In an Australian first, surgeons at Fremantle Hospital and The University of Western Australia believe a new method of repairing perforated ear drums could be a major advance in ear health.
Professor Gunesh Rajan, Head of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery in UWA's School of Surgery, and a consultant at Fremantle Hospital, said tympanic membrane perforation, or hole in the ear drum, affected around 100,000 Australians and more than 80 million people worldwide.
Professor Rajan heads a research team of Australian ear, nose and throat specialists and said the new regenerative method had been pioneered by Professor Shin-Ichi Kanemaru in Osaka, Japan.
"The current conventional treatment is a time-consuming, complicated operation that requires a general anaesthetic and this is frequently beyond the reach of developing countries as well as Australia's indigenous children in remote communities," he said.
"Professor Kanemaru's ingenious method involves a five-minute procedure that stimulates the body to close the perforation itself, using naturally occurring bio-engineered growth factor substances which are applied to the rim of the perforation.
"The remarkable healing qualities of the human body grow back the tissue and close the hole completely, restoring the ability to hear."
The new technique reduces the operation time from 35 minutes to five minutes and, for adults, can be done in an outpatient clinic. Professor Rajan said a trial involving adults and children was now under way at Fremantle Hospital to replicate the Japanese trial while another trial was also due to start soon at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.
Researchers at The University of Western Australia say that "next frontier" of agricultural science is understanding the root system and function of crop plants to significantly increase Australian grain production, keep farms viable and help continue to feed the world despite the onset of increasing drought and climate change.
In a project at The University of Western Australia, researchers experimented with lupin roots with an overall aim to improve the water use and nutrient uptake of narrow-leaf lupin varieties that account for half of all grain legumes produced in Australia - an industry worth more than $600 million a year.
The study, published this week in the international journal Plant Soil, warned that Australian grain producers faced increasing threats from poor local soils, harsh growing conditions and declining, less-predictable rainfall due to climate change.
To help address this, a team led by UWA-based Chief Investigators Winthrop Professor Zed Rengel and Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique used new screening techniques and advanced computer modelling to understand lupin root systems variability.
Similar approaches could also be used to identify genetic variation in root system and function in Australian cereal crops such as wheat and barley, said Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of the Institute of Agriculture at The University of Western Australia.
Professor Siddique said climate change and increased risk of drought made it imperative for Australia to develop new ways to make crops more water and nutrient-efficient.
Roots efficient in acquiring soil resources (water and nutrients) are fundamental to growing high-yielding crops in Australian soils, but have been largely ignored by scientists - "it's the next frontier of agricultural science", he said.
The Commonwealth Bank has announced the resignation of Group Executive Retail Banking Services, Ross McEwan, after he accepted the role as Chief Executive Officer, UK Retail with the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Mr McEwan has been with the bank since 2003, having occupied the position of Group Executive Retail Banking Services since 2007.
Commonwealth Bank CEO, Ian Narev, thanked Mr McEwan for the ‘significant contribution’ that he hade to the bank.
“For the last five years he has been a highly valued member of the Group’s Executive Committee. During that time, his leadership of Retail Banking Services has led to all-time highs in customer satisfaction, a strong performance for shareholders and a high level of people engagement,” Mr Narev said.
The bank has yet to make an announcement for a replacement, but Mr Narev has indicated the bank will conduct a global search for a candidate.
Retail giant David Jones has announced a number of key management appointments in addition to a significant head office reshuffle.
The reshuffle, according to David Jones’s CEO Paul Zahra, is aimed at aligning its management structure towards a new future strategic direction of the company.
“Our announcement today delivers the skill set and capability within the realigned structure that we promised in our Future Strategic Direction announcement and is one of the first steps in delivering our Three Point Strategy.”
The appointments will see Donna Player appointed to the new role of Group Executive – Merchandise, reporting directly to Mr Zahra. The Merchandise Office has been consolidated under the new structure.
Meanwhile Matthew Durbin has been appointed to the newly created role of Executive – Strategic Planning with the task of ensuring the company continues to have an ongoing strategic planning function to manage structural changes and macro economic challenges the company faces.
Sacha Laing has been promoted to Group Executive – Marketing and Financial Services, reporting directly to Mr Zahra.
The Federal Budget has provided $6 million in funding to construct a Family Medical Practice on the Charles Sturt University ‘s Bathurst Campus as part of the University's health and wellness precinct.
However, Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann said the University was disappointed that funding was not provided for its bid to establish a new private training hospital in Bathurst, or to establish new medical schools in Australia to address rural doctor shortages.
He said the new Centre will be built alongside the University's existing $5 million Community Dental and Oral Health Clinic, and $7 million Community Engagement and Wellness Clinic (funded by Health Workforce Australia) that will begin construction this year.”
"The funding provided will deliver an important expansion of health services to our communities, and provide an important inter-professional training facility for our health and nursing students.
"Nonetheless, the decision not to fund the Stage 4 private training hospital development will be a big disappointment for the Bathurst community."The University is also disappointed that the government did not use the Budget to address the low number of rural students getting into city-based medical schools, and the continuing shortage of Australian medical graduates entering rural practice.
"There are two current proposals with the government to establish new rurally-focused medical schools in Australia, at Charles Sturt University and Curtin University, and neither was funded in this year's Budget.
"The fact is that the government had a major budget deficit to overcome this year and new rural medical education initiatives were simply not high enough on the agenda.”
Professor Vann said the failure to address this issue in the 2012/13 budget will only compound rural doctor shortages into the future, and will increase pressure on the government and opposition to come up with solutions in an election year.
"Health Workforce Australia reported two weeks ago that current rural medical education strategies have failed to solve the rural doctor shortage, and will not do so in the future,” Professor Vann said.
"We strongly believe the government should fund a new medical school at Charles Sturt University in the near future because it is the only institution in the region that can prove its ability to attract rural students and get graduates into rural practice.
"It will no doubt be disappointing to rural communities that the opportunity was not grasped in this budget.
Conclusive proof that water once flowed on the Martian surface has been found in a huge ancient impact crater named after Captain Cook’s ship.
A paper by an international team of researchers, which includes the University of Tasmania’s Professor Paulo de Souza, published by the journal Science, reports findings from an investigation of the rim’s stratigraphy by the rover Opportunity.
Dr de Souza, who joined the UTAS Human Interface Technology Laboratory in Launceston from CSIRO early this year, has been part of NASA’s Mars team since 2002.
The rover Opportunity landed on January 24 2004, three weeks after its twin, Spirit, set down. Eight years later, Opportunity is still exploring the Martian surface (Spirit operated for more than five years before becoming irrecoverably stuck in a sand trap).
It is scheduled to be joined in August by the Mars Science Laboratory, a rover named Curiosity, which is about five times the size of Spirit and Opportunity.
“We never thought the Opportunity mission would last as long as it has, so initially the Endeavour crater was only considered a long-term goal,” Professor de Souza said.
It took the rover seven years to navigate the 33 kilometres from its landing spot to reach a feature on the crater rim named Cape York. The effort was rewarded with the discovery of gypsum, a key geological indicator of the historical presence of water and not found elsewhere by either of the two rovers.
“We cannot dig more than a few centimetres with the rover so the best way is analyse soil is to approach craters,” explains Professor de Souza. “The whole structure of a crater will reveal what’s in the subsoil.
“Fortunately for us, there are a large number of craters on Mars which are well-preserved. For geologists it is as if time has stopped. The crater rims have not been eroded by the elements as they have been on Earth.”
“The big question still to be answered is, how long was water present on Mars–and was there enough time for life to be formed? Perhaps Curiosity will shed some light on that.”
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has hit out against the Victorian Government over the proposed cut of $20 million to the Green Light Plan, saying the move will hurt local councils trying to convert to energy efficient street lighting.
Cr Bill McArthur, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) condemned the cut and called for the program to be reinstated to ensure the Baillieu Government delivered an important election promise to Victorian communities.
“The Government’s decision to cut its $20 million Green Light Plan will significantly reduce the capacity of councils to achieve cost savings for ratepayers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The surprise benching of this key green reform program is a blow to Victorian communities given that many councils will have to pass on rising energy costs through rates when the carbon price starts in two months.
“There are high upfront costs to change Victoria’s 300 000 local road street lights using old, expensive lamps to energy efficient lights. It’s simply beyond the capacity of many councils.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk have conducted the first meeting to start work on forming a new partnership between the State Government and the Brisbane City Council.
Mr Newman said the meeting had resulted in an in-principle agreement on a number of issues, including work to upgrade rail crossings, the hand back of state-ruin parklands to Council and a resolution on the stalled Howard Smith Whareves redevelopment.
“My Government believes that local councils are best placed to determine what is right for their local communities and unfortunately many of the issues discussed at the meeting were used as a political football by the former State Government,” Mr Newman said.
“But we’re going to get on with the job and re-empower the Brisbane City Council and local councils right across the state to provide practical and appropriate solutions to local issues.”
Lord Mayor Graham Quirk welcomed the new partnership, saying his top priority was to start work on a timeline and budget program to build flyovers at dangerous rail crossings at Robinson Road Geebung and Telegraph Road Bracken Ridge.
“We’ll be allocating money in the coming budget to kick start these works to upgrade these dangerous rail crossings,” Cr Quirk said.
Cr Quirk said the agreement reached meant that Brisbane City Council could get on with delivering for local residents.
“This is an example of the sort of things that can be achieved when you have a state government that’s prepared to work with local government, not against them,” Cr Quirk said.
An in-principle agreement was reached on:
- Handing over the management of South Bank, Roma Street Parklands, Roma Street Forum and Emma Millar Place to the Brisbane City Council, with funding to ensure the BCC is not out of pocket;
- The re-activation of the Brisbane City Council’s Howard Smith Wharves proposal to build a wonderful parkland and boutique hotel;
- The re-submission of the South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan to allow 12 storey buildings to be built between Montague Road and the river;
- The establishment of a Land Use and Transport Planning Working Party made up of representatives from the BCC and State Government to better co-ordinate land use and transport planning between the two levels of government;
- The hand-back of ULDA areas – Carseldine, Woolloongabba, North Shore Hamilton, Bowen Hills to be handed back to the Brisbane City Council with ULDA powers; and
- Work to immediately begin on a timeline and budget program for the upgrade of open level crossings at Robinson Road, Geebung and Telegraph Road, Bracken Ridge.
The Western Australian Department of Local Government has commenced an inquiry into matters relating to the governance of the City of Canning.
Issues included in the inquiry are:
- governance by the elected council and relationship with executive staff
- human resources recruitment processes
- procurement of goods and services, including tender processes and contract management
- general performance.
The inquiry will require about six months to thoroughly examine matters related to these issues and any other matters the investigative team discovers during its inquiry.
The inquiry was first announced in February after a request was made by the mayor of the City of Canning to initiate the review.
“The authorised inquiry under Part 8 Division 1 of the Local Government Act 1995 will thoroughly examine matters related to these issues and any other matters the investigative team discovers during its inquiry,” Minister for Local Governmnet John Castrilli said.
The inquiry is expected to require six months before any report is given.
Losing even just a few plant species in diverse ecosystems could in the long term reduce biomass production and impair ecosystem sustainability say the authors of a new study published in the international journal, Science.
The research, conducted by Professor Peter Reich - jointly affiliated with the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment and the University of Minnesota - and a team of international collaborators, found that each plant species plays a role in maintaining a productive ecosystem, especially when a long time horizon is considered.
The study examined how the effect of diversity on the productivity of plants changed over the long term in two large independent field experiments at the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in the USA – where Professor Reich and colleagues are conducting the world’s two longest-running biodiversity experiments.
The field site has plots with one, four, nine, or 16 different species of plants. The researchers found every additional species in a plot contributed to a gradual increase in both soil fertility and biomass production over a 14-year period.
Lead author on the study, and Foundation Director of the Hawkesbury Institute, Professor Peter Reich says the latest findings highlight the importance of managing for diversity in grasslands, forests, and crops.
“Prior shorter-term studies, most about two years long, found that diversity increased productivity, but having more than six or eight species in a plot gave no additional benefit,” says Professor Reich, who is also a professor in the Forest Resources Department at the University of Minnesota.
“But we found that over a 14-year time span, all 16 species in our most diverse plots contributed more and more each year to higher soil fertility and biomass production. The take-home message is that when we reduce diversity in the landscape - think of a cornfield or a pine plantation or a suburban lawn - we are failing to capitalize on the valuable natural services that biodiversity provides.”
The research was done using long-lived North American prairie plants, but serves as a model system for all vegetation, whether prairie, forest, or row crop. It also showed how diversity works by demonstrating that different species have different ways to acquire water, nutrients and carbon and maintain them in the ecosystem.
Lupus patients show more severe symptoms of the disease if their vitamin D levels are low, an Australian-first study has found.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which affects more than five million people worldwide, was found to be worse in vitamin D deficient SLE patients than in those with normal levels, in the study led by Professor Eric Morand, head of the Monash Lupus Clinic and Southern Clinical School at Monash Medical Centre.
The research also observed that Australians are more susceptible to the disease due to environmental, genetic and cultural factors, which contribute to vitamin D deficiency.
Professor Morand said although practicing sun avoidance is important for lupus patients, as sunlight can make aspects of the disease worse, this can lead to vitamin D deficiency and an increase in the severity of the disease.
“In multicultural Australia, instances of vitamin D deficiency can be seen in cultural groups where clothing covers the body, in people with dark skin tone who have lower absorption, and those who practice sun avoidance” Professor Morand said.
The findings will be presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Rheumatology Association in Canberra.
The research involved five years of clinical data and blood sample collection from the Monash Lupus Clinic at Monash Medical Centre, the only lupus-dedicated clinic in Australia.
A new autism research centre has been launched at Griffith University’s Mt Gravatt campus.
The first of its kind in Australia, the Autism Centre of Excellence (ACE) is a partnership between Griffith University and industry partners including AEIOU Foundation and the State and Federal Governments.
Griffith Chair in Autism, Professor Jacqueline Roberts said more than 350 Queensland children were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) each year.
"ASDs are lifelong conditions that affect every part of a person's life from how they play and work to how they learn and interact with people," Professor Roberts said.
"ACE brings together researchers, educators and professionals to help address key issues facing those with ASDs and families.
"The main focus of the centre will be the transition of learners with ASDs across the lifespan, from home into schooling through to further education and employment."
The centre will prepare the next generation of educators and enhance the skills of current educators and professionals.
Key research includes transitions for learners with ASDs, social learning and relationships, and cross-cultural and Indigenous perceptions and experiences.
As well as research, the centre includes the development of undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
"Our vision is to bridge gaps in the knowledge bases of ASDs and raise greater awareness of the importance of an education-centric focus for ASDs research and practice," Professor Roberts said.
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has praised the Federal Government’s 2012-13 Budget, saying that its initiatives ensure the continuation of hundreds of millions of dollars in vital local government infrastructure.
“Last year, ALGA launched a national campaign to secure ongoing federal funding to assist councils to maintain local roads and address an estimated shortfall of $1.2 billion in their investment. I am pleased to say that the Australian Government has listened to local government’s concerns and extended the program until 2019,” ALGA Vice President Felecity-Ann Lewis said.
“Local communities across the country will benefit from the Government’s commitment to provide $350 million a year for five years from 2014 to 2019 under the R2R program, ensuring the maintenance of our local roads, which make up more than 80 per cent of our national road system.”
The Government has announced $60 million in black spot funding over five years, as well as $20 million over seven years from 2012-13 onwards.
Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) to local governments will also be maintained in real terms, with the Government deciding to bring forward the first two quarterly payments of the 2012-13 FAGs into 2011-12.
The Federal Government has delivered on its promise to bring the Budget back to black, delivering a $1.5 billion surplus.
The Government delivered its first surplus in the last four years, with the key announcements as follows:
- $3.2 billion over five years for aged care, including initiatives including measures to double home care assistance and improve pay and conditions of aged care workers
- $3.56 billion injection into the Nation Building Program, which, if matched by the NSW Government, could see the completion of the full duplication of the Pacific Highway by the end of 2016.
- $475 million for 76 key health infrastructure projects
- $1.1 billion over the next four years to assist people who receive income support allowance payments better manage unexpected cost of living expenses.
- $1 billion in spending over four years to start the roll out of the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
- $1.72 billion for the 2012-13 year for science and innovation, with an additional $126 million for research in universities
- 54 million package to improve standards of science and maths teaching in Australian schools.
- $40 million in spending over four years to soften the blow of the newly unemployed and assist in making the most of savings while looking for a new job or studying.
- Changes to the eligibility for Family Tax Benefit Part A to help target family payments
- $350 million in funding to assist irrigation infrastructure reform in the Murray Darling Basin, sourced from existing funds.
Cuts announced were:
- Scrapping the 1 per cent company tax to help fund the Government’s $3.6 billion package for low and middle income families and small businesses
- An estimated $5 billion to be cut from Defence.
The Budget papers are available here.
The Federal Government will collect an additional $698 million over four years by increasing the Road User Charge, collected by the Commonwealth from fuel which is used by registered vehicles with a gross mass of greater than 4.5 tonnes operating on a public road for business purposes.
From 1 July 2012 the Road User Charge will increase from 23.1 to 25.5 cents per litre. This will reduce the fuel tax credit paid by the Commonwealth to eligible heavy vehicle operators.
The change to the Road User Charge was recommended by the National Transport Commission (NTC) and agreed by the Commonwealth and State and Territory Transport Ministers.
The NTC is responsible for conducting an annual assessment of these charges to ensure they remain in line with heavy vehicle share of road use. The increase in the rate is contingent on implementation of a revised Road User Charge Determination to be made under the Fuel Tax Act 2006.
The Government has targeted three areas for savings in water management programs.
It will reduce departmental funding by $61.2 million over two years (including $39.0 million in 2016-17) for the Driving Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin program.
The remaining program funding of $234.2 million over five years from 2012-13 will enable the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to continue delivery of the governance and operational reforms for the integrated management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Funding for the National Urban Water and Desalination Plan will be reduced by by $25.7 million in 2011-12 by funding fewer projects.
The remaining program funding of $201.9 million over four years from 2012-13 will continue to be available for desalination, recycling and stormwater harvesting projects.
A further $16.5 million in savings in 2011-12 will be obtained from the National Water Security Plan for Cities and Towns, including $10.0 million in payments to the states. Funding will no longer be provided for a number of urban water projects where proponents have not met the conditions of their funding agreements or due diligence requirements.
The remaining program funding of $96.0 million over four years from 2012-13 will remain available for projects that reduce water losses in cities and towns nationally with populations of less than 50,000.
The Government will provide $12.5 million over four years from 2013â€‘14 (including $3.1 million in 2016â€‘17) to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to assist its research vision of 'Resilient Coral Reefs Successfully Adapting to Climate Change'. The contribution will be directed towards research to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef, in particular in response to climate change.
A further $8.0 million over two years will be provided from the Caring for our Country program to supplement the base funding of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This includes funding for the continuation of the communityâ€‘based Reef Guardian initiative and support systems for research and onâ€‘ground management.
The Australian Government will provide $37.8 million over four years to implement reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act).
The main elements of the reforms include: improving the environmental impact assessment process; moving towards landscapeâ€‘based environmental protection approaches; improving the process for identifying and managing species and environments under threat; simplifying the listing process for national and Commonwealth heritage and improving protection of Indigenous heritage; and strengthening the arrangements for the fiveâ€‘yearly State of the Environment Report.
This measure includes capital funding of $5.5 million to develop and implement an integrated information technology system to support administration of the Act.
The cost of the reforms will be offset through enhanced cost recovery arrangements from December 2012, including their extension to environmental impact assessments. These changes are estimated to increase revenue by $38.1 million over four years.
The cost of this measure will also be partially met from the existing resourcing of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
This measure delivers on the Government's response to the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The Federal Government will provide $5.0 million over four years to progress further work on the reform of Australia's energy markets, including:
- commissioning the Productivity Commission to examine the use of benchmarking as a means of achieving the efficient delivery of network services and electricity infrastructure and to assess whether the current regulatory framework is delivering efficient levels of transmission interconnection to support the operation of the National Electricity Market;
- bringing forward the scheduled review of the current limited merits review appeal process for network cost determinations, to help ensure it is delivering effective outcomes that are fair for both consumers and network businesses;
- conducting a scoping study on the establishment of an energy information hub to improve energy information disclosure by retailers and distributors in order to help consumers to better understand and manage their energy use; and
- continuing the reform agenda of the Standing Council on Energy and Resources to assist in mitigating electricity price pressures.
The Australian Government has withdrawn funding of $10.9 million over four years from 2011â€‘12 from the Sustainable Australia — promoting regional living program, which was announced in the 2011â€‘12 Budget.
The funding was originally planned to support nonâ€‘capital cities to conduct targeted marketing strategies to promote the benefits and opportunities of living and working in regional cities.
The Government will provide $6.1 million of new funding, with a further $0.8 million inâ€‘kind contribution from the CSIRO, over three years towards a $10.0 million strategy to realise the potential of new irrigated agriculture in North Queensland.
The strategy will build on the existing Northern Australia Sustainable Futures program. The funding includes:
- $6.8 million to conduct an assessment of the feasibility of developing surface water resources in the Flinders and Gilbert River catchments in North Queensland, and identify new irrigated agriculture techniques; and
- $0.1 million to jointly fund a study of the viability of establishing a meat processing facility in North Queensland, with a further $0.1 million from the Queensland Government.
The Queensland Government will contribute $3.0 million to undertake onâ€‘farm demonstration projects and systems analysis to develop practical farming approaches.
The strategy was announced in December last year.