Call for Access Canberra to ‘learn’ from audit of WorkSafe ACT’s Mr Fluffy handling

The ACT’s Auditor-General has urged another audit into WorkSafe ACT’s oversight of the Mr Fluffy asbestos eradication scheme, to ensure action was taken on recommendations on a previous audit.

Auditor-General Dr Maxine Cooper told a Legislative Assembly committee on Wednesday a government internal audit committee should examine the issue again, to help ensure WorkSafe ACT had taken on her recommendations.

The hearing on Wednesday examined the second of two audits into the Mr Fluffy scheme, released early this year, which had focussed on WorkSafe ACT’s management of the demolition of 1022 affected by the loose-fill asbestos.

It found the scheme marked by poor-record keeping, a lack of an overarching regulatory strategy and “considerable variability” in how the asbestos team actually completed inspections and oversaw demolitions.

Completed at about the halfway mark during the demolition program – when just over 500 homes had been torn down – Dr Cooper said the “hot audit” aimed to improve processes for the remaining half of the program.

But the audit, which examined the period from late 2014 to mid 2015 also coincided with the government’s creation of Access Canberra, which has taken on the vast majority of the government’s regulatory roles.

Dr Cooper said a new audit, which could be completed by the Chief Minister’s directorate’s audit and risk committee, should examine how the work safety regulator has actually taken on the audit’s eight recommendations it agreed to.

But she said it could also provide wider lessons for Access Canberra.

“A regulator is a regulator and Access Canberra has many regulators in different disciplines and given the findings of this audit, [a further audit could ask] has that assisted you in looking at the management of other areas within Access Canberra,” she said.

“I think the utility of both the audit and what WorkSafe are doing is looking at it in terms of better practices that might then be conveyed across all regulators in terms of setting the benchmark for what’S expected in the territory.”

Dr Cooper said one of the key difficulties the audit office faced in its investigation was the lack of a formal strategy and documentation hampering its ability to actually measure the “effectiveness” of WorkSafe’s oversight of the demolitions.

“The critical issue is how well have they implemented those recommendations, which were all agreed to, and potentially in order to answer the effectiveness question, it would be appropriate for an audit to be undertaken,” she said.

As it happened: Australia goes 2-0 up in Ashes series with Adelaide victory

Updated December 06, 2017 16:34:26

Australia beats England by 120 runs in the second Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval to set up a 2-0 series lead.

Look back at how the action unfolded in our live blog.

Topics: ashes, cricket, sport, adelaide-5000, canberra-2600, brisbane-4000, sydney-2000, perth-6000, melbourne-3000, hobart-7000, darwin-0800, australia, england

First posted December 06, 2017 13:43:50

Work begins on new oncology service set to improve cancer treatments

Work has begun on a new oncology centre, with hopes it will cut waiting times for cancer patients and save Canberrans from travelling interstate for treatment.

The Canberra Specialist Medical Centre at University of Canberra is due to open next year, increasing the availability of radiation and medical oncology, haematology and diagnostic services.

The three-level building will feature two radiation therapy bunkers for linear accelerators, the latest in radiation therapy technology delivering pinpoint accuracy in treating solid tumours.

The centre will also be equipped with a 15-chair day oncology unit delivering chemotherapy and treatment for blood disorders.

The centre – a partnership between the university, cancer care provider Icon Group and Cornerstone Building Developments – will also provide training and research opportunities for the university’s staff and students.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor and president Professor Deep Saini said the centre would be a great facility for the Canberra community and provide exciting opportunities for health and science students.

“With this new centre, our students will have access to an advanced facility where they will be able to apply their learnings from the classroom through clinical placements,” Professor Saini said.

“It will also provide our researchers and research students various collaborative opportunities across different fields, including medical oncology, radiation oncology and chemotherapy. It is an exciting venture.”

Professor in medical imaging Rob Davidson said the centre should reduce waiting times and help provide the best training to students, who now had access to clinical services on campus.

“There is currently a very limited service for cancer patients in Canberra’s growing population,” he said.

“The current services mean patients have delays in services or they have to travel elsewhere.”

Icon Group chief executive officer Mark Middleton said the centre would improve access to world-class cancer care services for patients in Canberra at a time of increasing need.

“It’s our firm belief that people should have access to comprehensive, quality cancer care as close to home as possible, and this includes the availability of options to suit patients’ personal treatment needs and preferences,” he said.

“We look forward to supporting the Canberra community with exceptional cancer care.”

This new centre will expand on the range of services offered within the university’s growing health precinct, including the health hub, which has been operating since 2014, and the soon-to-open University of Canberra Public Hospital.

Magistrate confused by prosecution’s request in murder trial of Archibald Prize finalist

Updated December 05, 2017 16:13:47

An Archibald Prize finalist and two of her sons, charged over the murder of an 81-year-old Canberra woman, are facing delays in their case as lawyers clashed over the case in the ACT Magistrates Court.

Melissa Beowulf, 60, and her sons Thorsten, 31, and Bjorn, 29, are accused of killing Katherine Panin in 2015.

Ms Panin, who was Ms Beowulf’s mother-in-law and the grandmother of her sons, was found injured at the base of some stairs and later died.

The three have been in jail since August.

But today prosecutors refused to agree to commit them to trial in the ACT Supreme Court, saying they needed more time and asking for a date in January.

Lawyers for the trio objected, and Magistrate Robert Cook queried why the case could not proceed.

“The question is why someone is in custody for five months and then not even committed,” he said.

“I do not understand.”

Prosecutor Margaret Jones told the court more time was needed to gather financial documents.

But a lawyer for Ms Beowulf, Rachel Bird, objected and told the court there had already been a 15-month investigation that included a search of the family home for financial documents.

Lawyer for the two sons, Louise Taylor, also complained, saying: “It’s appropriate some pressure be brought to bear on the director’s office.”

Mr Cook refused to list the case in January, but has set the matter down for later this month, when he said there would be a potential committal.

In the meantime, he has urged both sides to keep the discussion going.

Topics: murder-and-manslaughter, courts-and-trials, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted December 05, 2017 15:39:29

Frustrations after girl, 11, charged with assault a third time in three weeks

Canberra’s chief magistrate expressed frustration over a lack of options on Monday after an 11-year-old girl was arrested three times in less than three weeks for alleged violence against her carers.

The girl, who cannot be named because of her age, was last arrested on Friday and spent the weekend in detention before appearing in the ACT Children’s Court.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker acknowledged the choice was between releasing the girl, who had demonstrated mental health problems, into the community where there was the risk of further violence, or sending her to Bimberi.

She said while Canberra’s children and young people laws referred to a “therapeutic place”, no such place existed.

The magistrate said if the “promise” of the law was fulfilled, there would be a place to send the girl that was both safe for her and those who cared for her.

The girl, who is under care and protection, has also expressed an intention to self-harm, the court heard.

The girl’s arrest on Friday over an alleged assault on a carer marked the third in less than three weeks.

She was first arrested on November 15, but the charge was dismissed.

She was arrested again on November 28.

Ms Walker sent the girl to hospital for a mental health assessment. But she returned to court the next day and the magistrate said it was prudent to again dismiss the charge.

On Friday, the girl was arrested again for an alleged assault against her carers and spent the weekend in custody.

She appeared in court on Monday, where the magistrate once again considered the utility of the charge proceeding.

She said even if the case went to hearing or the girl pleaded guilty, it was likely no conviction would be recorded because of her youth and personal circumstances.

Her Legal Aid solicitor said if the assault charge did go ahead there were questions around not only the girl’s capacity to plead to the offence, but also her fitness to plead under mental health laws.

The process of seeking the necessary medical reports would take weeks, the court heard, and the solicitor said the girl would seek bail in the meantime.

If bail was refused on Monday, the girl would spent months in detention only to end up in the same place and released back to her carers, Ms Walker said.

And the magistrate said despite the real risk of further violence, the law also says keeping children in custody is a last resort.

The girl would likely end up with her carers.

Ms Walker said the choice was stark but there was no utility in the current charge going ahead.

She dismissed the assault charge and told the girl she was free to go.

The girl’s case has exposed the lack of a “therapeutic place” for children that is already included in ACT law.

It was only November last year that the ACT government opened Dhulwa, a secure mental health facility for adults, after years of lobbying from magistrates, lawyers and mental health advocates.

Before the facility was built, mentally ill adults who became involved in the criminal justice system were housed in the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

The much-needed facility closed a gap between the criminal justice system and Canberra’s mental health system.

Frustrated magistrate frees 11-year-old girl charged with three assaults

Posted December 04, 2017 18:12:16

A magistrate has vented frustration over limited options after an 11-year-old Canberra girl was brought before the courts on assault charges three times in less than three weeks.

The girl had been detained over the weekend after an alleged incident on Friday with a carer.

She was freed today after ACT’s Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said she was faced with a stark choice between detention and letting the girl back into the community, when she had significant concerns about her mental health.

She said that included threats to harm herself.

The ACT Children and Young People Act provides for a therapeutic place to be established, but so far nothing has been provided.

“If the purpose of our legislation were fulfilled there’d be a therapeutic place,” Ms Walker said.

“But despite its inclusion in the legislation there isn’t one.”

The court was told if the charges went ahead there would have to be a report prepared for the child, assessing whether she was fit to plead.

Her lawyer Hugh Jorgenson said it would elongate the process.

“That would maybe take up to six weeks,” Mr Jorgenson said.

Ms Walker also noted it was a significant problem in assessing how to treat the girl.

“So we’d be back in the same position in which we were looking for somewhere safe for [her] to be accommodated.”

She found there was no utility in proceeding with the charge and released the girl to her carers.

Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, crime, assault, canberra-2600, act, australia

ACT Catholic school staff to strike on Monday, December 3

Some Catholic school teachers will strike on Monday as tensions between their union and employer escalate over a proposed new enterprise agreement.

Catholic school employees within the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn have not received a pay rise for about a year as the Independent Education Union and the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations battle over how to best settle disputes.

The Independent Education Union wants the new contract to include the right to call in the Fair Work Commission for arbitration when disagreements can’t be settled in-house. The commission would rather maintain the status quo, where such a deal hasn’t been made in writing.

The union has been further angered by the commission’s plan to put its proposed agreement to staff on Tuesday without receiving the union’s nod.

“This has never been done before in Australian history,” union NSW/ACT secretary John Quessy said.

“Catholic employers are coming for our members’ rights and they will not tolerate that. We are urging a ‘no’ vote.”

Monday’s strike will be the second since early November, when 200 ACT teachers and support staff walked off the job for half the day.

“It is clear they want absolute power over their employees and the members are standing firm against this,” Mr Quessy said.

Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn education director Ross Fox said his office was keen to see the dispute settled quickly to ensure staff could receive their backdated pay increase before the Christmas break.

He questioned why the union had rejected a clause already settled in 450 private schools throughout New South Wales and the ACT.

“If the vote endorses the agreement Catholic Education will not wait for the Fair Work Commission process which could take months,” he said.

“Staff in Catholic schools will be paid the backdated pay increases as soon as possible.

“I respect the right of every employee to take protected industrial action. Catholic schools will ensure staff who wish to strike at this busy time of the year are able to do so while ensuring minimum disruption to teaching and learning and the safety and wellbeing of the children in our care.”

Teachers in about 350 schools across the ACT and New South Wales will strike for four hours at the start of the school day.

Sensitive Santa helping special needs families capture Christmas memories

Updated December 03, 2017 15:34:22

For eight-year-old Liam, going to a shopping centre — especially at Christmas time — can be an overwhelming experience.

“Christmas crowds are just a massive overload; the bright lights, loud noises, high-pitched sounds all become a very distressing and upsetting situation,” Liam’s mother Amy Palmer explained.

The Canberra boy has autism and sensory processing disorder.

For years he and his mother had wanted to have a photo with Santa Claus at a shopping centre, but each year they tried Liam became overwhelmed and distressed.

“The last time I got a photo of Liam with Santa he was one month old,” Ms Palmer said.

So when she discovered Westfield shopping centres had implemented Sensitive Santa, she decided to give it a go.

The photo sessions run outside of the centre’s general opening hours and the centre’s music is turned off and lighting reduced.

“There was no crowd, no noises, and it was a peaceful, relaxing 15 minutes,” Ms Palmer said of her family’s photo session with Sensitive Santa.

“Liam actually sat next to Santa and he held his sister while they were taking the photos and I was so surprised.

“I got a photo of all three of my kids with Santa and I just walked out of there crying because I finally had a Christmas photo to be proud of.”

And for Liam, he was excited to be able to meet Santa.

“What meant the most to me was that Liam, for the first time, was able to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas, and that was just the best feeling in the world for me,” Ms Palmer said.

Becoming Sensitive Santa and enjoying it

George Clark has been playing Santa Claus for eight years, and has been a Sensitive Santa at two Canberra shopping centres for the past three.

“I started it originally just to get some extra money but then found I really enjoyed talking to the children and hearing what they wanted for Christmas so I just keep coming back each year,” he said.

Mr Clark enjoys being Santa so much that he now keeps his hair long and grows a beard to really get into character.

“When you put that Santa outfit on you sort of become Santa, and if you go out there to have fun with the kids like I do, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy it — I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Mr Clark said the key to being a successful Santa was being truthful.

“When they ask you a question and you’re answering back it’s got to be natural otherwise they pick up on it,” he said.

“The favourite one is, ‘Are you the real Santa?’ The worst thing you could say is yes because they know very well that you’re not.

“But if you’re honest and say, ‘Santa’s very busy this time of year and he asks special people to come in and help him do the work’, they accept that.”

And what is it that the kids are asking for this Christmas?

“Yo-yos and rainbow unicorns — it’s interesting to see how it changes each year,” Mr Clark said.

Calm Room offers respite to overwhelmed shoppers

Ms Palmer and her family can also do some Christmas shopping this year in relative peace after she asked Woden Shopping Centre to install a Calm Room.

“About 12 months ago I’d attempted a shopping experience and I got some very negative comments and feedback from shoppers in the shopping centre and it was just a horrible situation,” she said.

“I came home and cried and I said to my husband, ‘we need a calm space in shopping centres like the one we have here at home for Liam’.”

The Calm Room opened at Woden last month, offering a relaxing, private space for children and adults when the experience becomes overwhelming.

And for the first time in years, Ms Palmer has been able to go to the centre with her children again.

“If we’re halfway through doing grocery shopping and there’s a meltdown, instead of pushing the trolley away and going, ‘I can’t do this’, we can leave the trolley and go into the Calm Room,” she said.

“We can be in there for as long as we need to until the child is relaxed, self-regulated and ready to go again, and then we can go and finish what we were doing.”

Topics: family-and-children, family, autism-spectrum-disorder, human-interest, act, canberra-2600

First posted December 03, 2017 09:01:37

Four record suburb sale prices made despite Canberra’s wet weather

The rain didn’t stop bidders breaking four records at Canberra’s house auctions on Saturday.

New suburb records were made in Franklin, Waramanga, Aranda and Griffith, totalling almost $7 million dollars in sales.

LJ Hooker’s Stephen Thompson said the auction in Griffith saw the four-bedroom property go for $2.97 million.

“It’s a tightly held area. It’s the first time in about 30 years this home has come up for sale,” Mr Thompson said.

“I understand it’s a record for the suburb.”

Mr Thompson said an auction in March saw a neighbouring house go for $1.8 million.

The auction at 16 Durville Cresent on Saturday was held inside because of the wet weather, with bidders and curious neighbours packed inside the house, he said.

The bidding started at $1.87 million, climbing slowly before one bidder jumped ahead to $2.5 million.

“There was a hush in the crowd and strategically that was probably quite a good move … it just kept going,” Mr Thompson said.

Luton Properties principal Richard Luton said his agency had broken three suburb records in Franklin, Waramanga and Aranda.

“We’ve had 28 auctions and we sold 19 of them today. We had to get everybody to take their shoes off today all our auctions were inside,” Mr Luton said.

“The one that got the biggest record was the one in Franklin. That sold $380,000 over the previous record price.”

The giant five-bedroom property at 155 Oodgeroo Avenue in Franklin sold for $1.55 millon.

In Waramanga, a Yiman Street property sold for $1 million.

“It beat the previous record by 94 thousand and that was a pretty smart house,” Mr Luton said.

In Aranda, a Nungara Place property sold for $1.4 million, beating the previous suburb record by only $5000.

Mr Luton said the clearance rate was up by 90 per cent.

He said a shortage of quality houses in some Canberra areas were seeing the prices rise.

Crews to work throughout the night to repair damage caused by Canberra’s wet weather

Updated December 02, 2017 16:51:21

Canberra’s wet weather has kept emergency services busy, with work to repair damage expected to continue throughout the evening.

By 4:30pm Canberra Airport had recorded 55 millimetres of rain since Friday morning, with 17 millimetres falling since 9am Saturday.

The ACT State Emergency Service (SES) had responded to 179 calls for help, with localised flash flooding sweeping across the city.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicted further downpours across the ACT and surrounding region in the afternoon but said it would ease overnight.

A severe weather warning remained in place as of late Saturday afternoon.

Chief officer at the SES Georgeina Whelan said the worst flooding had been in Gungahlin in Canberra’s north, as well as in Wanniassa and Greenway in the south.

“The number of trees falling is increasing because soil is not absorbing water and that’s impacting the stability of the trees,” she said.

But by 4:30pm she said the localising flash flooding had settled significantly.

“Most damage has been to solar panels in homes and tiling on roofs,” she said.

“They’ve kept crews busy and jobs are still coming in. We will work into the evening so we’re asking people to be patient as we prioritise jobs.”

She said no rivers in the region had flooded, but the Murrumbidgee River could develop moderate flooding over the weekend.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecast the showers would ease late on Saturday, with lighter rain returning throughout the week.

Since 9am Friday the territory had seen more than half of December’s average rainfall.

SES calls in extra staff to cope with busy day

Ms Whelan said she had called in additional crews to respond to today’s jobs, but was not aware of any injuries as a result of the weather.

“The greatest risk is electrical threat,” Ms Whelan said.

“A significant number of ceilings have water is leaking through. People aren’t sure how to respond and generally alarms are going crazy.”

She warned of the electrocution risk and said residents who aren’t comfortable with isolating power should ring 000.

“We are continuing to remind people of the risks associated with stormwater drains,” she said.

NSW prepares for widespread flooding

Across the border in southern NSW, the SES has deployed extra volunteers equipment and aircraft to prepare for widespread flooding.

NSW SES spokesperson Phil Campbell said the emergency crews’ areas of greatest concern were in and around the township of Tumut, the Albury area and communities on smaller tributaries like Billabong Creek in the Riverina.

“At the moment of most concern is the Riverina through to the Snowy Mountains and the south-west slopes of NSW — those areas are bearing the brunt of current heavy rain, and that rain is likely to continue with localised flash flooding for the remainder of today,” Mr Campbell said.

“We’re urging communities in the affected areas to make sure they are well prepared. To lift pumps and to relocate livestock to higher ground and if they’re expecting to be isolated to make sure they’re well stocked up on food, fuel and other essentials.”

A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for Saturday evening around Sydney, Gosford, Orange, Moree, Dubbo and Parkes.

Heavy rain which may lead to flash flooding is likely in the Riverina, South West Slopes, parts of the Central West Slopes and Plains, Central Tablelands and the western parts of the Southern Tablelands and Snowy Mountains districts during Saturday.

“We’re expecting some major flooding on the Sunday on the Murrumbidgee river into Gundagai and some moderate flooding in Wagga Wagga,” Mr Campbell said.

Other locations on flood watch are Eden, Goulburn, Cooma, Yass, Bombala, Parkes, Condobolin, Young, West Wyalong and Tumbarumba.

Mr Campbell warned residents to keep out of floodwaters and contact the SES if they needed any emergency flood assistance, rescues or help with sandbagging.

The SES has the following advice for people in areas with severe weather warnings:

  • Move your car under cover or away from trees
  • Secure or put away loose items around your house, yard and balcony
  • Keep at least eight metres away from fallen power lines or objects that may be energised, such as fences
  • Keep clear of creeks and storm drains
  • Don’t walk, ride your bike or drive through flood water
  • If you are trapped by flash flooding, seek refuge in the highest available place and ring 000 if you need rescue
  • Unplug computers and appliances. Avoid using the phone during the storm
  • Stay indoors away from windows, and keep children and pets indoors as well
  • For emergency help in floods and storms, ring the SES (NSW and ACT) on 132 500

Topics: weather, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted December 02, 2017 09:36:21