Horses are a breed apart with drug use

THE wave of publicity surrounding Lance Armstrong and cycling means that there is now a huge question of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. So it is likely at some point in the future the media spotlight will focus on racing, as there is the eternal innuendo that drugs are involved in horse racing and are part of success in racing.

I do not believe that to be the case and, with the Armstrong saga fresh in everyone’s mind, it is a good opportunity to discuss the use and misuse of drugs in horse racing.

First, there is a significant difference between horse racing and pretty much every other sport, in that the use of most drugs, including therapeutics, is strictly controlled in racing, whereas in most sports – and Olympic sports – common therapeutics are allowed.

However, there is a specific number of banned drugs that are listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency and they include performance-enhancing drugs, which have no place in sport.

To highlight the difference, if one can imagine an Olympic showjumper training the day before the Olympics and there is a fall where rider and horse sustain the same injuries: a sprained back and a sprained ankle.

That is where the similarities end. The rider can be treated with a range of drugs, including anti-inflammatories, cortisone, local anaesthetics, creams, gels etc. But in stark contrast, none of the treatments used on the rider can be used on the horse, and there are virtually no therapeutic drugs such as anti-inflammatories, cortisones etc that can be used close to an event – most are stopped at least a week before competition.

So what is the difference, and why? The difference primarily relates to the fact that the athlete is governed by WADA and the horse is governed by protocols and rules that have been adopted from horse racing.

WADA was established in 1999, and in 2003 all major international sporting federations and 73 governments signed the Copenhagen Declaration – a resolution accepting WADA as the basis for the fight against doping in all sports.

WADA produced a list of banned drugs. The list is clear and precise and catalogues a surprisingly small number of drugs because it is specifically banning and prohibiting drugs or procedures that are used to improve or enhance sporting performance.

Such drugs include stimulants, narcotics, anabolic steroids, hormones such as growth hormones and erythropoietin (EPO) and diuretics. In addition, WADA has banned procedures such as blood doping – where red blood cells are collected from the athlete, stored and reinjected at a later date with the aim of improving aerobic or endurance performance.

Most of the drugs on WADA’s banned list are modern drugs that have been developed with improved medical technology and they are vital drugs to the patients who require them. Erythropoietin, for example, is a synthetically manufactured copy of the kidney hormone – and is used in patients with kidney failure who cannot produce their own EPO. In the body, EPO is produced by the kidney to regulate the blood count, such that when the blood count is low the kidney releases EPO to go to the bone marrow to increase the production and release of red blood cells into the blood – thus improving the blood count.

So while it is a fantastic drug with a specific therapeutic use – its effect has been identified by endurance athletes who wish to cheat and artificially increase their blood count, enabling better aerobic performance – they can perform faster for longer without fatigue.

Clearly these drugs have no therapeutic effect in a healthy athlete and they are purely used to modify or enhance performance, which is why WADA has placed them on the banned list.

However, WADA does not ban normal therapeutic drugs and, in fact, if an athlete needs to use a drug in a therapeutic way but which is on the banned list, then the athlete and his/her doctor can apply to WADA for a therapeutic exemption. An example of this would be the athlete who needs to use a “puffer” to help manage asthma.

In contrast, horse racing is run on the premise of being ”drug free,” so no drugs – not even therapeutics – are allowed. So when one looks at the drug rules in racing, they are written to be all-inclusive.

In contrast to the narrow list of WADA drugs, the list of prohibited drugs in racing is incredibly broad and encompasses virtually every possible therapeutic drug. The justification for such a wide-ranging rule is animal welfare, that is, as the horses can’t speak for themselves (except Mr Ed), there is a need to protect them from harm which might occur if they were trained and raced on therapeutics such as anti-inflammatories and analgesics.

The position is quite reasonable, but it is interesting to note that in some US states, such as Kentucky, horses are allowed to race on phenylbutazone, a common and effective horse anti-inflammatory.

In addition to the drug-free rule, racing also has a list of totally banned drugs, which is similar to the WADA list and represents drugs that have no place in any sport.

In recent months, Australian racing authorities have introduced screening limits, which apply to these drugs, and they need to be above the screening limit for a positive swab to be called.

This is a significant change – it is a bit like the introduction of the .05 drink-driving rule. It brings Australia into line with other international racing areas such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe, but perhaps more importantly, it means that trainers and owners are not penalised by improved drug-testing equipment that can detect a minute trace of a drug in urine – which up until now would result in a positive swab.

Finally, there is the perception that drug use and racing go hand-in-hand. This is not the case and there is no evidence to suggest it. But headlines identifying every positive swab probably help perpetuate this misconception. If one looks at all the positive swabs in racing over the past decade, all bar a couple have been to therapeutic drugs, which would have been allowed under WADA rules.

And if one looks at racing records, there has been no real improvement in race times. Yet we see these improvements in other sports, and while improvement is occurring in training and technology, it can also reflect the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Dr Glenn Robertson-Smith is the founding partner of the Melbourne Equine Veterinary Group, one of the largest veterinary practices in Melbourne. Dr Robertson-Smith is a specialist in equine surgery and consults both here and overseas.

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Party donor’s safety charges dropped at department request

Appeal … Hilton Grugeon.The NSW Department of Resoures and Energy asked for the dismissal of criminal charges against a high-profile Liberal Party donor who fought it for six years.

The Liberal Party donor Hilton Grugeon and a business partner, Grahame Chevalley, were facing charges as company directors over the accidental death of a truck driver, Darren Smith, who worked at their quarry.

Mr Grugeon yesterday said he would now appeal convictions against the company, Hunter Quarries, and the quarry manager Alex Badior, following the dismissal of charges against him and Mr Chevalley this week.

In 2009, Hunter Quarries and Mr Badior pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the truck and the quarry roads were safe.

Under new health and safety laws introduced in NSW this year, company directors like Mr Grugeon and Mr Chevalley would not have had to prove their innocence as they did under the previous law. Under the new law, the onus of proof is on the prosecutor.

Earlier this year the Herald reported Mr Grugeon had lobbied the NSW Resources and Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, and the Finance and Services Minister, Greg Pearce, to have new health and safety laws made retrospective.

The federal Liberal MP Bob Baldwin, who has received donations from Mr Grugeon, also wrote to the ministers seeking a judicial review into whether the Crown should withdraw prosecutions under the old occupational health and safety laws.

Internal government documents obtained by the Herald showed Mr Hartcher wrote to his department in February asking for ”all prosecutions pending under the OH&S Act to be stayed” pending legal advice on whether they should continue.

WorkCover asked the NSW Industrial Relations Court to adjourn live cases initiated under the old act.

An email from WorkCover on February 16 said it appeared a judicial review of prosecutions and the possibility of retrospective laws was ”under serious consideration” by the minister’s office.

A spokeswoman for the NSW division of Resources and Energy, which reports to Mr Hartcher, yesterday said the department reviewed its evidence and ”independently” decided against proceeding with charges against the company directors. The Industrial Relations Court dismissed the charges on Monday. ”The department has an obligation to review the progress of proceedings and when the situation warrants, withdraw proceedings,” the spokeswoman said.

”There has been no contact between the department and the minister’s office in relation to this decision not to proceed.”

Mr Grugeon said he ”wondered if the message from the politicians had finally got through”, but he and his lawyers were confident the prosecution’s case collapsed because of a lack of evidence.

The opposition spokesman for finance, Michael Daley, said the government needed to explain ”why, after all this time, effort and massive taxpayer expense, the prosecutions have suddenly stopped”.

”Darren Smith’s family have a right to know,” he said.

Mr Hartcher, Mr Pearce and the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, refused to comment.

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Safe haven with a paypacket

Reclaiming her life … Katja, who was in an abusive relationship, had an understanding employer when the effects of her situation at home took a toll on her standards at work.Katja was in an abusive relationship for eight years. It dominated her life. “It was a mixture of everything; emotional abuse, physical abuse,” she says. “A lot of very controlling behaviour.”

The abuse started slowly after she fell “madly in love” while living in London in the early 2000s.

“The closer I got to him, the more he would reveal things. I ended up in this situation caring for him while he had breakdown after breakdown.”

Her partner’s troubles, borne of a childhood exposed to violence, had left him “extremely volatile” and later diagnosed with mental illness.

“He went from extreme depression to extreme mania, the bipolar cycle,” she says. “He would threaten me and manipulate me to go along with the lies; there was a lot of control and lying.”

During their time together, her life changed. Katja, now 42, spent two years out of work trying to help her partner find a job. She also experienced a noticeable shift in her own career.

“Prior to that relationship, I would quite easily get promotions into other jobs,” she says.

“Once I got stuck in an abusive relationship, I started being overlooked for promotions, I wouldn’t get interviews. People in the workplace noticed I had more and more time off and I was often crying at work.”

But Katja, who works for a government organisation in NSW, was lucky in other ways. Some women are killed by violent partners and others are forced to quit their jobs – often the last link to a world outside the suffocating abuse.

Katja’s problems also started to intrude on her work. After she began turning up late on a regular basis, a new (male) manager asked Katja why.

“I basically said I can’t talk to you about this because I couldn’t talk to any man about my situation, so I said I will write to you and I wrote him a memo and explained everything.”

Katja’s manager was empathetic and agreed to her request for two weeks leave. She says that meant she could “go to the doctor, get some medication and basically have a breakdown”.

Later she returned to work part time, then eventually full time and continued to study for a degree.

At the time, Katja’s employer did not have a domestic violence policy but has since endorsed a regime that gives paid or unpaid leave and other support for victims.

It is two years since the first employer in Australia, the Surf Coast Shire Council in the Victorian town of Torquay, agreed to a world’s best standard of 20 days of paid family violence leave. It was a unique and generous collective agreement.

Since that deal, negotiated by the Australian Services Union, dozens of similar agreements have been struck across Australia, from Queensland Rail to the NSW public service, to the aged-care sector and dozens of councils.

About 700,000 workers now have some entitlement to paid family violence leave – about one in every 14.

Anti-family violence campaigner Ludo McFerran has championed the issue to unions and others, and is spreading the word at international conferences, speaking to activists from Europe, North America and New Zealand.

McFerran says abused women are among the worst off in the job market and tend to have lower incomes. Studies also show the importance of a paid job because the financial independence is vital in helping victims escape a violent relationship.

That is why the 2010 Surf Coast Shire agreement is regarded as so significant and comprehensive.

It required that someone in human resources at the council be trained in family violence and privacy issues so that workers could be referred to other support services.

If needed, proof of abuse would come from professionals such as doctors or police.

Campaigner Phil Cleary believes his sister Vicki might have lived if a family violence agreement had been in place. In 1987, Vicki was stabbed to death by her former boyfriend outside the kindergarten where she worked in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.

“My sister was murdered parking her car, outside her place of work, by someone who had been there before in a threatening manner,” he says. “At the time, people thought it was private business.”

Cleary says if there had been an agreement in 1987, the kindergarten “would have gone on alert”.

“It would have identified this man as a predator. If that had happened with [Peter] Keogh in 1987, I fancy my sister would have been alive; it would have alerted us to the danger.”

Cleary says the agreements are important as they acknowledge how widespread the violence is. “It’s sad we’ve got to factor family violence into an EBA [enterprise bargaining agreement] because it’s necessary, because violence in the home afflicts women workers,” he says.

“I welcome it, but the cautionary tale is that we have to deal with the violence first hand.”

It is a dismal fact that violence against women inhabits every crack and crevice of Australian life.

In 2005, a detailed picture emerged from a Bureau of Statistics report that showed about one in six women experience domestic violence from either a previous or current partner.

That equated to about 1.3 million women. About one in four of those women had been sexually assaulted from a current or previous partner while more than 80 per cent had been physically assaulted. It pointed to a problem across classes, age groups and among both the local and overseas born.

Sara*, from Melbourne’s western suburbs, was a migrant who came from a culture where it was frowned on to speak out about domestic violence. The shame fell on the victim.

The abuse from her ex-husband was “controlling in every way”. “It got worse, it was physical, he actually threatened to kill my children too,” she says. “I had to call police several times, I had to get intervention orders.”

Sara felt trapped from the ongoing abuse. She had two young children to care for and her performance at work suffered. Her manager started noticing she was “very unsettled” and began asking questions, approaches that Sara rebuffed.

“One day she sat down with me and said that my work performance was not up to standard and told me I would not last,” Sara says. “She was very patient and very nice and said she was willing to help me. Then I started crying and I just told her everything.”

Sara was fortunate her manager had worked in the domestic violence field and she gave her important advice. Soon after, she took action.

After getting an intervention order, changing the locks to her house and hiring a lawyer, it took two years for the divorce and property settlement to be finished. Sara now has a mortgage, works part time and has a $50,000 debt to her lawyer. “Financially, I am worse off but nothing beats the peace and happiness of being at home with my children.”

The hope from activists is women such as Sara and Katja will have more formal ways to obtain paid leave and support rather than relying on the goodwill of managers.

The ASU Victoria and Tasmania assistant branch secretary, Lisa Darmanin, says she has been surprised how quickly the change has occurred after her union signed the first agreement with Surf Coast Shire.

“Usually these kinds of reforms take quite a while to embed into the culture of bargaining,” she says. “Both employers and employees realise this is a societal issue that workplaces can play an active role in.”

Darmanin says where the agreement exists she has had anecdotal feedback it is being used, but sparingly. “We don’t expect a huge uptake of it, it should be used as much as it needs to be.”

As paid family violence leave spreads through the workforce, there are calls for it to become a universal right.

Federal agency the Law Reform Commission this year recommended the national government consider whether paid leave be included as a right in the national employment standards, the workplace safety net.

It should also consider giving victims of family violence a right to flexible work hours. The union movement endorsed this push at its triennial ACTU congress.

However, while employer groups do not oppose voluntary workplace agreements they have expressed concern at it going further. Small business, in particular, would struggle with cost and complying with new rules, they say.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace policy director, Daniel Mammone, says domestic violence affects everyone “in the community” and needed a “community-based response”.

Many employers already “go above and beyond their legal obligations” and are sensitive to the needs of staff and put them in contact with professionals. That was a better model, he says, than a “rights-based approach”. McFerran says sustained reform will only come from national standards.

For people such as Katja, losing her job was the thing she feared most as it took her away from the “terror” at home and provided a source of independence.

“I was so afraid to lose my job,” she says. “Work was so important to me. It was fun being at work, and a welcome escape from home.”

* Sara not her real name.

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Stitch in time to save toiler’s dream

(From left) Priyanka, Laxmi, Rupa, Sunali and Babula have mixed feelings about the loss of their stitching work.THE Sherrins are gone from these streets, and now Ruby is choosing a school.

A month ago, The Saturday Age found 18-year-old Ruby, a full-time stitcher since she was 14, sitting in the courtyard of her home with her mother and two sisters-in-law.

The story that sparked change

Perched on stools, they hand-sewed footballs 10 hours a day, six days a week, earning just 12¢ a ball.

At that time, Ruby said she found stitching dull, and painful. She feared her dream of an education had gone, adding: ”I am worried about my future.”

Today, there are no balls in the house, and Ruby is contemplating a computer course.

Following The Saturday Age’s revelations that children as young as 10 were being employed to stitch Sherrin balls in Jalandhar, the company’s Indian supplier, Spartan, has offered to employ the parents of all children who worked on its products.

In the days after The Saturday Age told Ruby’s story, her father, Gurbhej, was employed by Spartan as a driver and his salary – a little over 10,000 rupees ($A180) a month – will more than cover what the four women in his house could earn stitching all day, every day.

His family has been offered healthcare, and the company, he says, has offered to cover Ruby’s education expenses, “whichever college and for whatever duration she wishes to study”.

Spartan has also appointed him the unofficial point-man for his suburb of Basti Danishmandi. It has promised to help families who can’t afford healthcare or to send their children to school, whether or not they stitched Spartan balls.

The older women in Ruby’s family still stitch sports balls occasionally, though never Sherrins, and the day The Saturday Age returns there are no balls of any sort in the house. “We haven’t left that work completely,” Gurbhej says. “But it’s not like we used to … we used to depend on stitching. Now, when my money comes it will take care of my family’s livelihood. My children need not work.”

Ruby says she will never stitch a ball again. The scarred hands she showed The Saturday Age four weeks ago have healed.

”If I study and learn something, I can get a job and improve my family’s position,” she said.

She wants to learn to use a computer, and from there perhaps do an accountancy course. “It’s better than ball-stitching.”

In another lane in the same slum, Laxmi’s house is now free of balls too. But the change has brought its own difficulties.

She stitched full-time with two of her three daughters, Sunali and Rupa, aged 11 and 10.

Her husband was already employed by Spartan, and Laxmi and her daughters stitched 15 balls a day between them to supplement his income. They earned $1.80 a day, crucial to a family on the poverty line.

Since September, Spartan has directed that no balls can leave the factory, so there is no work for Laxmi and her girls.

“We are poor people, we have expenses such as food, and by stopping this work, it will become more difficult,” she says.

Spartan has promised to cover the girls’ education expenses and healthcare.

Sherrin says it is conscious of the impact the removal of stitching work has had on families.

“Our supplier Spartan has assured us that they have offered full-time employment to all adult members of families who they have been made aware of, who have been affected by the move to take all subcontracting in-house,” said Chris Lambert, Australian managing director of Sherrin’s parent company, Russell Corporation.

“Spartan has also assured us they are offering free education and healthcare to the children and parents involved who cannot afford these basic necessities. Together we have been very conscious of ensuring the families affected are looked after and we will continue to commit to this.”

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Domestic violence leave surges

Campaigner Phil Cleary believes his sister Vicki could have lived if her work had an agreement on family violence.EXCLUSIVE

AS MANY as 700,000 Australian workers now have access to paid domestic violence leave and many more are poised to get it. The world-first workplace initiative is attracting keen interest from overseas and is set to be embraced in Europe and North America.

The rapid expansion in paid family violence leave in Australia has taken a mere two years since the first agreement was signed at the Surf Coast Shire Council in Torquay.

That deal provided an extra 20 days a year of paid leave in what was the world’s most progressive workplace deal on family violence.

Since then dozens of agreements have been signed across Australia, covering about 7 per cent of the national workforce, with some deals even including unlimited access to paid leave.

Unions and activists are pushing to extend it further and to have paid family violence leave made a universal workplace right.

Ludo McFerran, a campaigner against family violence who has been behind the push, has been meeting unions and activists from Europe and Canada and said there had been strong interest in pursuing it.

”Australia is being applauded internationally,” she said.

More than 20 Victorian councils have agreed to the paid leave, as has the New South Wales public service and big private-sector employer Queensland Rail. So far it is found mostly in local government or the public sector but Ms McFerran said more private-sector agreements were imminent.

Ms McFerran – who heads the Safe at Home, Safe at Work project at the University of NSW – said that since the ACTU congress endorsed the push in the middle of the year ”more and more unions are putting it automatically into a log of claims”.

Family violence leave typically allows victims flexible hours, paid days off or even having their email addresses or phone numbers changed to escape harassment. It requires training of a manager in family violence and privacy issues so victims can be referred to support services.

Paid work is regarded as important in helping victims escape violent relationships as it is a source of financial and emotional independence from abuse.

Violence is a growing problem in Victoria, with reports to police of family violence-related crime up by nearly a quarter in 2011-12.

Campaigner Phil Cleary believes his sister Vicki could have lived if her work had an agreement on family violence. In 1987, Vicki was stabbed to death by her former boyfriend outside the Coburg kindergarten where she worked.

”My sister was murdered parking her car, outside her place of work, by someone [Peter Keogh] who had been there before in a threatening manner,” he said. ”At the time people thought it was private business.”

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten commended employers that had signed up to the leave.

”It is pleasing that where society silently ignored domestic violence, we are increasingly willing to speak out against its perpetrators and support its victims. This should extend to the workplace,” Mr Shorten said.

”If you don’t oppose domestic violence and support women, then you are part of the problem.”

Federal opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said violence should be condemned and employers acknowledged for helping workers. “It is crucial for workers and business to be able to agree on employment conditions that suit their respective needs,” he said, ”and those workplaces that have policies in place to assist workers should be acknowledged for choosing to do so.”

The Australian Law Reform Commission this year recommended the

federal government consider whether paid family violence leave be included as a right in the national employment standards, the workplace safety net.

It also recommended the government consider giving victims the right to request flexible hours. While the ACTU backs this, neither of the major parties or employer groups do so far.

The Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Richard Clancy said there should be scope to have paid family violence leave ”where a business wants to do so and can afford it” but rejected it becoming a universal right.

Ms McFerran said her group was pushing to have family violence leave included in the national employment standards by next year.

She noted that Labor’s platform now said victims should get ”appropriate protection” in the workplace, including leave entitlements.

Ms McFerran said domestic violence imposed a high cost to employers through absences from work, staff turnover and low productivity.

An Access Economics report in 2004 put the annual cost of domestic violence in Australia at $8 billion.

Ms McFerran said where the leave existed it was being used. ”The feedback we’re getting from the field is that people are not taking huge amounts of leave, they’re taking small amounts of leave for the incredibly urgent and important things they’ve got to do, such as get a protection order,” he said.

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OECD blasts Australia over foreign bribery cases

INTERNATIONAL examiners have savaged Australia’s enforcement of foreign bribery laws and highlighted extensive failures in the handling of our only foreign bribery prosecution to date: the Reserve Bank companies’ corruption scandal.

”The lead examiners are concerned that the AFP may have closed foreign bribery cases before thoroughly investigating the allegations,” a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says.

The report says Australian businesses were highly exposed to foreign corruption, but prosecutors and federal police were under-resourced and investigators lacked experience in targeting corporate crime. Despite 28 cases reported to federal police since the introduction of laws in 1999, criminal charges had been laid over only one.

Eight former executives of Reserve Bank companies Note Printing Australia and Securency are facing committal proceedings in the Melbourne Magistrates Court over alleged conspiracy to bribe foreign officials in order to gain banknote-supply contracts in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Evidence is due to finish next week.

The OECD report said the case brought against the two companies highlighted:

■ A lack of co-ordination between federal police and the corporate regulator ASIC, which investigates breaches of directors’ duties. ”Miscommunication between the AFP and ASIC may have left important aspects of foreign bribery cases uninvestigated.”

■ A need for stronger whistleblower protections, noting: ”The Securency/NPA case was initially rejected without investigation when a whistleblower first approached the AFP in 2008. An investigation began only after the company self-reported wrongdoing to the AFP in the following year.”

■ Austrade’s role in introducing foreign agents to Australian companies after a ”cursory” background check, saying the government should ”consider taking concrete steps to encourage companies, in the strongest terms, to conduct due diligence on agents”.

■ Reported suggestions that Reserve Bank and federal government officials knew of corruption allegations but did not report them to police, indicating a working group ”should follow up the issue of foreign bribery reporting by Australian officials in the Securency/NPA matter when Australian authorities are at liberty to discuss this issue [once court proceedings have concluded]”.

A specialist in corruption law, Johnson Winter & Slattery partner Robert Wyld, said Australia was ”reactive” in implementing foreign bribery laws. ”When somebody like the OECD comes to visit and starts asking questions … is when the government starts to react.”

The OECD – which also noted that some progress had been made since its last report in 2005 – was the subject of cross-examination in the committal of the former executives in October.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police yesterday said the enforcement of foreign bribery laws was a ”high priority for the Australian government” and investigations were ”inherently complex due to their cross-border nature”.

She said that in August 2011 the AFP reviewed all foreign bribery cases that had been closed without charges. Two cases were reopened ”to exhaust all lines of inquiry” but have since been finalised without charges.

An Austrade spokesman said the agency had implemented major reforms following a review in 2011. ASIC declined to comment.

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Scouts kept files on paedophile suspects

The files contained allegations of disturbing incidents, such as a case where a male scoutmaster had written love letters to a 12 or 14-year-old boy Scout.SCOUTS in New South Wales kept ”behavioural” and unofficial ”red” files on suspected paedophile Scout leaders detailing allegations that had not always been reported to police, say former Scout officials.

The existence of the files, dating from the 1960s to the 1990s, was confirmed by the former chief executive of the Scouts Australia New South Wales branch, Peter Olah, and a former district and regional commissioner, Des Hocking, this week.

The branch had earlier this week denied it had any official or unofficial red files, saying they only kept a record of ”administrative matters arising during the provision of the Scouting program, which were not published but were available to police or any appropriate authority if needed”.

But a Scouts NSW spokeswoman said the organisation passed on claims about the files uncovered by The Saturday Age to police.

The revelations come as Scouts in the US were revealed to be keeping secret ”perversion files” on hundreds of suspected paedophiles.

The allegations about similar files being kept in Australia were uncovered after The Saturday Age investigated how a suspected paedophile scoutmaster in the Hunter Valley was allowed to maintain contact with boy Scouts – some of whom he abused – despite being the subject of complaints.

This week Mr Hocking confirmed the keeping of red files was common among commissioners. Mr Hocking, who retired from Scouts three years ago, revealed the practice while explaining how Scouts had failed to quickly expel the paedophile Steve ”Skip” Larkins, who abused Scouts in the 1990s. Larkins was suspended in 2000 despite concerns being raised about him years earlier.

Mr Hocking said Scout leaders suspected of paedophile behaviour and named in his own ”red files” were not reported to police because there had not been distinct criminal acts.

But the files still contained allegations of disturbing incidents, such as a case where a male scoutmaster had written love letters to a 12 or 14-year-old boy Scout in the mid to late 1990s.

Another dealt with complaints about a young Scout leader notorious for grabbing the underwear of girl Scouts.

He did not report the letter writer to the police because it was a ”stupid misdemeanour”.

”We had no evidence it had gone beyond a letter of infatuation. You couldn’t cut someone’s head off for it,” he said.

Mr Hocking said both of the Scout leaders detailed in the files had received official warnings and left the region. But he was unhappy to learn that the letter-writer had received a Scouting award in another region.

He said he burnt his red files after he left Scouting because he did not want them turning up at a dump and being read.

Mr Olah said the organisation had a ”half drawer” of files detailing ”suspicions” about leaders when he started in the head office in the late 1990s.

He handed them to police soon after starting as chief executive in 1999-2000. ”There was stuff going back to the 1960s and most of those were people [who were complained about] who were either convicted or long dead,” he said. Another former Scouting official, Charles Watson, said he was unaware of ”red” files but noted that headquarters had been sent reports about suspected paedophiles which should still be archived.

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Charting our course for meeting the challenges of the Asian century

Ideas man … Trade Minister Craig Emerson.So tomorrow, here at last and in Sydney, too, is the new white paper on Australia in the Asian Century prepared by some of our top brains in government, academia and business, and launched by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

It’s run a bit over schedule, as the original target for publication was the middle of the year, but at 13 months from the commissioning date, it promises to be a huge study produced in a relatively short period.

So huge the head of the Office of National Assessments (Canberra’s top intelligence body), Alan Gyngell, and other senior foreign policy experts have been diverted from regular duties for weeks to concentrate on and shape its findings.

The question now is: how partisan will be the reception?

In the poisonous atmosphere of Canberra, it’s not inconceivable that even a ”motherhood” proposition such as advocating closer engagement with fast-prospering Asia can become intensely political.

And that’s not only anticipating Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey or Scott Morrison saying: ”Yes, but what does it say about stopping the boats?” It’s about internal Labor Party politics too.

The idea for the study came from Gillard’s top foreign policy confidant, the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson. It was a very good idea in itself, but had the advantage of stealing some of Kevin Rudd’s thunder about being the great Asian expert who Labor pushed aside.

This will be a double wedge then, challenging Abbott’s Coalition to move decisively beyond the ”Anglosphere” and ”geography no longer matters” thinking that periodically pops out of its mouth and asserting that interest in Asia isn’t confined to Rudd.

On the sidelines, it may be pointed out that, while he undoubtedly knows a lot, Rudd did a pretty good job as prime minister and foreign minister of offending three big Asian powers – China, Japan and India – with some undiplomatic remarks and travel priorities.

In the Coalition, there are several figures already working hard on understanding the region, including the spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, and backbencher Josh Frydenberg, who will look beyond immediate politics to longer term national interests.

A white paper is government policy, Gillard staffers insist, not a consultant’s report. So what will it contain?

Those looking for hard policy announcements will be disappointed. Those familiar with the draft say it does not include new spending programs, say on Asian studies in schools, that will enter the federal budget anytime soon.

But the white paper is very much about how Australia and Australians ”step up to the mark” in terms of knowledge and infrastructure to make the best of Asian opportunities. With the former Treasury secretary Ken Henry chairing the panel in charge of it, it can be certain that some ideas about making the tax system more competitive – and encouraging competitiveness – will figure strongly.

On the other side of the picture, it does look at the emerging Asia, including its economic prospects, strategic relationships and regional architecture. But as a public document, it is not going to be critical of developments in other countries – though it won’t be ”Pollyanna-ish” either, say insiders.

It will be a fascinating, possibly seminal document that challenges all of us to inform ourselves more about Asia and attune our behaviour to make the most of its opportunities.

Unfortunately, I won’t be reporting on it tomorrow for the Herald. By an unfortunate accident of timing, yesterday was my last day at the newspaper. As with many senior colleagues, the current transformation at Fairfax Media has presented a moment to move on and hand over to younger journalists.

My three stints on the newspaper – the first started as a cadet fresh out of university – and freelancing in between, have given me plenty of opportunities to explore Asia, from Japan across to the Middle East, as well as the south-west Pacific, and meet its characters high and low.

Back in Sydney, Asia and the Pacific are here to be discovered too.

I’ve written about a pub in Marrickville owned by a Maori tribe, attended a Tamil Tiger memorial service in Parramatta Town Hall, drunk kava at a Tongan ceremony in Mount Druitt, heard Turkish sufi music in Auburn, and met business people, academics, diplomats, spooks and dissidents from all over.

My job as Asia-Pacific Editor continued a Herald tradition of close interest in the immediate circle of neighbours – going back through names such as David Jenkins, Louise Williams and Peter Hastings – that was driven by curiosity about the deeper trends in these nations.

It is this inner ring of neighbours – Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the other Melanesian states, and just behind them the other south-east Asian countries – where Australia’s security lies.

As enthralling and important for trade as these bigger and more advanced Asian economies may be, the Australia media must continue to bring news and analysis of these closer nations to its audiences, and not just when an Australian is arrested, blown up or killed in a plane crash.

Unless it does, it can hardly lecture Australian business for not bothering to investigate Asian markets, for assuming Asia’s consumers want the same things as our’s, for not learning to listen to what Asian counterparts are trying to get across. It can hardly lament the decline of Asian language study in our schools and universities. The white paper on Australia in the Asian Century speaks to the media too.

So sayonara from me, and thanks to all the many readers who’ve sent comments and information over the years. I am not retiring, and hope to be part of the Australia in the Asian century for a few more years yet.

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Room to breathe for life-starved river

The director of the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre, Dr Ben Gawne, says the government’s pledge means more water for riverside woodlands during dry spells.IT SOUNDS like a lot of water, and it is – the extra 450 billion litres of water that Julia Gillard has promised to save for the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin ticks most environmental boxes.

Where the river was likely to get 2750 billion litres, the government now wants to give it 3200.

Modelling by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority found injecting the additional water now on the table would significantly improve the health of key sites, such as the red gum and black box forests along the Murray River in northern Victoria.

It would mean an extra 30,000 hectares of flood plains will be more regularly inundated and there would be modest improvements at the famous Lower Lakes, the Coorong and Murray Mouth in South Australia.

Dr Ben Gawne, director of the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre, says all this means more water can be delivered to riverside woodlands during dry spells, meaning less time between drinks for ecosystems that are home to rare parrots and other birds.

If regular flows do not occur, organic matter such as dead leaves can build up. When the drought breaks and there is a flood, that matter is swept into rivers and depletes oxygen in the water, turning it black, and killing fish and crustaceans. Last year, thousands of Murray cod died due to black water.

When flood plains don’t get enough water, salt builds up in the soil. When the rain returns that salt content is swept into rivers, damaging the ecosystem.

But as always with the Murray-Darling, there is a catch or two.

Authorities are concerned that increased environmental flows cannot be delivered without swelling rivers at man-made and natural choke points, potentially flooding bridges, roads and properties.

The modelling assumes that these problems will be fixed, but if they are not, earlier analysis has shown that the environment won’t benefit as much as it should from the extra water.

Labor has put $200 million on the table to try to address this problem through steps such as raising bridges and increasing the size of existing dams. Whether all this can be done without affecting personal property and people’s lives is unclear, though the government has given itself to 2024 to work it out.

To calm farming communities, who two years ago were burning copies of a basin blueprint proposing similar amounts of water being returned to the river, the government has found an extra $1.57 billion to make irrigation infrastructure more efficient and less leaky. This is on top of $12.8 billion already promised for infrastructure and buying back water from farmers.

The government says most of the extra 450 billion litres announced yesterday will be delivered by irrigation upgrades, but the actual amount of water delivered by these projects can prove woolly.

The fate of the Murray-Darling will ultimately come down to whether the basin states can agree. The promise of extra water has calmed South Australia, but enraged Victoria and New South Wales.

A deal is now within their grasp and the benefits are clear, but it is by no means guaranteed.

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Help from afar brings a degree of inspiration

Burmese refugee and Melburnian Thein Naing teaches refugee students on the Thai-Burma border.A TOWN on the Thai-Burma border populated with thousands of refugees from nearby camps might seem an unlikely place for a university graduation ceremony.

But for Thein Naing it was among the most remarkable moments of his career in education.

Mr Naing, himself a Burmese refugee, watched as four students received their degrees in Mae Sot earlier this year. ”It was very emotional,” he says.

The students were the first Burmese refugees to complete degrees through a project by Open Universities Australia, which is offering online courses from Australian universities to residents of refugee camps.

Mr Naing is now helping dozens more refugees to earn Australian university degrees in fields such as community development, healthcare and media studies.

He now jets between his home in Melbourne and the Thai-Burma border, where he works as an academic support co-ordinator for Open Universities’ Burma project.

”When the [university] graduates received their degree certificates, many people were encouraged that there is hope and even in this refugee environment they do have supporters,” he says. ”It’s hard work. I’m quite proud they’ve completed these Australian tertiary degrees.”

Mr Naing was a student activist in Rangoon protesting for democracy during mass rallies in 1988. On September 18 that year the Burmese military reportedly killed thousands of people.

Mr Naing fled to the jungle with fellow students where they continued their political activism while living in bamboo huts and suffering bouts of malaria.

”We tried to survive on whatever food we could find. We had very limited support from the international community then.”

Soon after arriving on the border, Mr Naing began teaching at a school for fellow refugees, putting to use the training he had received from a British non-government organisation.

In 1995 he came to Australia on an AusAID scholarship. Mr Naing settled in Melbourne and studied biology before going on to complete a master’s degree in education.

He lives in Surrey Hills with his wife and son, who is studying graphic design at Swinburne University. But Mr Naing still spends much of the year on the Thailand border.

He says the online degree program offers a rare opportunity for Burmese refugees to gain a university education.

Some of the students work for community-based organisations, which provide them with access to the internet so they can study, Mr Naing says.

”I’m quite optimistic with international support we can push forward for … human rights,” he said.

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