweigh the risks.

The government could still provide free access to mammograms for women who wanted them, she said, particularly those with a strong family history of breast cancer.

A spokesman for the Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said the government’s Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Screening was monitoring emerging evidence about the harms and benefits of breast screening.

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Thomson turns his back on Labor

THE former Labor MP, Craig Thomson, has labelled his old party hypocritical and will vote against its legislation to excise the Australian mainland from the nation’s migration zone.
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The controversial bill was introduced into Parliament on Wednesday and is set to pass the lower house before the end of this month with the support of the Coalition.

However, Mr Thomson, for the second time in two days, will vote against Labor on legislation, saying the party’s about-face from its position on the bill six years ago was too much to stomach.

“One of the main reasons I decided to enter Parliament was because I was appalled at the way Australia was treating asylum seekers,” he said. ”But now we are seeing a Labor government going back to the Howard years by excising mainland Australia from the offshore processing centres in an appeal to the worst elements of human nature.

“The Labor Party was right in 2006 to oppose this and the reasons then apply just as much now.”

On Tuesday night, Mr Thomson voted to amend a bill to free Australian research from unintended consequences of a defence treaty with the US.

Mr Thomson represents the seat of Dobell on the central coast. He was suspended from the ALP in April pending civil and criminal investigations into his use of a union credit card before entering Parliament.

Should he be cleared following a criminal investigation, it is understood he has not ruled out running as an independent.

In 2006, the Howard government tried to excise the mainland from the migration zone but failed amid fierce internal resistance from moderates. Now, Labor wants to introduce the measure as part of its policies to try to stop the escalating flow of boats.

Under the change, anyone who arrives on the Australian mainland by boat will be sent offshore for processing to Nauru or Manus Island and would no longer be entitled to be processed onshore or receive a bridging visa and limited work rights.

Mr Thomson’s resistance will not stop the passage of the bill because the Coalition is expected to support it.

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Deadly human link ends with horse vaccine for Hendra virus

AN international team of researchers has developed the first horse vaccine for the deadly Hendra virus, using the ovary cells of a Chinese hamster.
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Being launched on Thursday in Brisbane, the vaccine’s arrival follows years of testing and means the cycle of transmission between horses and humans will be broken.

Seven people have contracted Hendra and four have died from the virus that has killed 81 horses, including nine this year. There is no known cure for Hendra, which was first identified in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra in 1994.

While flying foxes transmit the virus through bodily fluids, humans have only ever contracted the virus from horses.

A specialist in veterinary pathology at the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Deborah Middleton, said that, by stopping the virus in horses, science had effectively stopped it making the leap to humans.

”This is significant, as to get a vaccine to market for people would have taken another 10 or 20 years because of all the guidelines and ethical approval needed,” she said.

Work on developing a vaccine didn’t start until 2005, as scientists first had to understand the virus’ structure, parts and how it generated an immune response from the animals it infected.

That research led scientists to focus on the many proteins found on the outside of the virus that act as an alert for the immune system. One protein in particular caught their attention – the G-protein.

”We realised it was protection against the G-protein that was really critical in clearing the virus from the system,” Dr Middleton said.

This protein is the active ingredient in the vaccine. Once injected, animals generate antibodies to the G-protein and can eliminate infection much faster when it happens.

”It gives the animal a head start,” Dr Middleton said. ”If you have an animal vaccinated with the G-protein, its immune system is tricked into thinking it has seen the virus before, so it already has antibodies and it can react quickly.”

The G-protein can be man-made in commercial quantities, intriguingly using a cell line derived from the ovary cells of a Chinese hamster.

”It’s amazing, really,” Dr Middleton said. ”This cell line has been going for about 60 years.”

The cells keep regenerating and the gene for the Hendra G-protein is put into the cell’s DNA. It then produces Hendra G-protein, which is harvested.

The Australian Veterinary Association has recommended all horses be vaccinated, with a national vaccination register to be established. The vaccine, a course of two injections, does not cause any side effects.

The multi-disciplinary team of up to 60 researchers included virologists, molecular biologists, pathologists and protein chemists. Scientists came from the CSIRO, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the US and commercial partner Pfizer.

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Big and small are certs in hat stakes, but felt is the last straw

FINDING a headpiece for the Melbourne spring racing carnival it is not as simple as popping any old hat on.
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Milliners look at many components when fitting a headpiece to match their clients’ race-day outfits.

Nerida Winter, a Sydney milliner with many Melbourne customers, says it is not just the shape of a face that determines race-day headwear but the ”whole package, including your height, shoulder width, personality, attitude, as well as outfits, jewellery and necklines”.

Other factors also come into play, such as the No.1 spring racing rule: no felt.

”Straw is the appropriate material for the spring carnival, as felt is strictly for autumn,” says Winter.

This season hats should be big or small, but nothing in between. Smaller headpieces and larger hats are the most popular shapes.

”Women are choosing smaller sculptural headpieces over fascinators these days, or if they are confident to do a hat, they are bigger than ever before,” Winter says.

”Women are touching on the ’40s and ’50s couture when it comes to the larger styles. The side sweep hat has made a comeback which complements the peplum dresses that are in fashion at the moment.”

With smaller headpieces, women are making a statement with a fashion-forward twist.

”We are experimenting with modern textures, lace, horsehair, silks and studs,” says Winter.

Jonathan Howard, from Hatmaker in Paddington, opts not to sell fascinators at his Sydney shop. ”I do headpieces and hats. This season we are seeing larger-style hats but smaller headpieces are also on trend because they are easy to travel with and women like how they are practical.”

The Melbourne milliner Molly Kasriel, who designs for labels including Fiona Powell and Morgan and Taylor, says women choose smaller pieces because they are a safe option. ”They suit everyone,” she says. ”They are easy to wear.”

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