Melbourne researchers find new breast cancer gene

Melbourne researchers have isolated a gene that plays a complex role in breast cancer.
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The PIPP gene ordinarily works to suppress tumours, but when breast cancer forms it causes the cancer to spread to the other parts of the body.

The Monash University researchers found that when the gene was removed from mice prone to breast cancer, the tumour itself grew bigger but cancer cells did not spread.

Lead researcher Christina Mitchell, the dean of medicine at Monash, said the gene was a valuable discovery and that the aim was to eventually screen for it in humans.

“We have very good treatments for the primary tumour, but the biggest killer in breast cancer is that when it spreads beyond the primary tumour it can become a real challenge in terms of treatment,” Professor Mitchell said.

“If you can inhibit this gene, potentially, you might be able to decrease the spread of the cancers to the bones or the liver.”

The research, which took eight years to isolate the gene’s function, was published on Tuesday in US medical journal Cancer Cell.

The paper’s lead author, Lisa Ooms​, said when the PIPP gene was active it worked in concert with another gene to cause the cancer to spread.

She said separate clinical trials were under way to analyse the cancer spread pathway that the gene was involved in, which the team was watching closely.

Professor Mitchell said “loss of the PIPP gene was connected with triple negative breast cancer subtype”.

She said that treatment could be helped if PIPP’s role was picked up early and that identifying the gene’s involvement might be important for predicting better or worse outcomes in cancer.

The team hopes to do more research on the gene, and look more closely at what stems the cancer spread pathway that PIPP regulates.

However, Professor Mitchell warned that the gene’s involvement in humans had not yet been observed and more work would need to be done on its interactions.

She said there had been large advances in breast cancer research in the eight years it had taken them to conduct their study of the PIPP gene, and that scientists were now looking more at the interaction of multiple genes in breast cancer than doing analysis of individual genes in isolation.

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Elementus wins environmental exemption for Williamsdale solar farm

The Monaro Highway site at Williamsdale set to become home to a solar farm. Photo: Graham TidyElementus Energy has been granted an exemption from having to prepare an environmental impact statement for its planned solar farm at Williamsdale, despite concerns from residents about native tree clearing.
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Elementus plans a 10 megawatt array on 34 hectares of land beside the Monaro Highway.

The company has been dogged by controversy over its planned solar farm, which was originally to be sited adjacent to Uriarra village but was moved after vehement opposition from Uriarra residents.

Earlier this year, the ACT government offered it a site at Williamsdale, on land owned by Actew Water (now Icon), a move welcomed by Uriarra residents.

Actew bought the block in 2009 and in 2013 ActewAGL put it forward as the site for a 20 megawatt solar farm in the government solar auction. It missed out on a contract.

In March this year, the government’s Land Development Agency bought the land for $3.1 million to smooth the way for the solar farm and will lease part of it to Elementus.

The solar array means the removal of about 116 trees, mainly yellow box, plus half a hectare of native vegetation.

Elementus applied for an exemption from having to prepare an environmental impact statement on the basis that an exemption had already been given to Actew for its planned solar farm on the site.

Elementus argued that the native vegetation had already been significantly degraded through exotic pasture and a history of grazing. It also pointed to numerous weeds on the site and the lack of dead trees and fallen limbs for native habitats.

The Conservator of Flora and Fauna said many of the trees to be removed were “hollow bearing” and so likely to support animals. All trees along Angle Crossing Road should be retained and native tree loss should be minimised, the conservator said. The removal of any mature trees outside of the array must be justified.

The planning and land authority said its assessment “confirmed that the proposal will result in impacts on some species and ecological communities but these impacts are unlikely to be significant” and “further investigation and environmental assessment of the potential impacts of the proposal on species and ecological communities is not recommended for this project”.

It also pointed to glare and views from the Monaro Highway but said Elementus would move the array at least 200 metres away from the highway, would use non-reflective solar panels and would plant natives as screening.

It noted the Murrumbidgee River nearby, but said measures had been proposed to protect stormwater run-off during and after construction and the government’s water policy team did not expect significant impacts on water quality.

The site is in a bushfire-prone area and the array would be “exposed to a high level of risk due to the site being located on the eastern rim of the Murrumbidgee River valley and also being exposed to the influences of strong, drying northwest to southwest winds that will, due to the steep slopes to the west, increase the rate of spread of a fire upslope towards the east”, the planning authority said.

It recommended measures including a Colourbond fence on the northern boundary, water tanks and grazing to keep grass low.

In his decision to grant an exemption from an environmental impact assessment, Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said the impact of the proposal had been sufficiently addressed, and the solar farm was now free to lodge a planning application for the array.

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ACT closes off its generous rooftop solar scheme, forcing homeowners to join up or miss out

Solar panels on an Ainslie rooftop: The ACT government has moved to close off new sign-ups the premium scheme. Photo: Rohan ThomsonThe ACT government has closed off its premium rooftop solar scheme, forcing people who are yet to hook up to the grid to do so by the end of next year or miss out.
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The generous scheme pays people as much as 50 cents a kilowatt hour for the energy they feed into the grid from the solar panels on their roofs, and such was the clamour to join when it began in early 2009 that the scheme was closed to new customers in 2011 and already looking to overrun its 30 megawatts capacity.

But if people had a contract signed for a rooftop installation when it closed they are still entitled to the premium feed-in tariff for 20 years from the date they hook up to the grid. More than 5000 have connected since the scheme closed.

In all, more than 10,000 households are signed up to the premium tariff. In the past year, they were paid $16 million for the electricity they produced, or an average of about $1600 each.

Environment Minister Simon Corbell has now set a deadline for connecting rooftop installations under the scheme of December 2016.

He has also closed a loophole in rooftop solar that would allow people to store power and sell it back at the premium rate. The loophole has not been exploited, according to Mr Corbell’s spokesman, but storage technology is becoming more widespread.

The move “explicitly prohibits export of electricity that has been sourced from a non-renewable source such as the electricity grid, to claim [feed-in tariff] entitlements,” he said.

“While this is not an issue currently, this amendment is targeted at preventing exploitation of [feed-in tariff] entitlements for non-renewable electricity in the future. Rapid advances in storage technologies are leading to lower costs of batteries which is likely to result in greater uptake by households and businesses.”

Mr Corbell also wound back reporting requirements so instead of a monthly report on the scheme, he is obliged to report once a year.

The changes were introduced in May and passed with little fanfare during the first week of June, when attention was focused on the budget.

ActewAGL said last year the average Canberra installation was about 2.5kW, with a 3kW installation covering the energy needs for a typical house. Larger than that and householders are earning money on the deal.

It now pays just 7.5 cents a kilowatt hour for rooftop solar for people not in the premium scheme.

Mr Corbell’s spokesman said there were only a small number of customers yet to be connected to the premium scheme – about 404 kilowatts in small-scale solar and 7 megawatts in medium-scale capacity, which would bring the total capacity to about 33 megawatts.

Since the scheme was closed, households had added about 18.8 megawatts of rooftop solar without the support of the premium tariff, bringing the total in small-scale solar to 44.8 megawatts, including households on the premium tariff and those who were not.

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A helpdesk that’s unable to help

“In many cases I felt I could not provide real solutions to callers’ problems.”’They’re in denial’; MyGov users vent angerMyGov lockout143 years on hold to Centrelink
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Over the past few weeks I have been employed casually with the Department of Human Services, answering calls for the Online Self-Services and myGov helpdesk. Casuals are being employed in call centres to provide assistance and promote these online services. After two weeks of training and one week taking calls I resigned because I felt I could not provide genuine service. In many cases I also felt I could not provide real solutions to callers’ problems.

Another DHS worker wrote on this site in May that many vulnerable people were having difficulties getting through to services because phone lines are jammed with calls about simple issues. I agree that a good online service could solve some of these difficulties. But at the moment sites like myGov are far too cumbersome. Some people are also uncomfortable using computers or live in areas of slow internet speeds. There seems to be little consideration now for people not wanting to use online services.

Many of the issues heard by the helpdesk are in regards to the myGov website. Unfortunately most issues were resolved by suggesting callers recreate their myGov accounts. Sometimes there was no other option. In other cases it was because no other option could be thought of. There was also the option of suggesting the caller could be having “intermittent” issues with their internet or phone network. Though not consciously suggested or meant, this had the appearance of trying to get the caller off the line.

If a caller wanted a better solution there is an “escalation system”. First a staff member can contact a local technical support officer. If this fails an online form can be sent to a national team. This is as far as the issue can be taken now and the caller must wait to be contacted. For both these support options a staff member has to note the number of resources they have used, including a template of common issues. This is why you will be asked if you have turned your computer off and back on!

The most common issues were people being unable to access their accounts or being locked out. We were told that people had three attempts at their username and password before being locked out for 12 hours. They would then have another two attempts before they were locked out of that account forever. Strangely the system seems to be set up in anticipation of these issues because we are all free to create, lock ourselves out and create a new account as many times as necessary.

A frequent problem is that callers insist they have used their correct username, password and secret questions. One person had even kept their original username, password and secret questions in a Word document. But they were still unable to get into their account.

A further complication for those locked out of their accounts is that the email address used is linked to that account. We could offer two solutions: an “email release”, where a request was sent off so the person could use the email address again. Or we could suggest they use a separate email or create a new email account. Understandably this caused a lot of annoyance. Many couples also found they required separate email addresses despite years of using one email address.

Even when people have access to their myGov account problems keep occurring. For example, a person could be trying to link a new service such as the Tax Office to their account, when they already have Medicare linked. They are unable to create the link because their details do not match. The issue seems to be that different government agencies have different information. So when a person attempts to link multiple records to their myGov account, the system thinks it is looking at the records of two different people.

As you may be aware, a number of government agencies are using the myGov website and more will in the future. However, the 13 23 07 number and the staff working on it now are employed by and use the Centrelink systems. But other agencies like Medicare and the ATO send their calls about technical issues to this number. If the issue is basic it can possibly be solved. However, staff cannot access other agencies’ systems and therefore cannot see if there is an issue there. For example, some callers have been unable to access Centrelink on their myGov accounts. This can be because their Centrelink record suggests that it does not have enough proof of identity, which will have to be presented at a physical office. If there is a similar issue for a customer of another agency, helpdesk staff cannot see this.

There are other online issues, such as SMS verification codes, missing online letters and people not being able to submit their claims or income reporting. However, I would like to mention a few of the technical issues from a staff perspective.

Being employed by Centrelink means not being able to view information about non-Centrelink customers. Staff are also unable to access myGov accounts remotely and reset passwords or unlock accounts. This is because the customer’s account is not part of a government record, therefore to enter would be a breach of security and privacy.

Furthermore, a person might call the helpdesk number with an uncommon issue, or one that cannot be addressed by the usual solutions. Therefore staff could search the Centrelink intranet, a main Centrelink wiki site or various wikis created by staff, as well as guides accessible to the public on humanservices.gov419论坛. While it is helpful that there is a huge amount of information, like the myGov site these resources are temperamental. Pages dedicated to the area of information required do not include what you are looking for. And using search functions, even with specific and correct page names, can bring up pages of irrelevant results.

Therefore, after only a few days on the phone I found myself feeling ill and depressed when awaiting the next phone call to arrive. I felt that I was unable to provide an adequate level of service – putting people on hold (and wasting their time and money) to search hopelessly and then usually have to inform them that they could start over or hope it was an internet issue. That is not good enough.

I worked with friendly and dedicated people, who I do not want to put down here. They are being failed, just as the customers are. I have admiration for those who I worked with, attempting to get through callers’ issues, and for those who called and were sometimes understandably upset.

Fast and easy online services are a good idea for those who want to use them. But instead of focusing on herding as many people on to an imperfect system, perhaps the focus can be on creating systems that are easy to use, that do not break down often and that can be understood by well-trained staff.

The author is a former DHS worker

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Lodge interior ready but no date for Tony Abbott move

Work on The Lodge is expected to cost more than $8.8 million. Photo: Graham TidyWork to refurbish the inside of the prime minister’s official Canberra residence is finished but Tony Abbott is yet to decide when he will move in to the historic home.
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Extensive renovations of The Lodge are more than a year overdue and will cost taxpayers at least $8.8 million, dwarfing the original estimated price of $3.19 million.

While Mr Abbott was last week launching a review of travel perks for parliamentarians in the wake of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s resignation, the Finance Department quietly announced the inside of The Lodge was finished and the house was ready for its new tenants.

Work is continuing outside the house, including replacement of guardhouses used by the Australian Federal Police, new outside toilet facilities and a new shed for the property’s gardeners.

The project’s overall completion date has been pushed back again, this time to September. Previously the department said work would be finished in early 2015, later delaying completion until mid-year.

Commissioned under the former Labor government, the renovation has seen new wiring for the 40-room home, repainting and new carpets, restored heritage features, new bathrooms and dressing rooms, and a new “luggage lift” installed.

Asbestos has been removed from the 1927 home, while the entire slate roof has been replaced, heating and cooling system upgraded and new balcony balustrades added.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office said there was no announcement of when Mr Abbott would move from the Australian Federal Police Academy in nearby Barton.

Mr Abbott has opted to stay in a $110-a-night room at the college, shunning a $3000-a-week home in nearby Forrest rented during the pre-election caretaker period.

Contractors finishing inside the house will allow heritage furniture, curtains and artworks owned by the Australiana Fund to be reinstated to the interior. Finance officials told Senate estimates hearings in May they hoped the house would be ready for tenants by the end of June or early July.

The government’s tender website shows “asbestos re-encapsulation” work completed by Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia cost taxpayers $19,241.20.

Project management work by Fyshwick-based Ross Petsas Luksza cost $44,550.00 and specialist advice from Ainsworth Heritage consultants cost $59,449.01.

Law firm Clayton Utz charged $67,550 for legal advice on the project and removals and storage costs for light fittings and window treatments by Oldfield Removals and Storage cost $22,557.16.

A new gutter safety system installed in early 2013 cost taxpayers $81,581.50, while replacement of the 1980s slate roof by Roofing Slate Worx cost $335,314.71.

The cost of head contractor Mantenna has been varied to $8.87 million.

Mr Abbott has previously said he would lean towards “orthodoxy” and live in the home. Designed by Melbourne architects Oakley and Parkes, prime minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and his wife Ethel Bruce first moved into the colonial revival-style home in May 1927.

Originally known as the Prime Minister’s Cottage, the heritage-listed property was built by James Taylor, of Sydney, at a cost of £28,000. Cabinet required the interior decoration and furniture, designed by Ruth Lane Poole, used quality Australian materials and the “best British manufacturers”.

Prime ministers Ben Chifley and James Scullin famously derided The Lodge and lived elsewhere, while 15 former leaders, including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, used the residence during their tenures.

Mr Abbott’s family already use his official Sydney residence, Kirribilli House.

The government has sought to avoid information about the refurbishment being made public, including blocking access to the media. One senior bureaucrat said Mr Abbott’s staff could be concerned about privacy or a poor reaction to the information being made public.

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‘They’re in denial’: MyGov users vent

Centrelink and Medicare clients from around Australia reacted with anger and disbelief after the giant Department of Human Services denied there were any problems with MyGov. Photo: Louie Douvis A screenshot of one user’s attempt to login to MyGov on a desktop.
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More public service newsDHS herding people on to an imperfect system in myGovMyGov lockout 143 years on hold to Centrelink

The Commonwealth government is “in denial” over the performance of its online service portals, with MyGov coming in for savage criticisms from frustrated users of the system.

Centrelink and Medicare clients from around Australia reacted with anger and disbelief after the giant Department of Human Services denied last week that there were any problems with MyGov.

The reactions come as a former DHS worker tells the inside story of their short stint working on the MyGov help desk before resigning in disgust at what they saw there.

The former staffer told of hopeless attempts to help people who had been locked out of the system and of various technical problems that dog the MyGov portal.

“I resigned as I felt I could not provide genuine service,” the former public servant wrote.

“In many cases I also felt I could not provide real solutions to callers’ problems.”

Users of the system reacted with disbelief to the department’s insistence last week that there were no systemic problems with MyGov.

“They are in denial,” one reader wrote.

“Once you login, throughout the system, there are messages saying some clients will not be able to access, some things cannot be done, full acknowledgement of massive problems….maybe the boss has not been onto the site.”

Others told of making their way to Centrelink offices after being locked out or denied access to MyGov, to find the shopfront full of other people saying they could not log on.

“I always seem to get a message that access is unavailable, try again later or words to that effect,” one user told The Canberra Times.

“Staff at my GP’s practice inform me that I am not alone in having trouble with MyGov.

“Why did they change things when the individual sites were working well?”

Difficulties logging on were widely reported with the MyGov helpdesk often telling users that it was their own technology, and not the portal that was to blame.

“Trying to log into MyGov sent me to drink,” one wrote.

“I spent two days fighting it.”

Another client wrote on August 7 that they had been locked out of their account for nine days.

“I’ve been locked out since at least July 29 if not before,” the user said.

“I raised the issue at a Centrelink Office that takes me an hour to get to – at least they let me speak to a real person – and was told it was not an issue with everyone else and it was due to my phone reception.

“This was despite showing them screen shots and that I was attempting logins on both wifi and 3 and 4G networks.

“There have been no emails providing any information on the problem or any possible solutions.”

Other clients were more blunt.

“The system is a joke,” one wrote.

“The MyGov web site has been nothing more than a complete shambles since 01 July 2015,” added another.

One frustrated pensioner questioned whether senior DHS public servants were aware of the extent of MyGov’s problems.

“One wonders how well they have met their customer service obligations for high availability of the portal,” the customer wrote.

“I suspect that it is not being reported or if it is, the truth is being kept from the senior staff in DHS and Centrelink.”

The Department of Human Services was contacted for comment on Monday but was unable to respond before deadline.

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Northern Hospital CEO Janet Compton resigns amid concerns about network’s performance

The CEO of one of Melbourne’s busiest public hospital networks has resigned amid concerns about the service’s performance.
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On Monday, the recently appointed chair of the Northern Health Board, Jennifer Williams, announced that the Northern Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Janet Compton, had resigned, effective immediately.

Ms Compton’s resignation comes after the Epping hospital consistently failed some of the state government’s key performance indicators during the year to March. It also follows investigations into bullying and concerns about patient care among plastic surgeons.

The state government’s most recent hospital performance report revealed the Northern Hospital in Melbourne’s booming northern suburbs has been struggling to meet targets for emergency and surgical care.

Between January and March, it treated just 43 per cent of category two elective surgery patients on time. This includes patients needing hip, knee and heart valve replacements. The government’s target is for 80 per cent to be done within 90 days.

It has also been failing target times for treating category two emergency patients such as those having strokes, or suffering from severe bleeding and major fractures.

The Age understands the government has been concerned about the network’s performance in recent times. This concern follows reports the previous Coalition government considered merging it with the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg to try to make the services more efficient.

On Monday, Ms Williams, a former CEO of Alfred Health and Austin Health, issued a statement to Northern Health staff, advising them of Ms Compton’s departure.

“Janet is on leave from today and an interim Chief Executive will be appointed while the Board carries out a search to appoint a new Chief Executive as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Ms Williams described Ms Compton as a “strong and courageous leader with a passion for delivering outstanding health care” who had been improving the hospital’s emergency department and maternity unit to reduce wait times and improve patient flow.

She said Ms Compton, who was appointed CEO in 2013, had also developed plans for Northern Health to partner with other health services and providers and strengthened ties with universities.

“We all congratulate and thank Janet for her leadership and contribution to outstanding health care for Northern Health and the Northern community,” the statement said.

Last year, The Age revealed Northern Health was being swamped with demand due to rapid population growth. Briefing documents seen by The Age said the area was attracting young families, increasing demand for maternity and paediatric services. It is also home to a population with higher rates of obesity and diabetes compared to the state average.

Demand for the hospital’s emergency department, already one of the state’s busiest, was expected to surge from an average of 1300 patients a week in 2014 to 1700 a week by 2018.

Patients receiving elective surgery would increase by more than 50 per cent within the next three years, from about 14,000 patients in 2014 to 21,370 patients in 2018.

Before the election, the Coalition promised a $98 million expansion of the hospital which was not matched by Labor. The expansion would have provided 12 extra intensive care beds, 64 new general ward beds and two new operating theatres as part of a “south tower” currently under construction.

The project’s $29 million first stage – a 32-bed ward above two “shell” floors – was funded in the 2013-14 state budget.

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Wyndham Vale lake crash: Akon Guode charged with murder of her three children

The mother of three children who drowned when their car plunged into a lake in April has been charged with their murder.
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Akon Guode​, 36, was charged with the murder of 16 month-old Bol and four-year-old twins Hanger and Madit​ at an out-of-sessions court hearing on Monday.

The three children died when the car she was driving crashed into Lake Gladman in Wyndham Vale on April 8.

She was also charged with the attempted murder of her six-year-old girl Aluel, who was in the car as well but survived the crash.

Guode looked downcast and avoided eye contact with bail justice Ken Coghlan as he read out the charges.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said she had been suffering from chest pains and made a point of mentioning to the bail justice that she had not been in any sort of trouble since arriving in Australia.

Guode has been remanded in custody and will face the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

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Australia’s $3b hangover: Alcohol and drugs causing 11.5m ‘sick days’

A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
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A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Hangovers are causing 11.5 million “sick days” a year at a cost of $3 billion to the Australian economy, new research suggests.

There are also fears that people who are mixing alcohol with amphetamines on the weekends are experiencing “Weepy Wednesdays” because of the delayed effects of their drug use, making them irritable and unreliable workers.

A Flinders University study has found that the more alcohol and/or drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work.

After tallying the total cost of this lost productivity at $3 billion a year – up from $1.2 billion in alcohol-related absenteeism alone in 2001 – the researchers said employers should be looking at ways to promote a healthier culture in their workplace especially around alcohol, which is by far the biggest problem.

Researchers at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction looked at data from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which asked more than 12,000 people about their habits and how often they missed work, university or school because of them.

While most (56 per cent) drank alcohol at low risk levels (four or less drinks on one occasion), 27 per cent drank at risky levels (five to 10 drinks in one session) and 9 per cent drank at a high risk level (more than 11 drinks in one stint).

When asked about illicit drug use, 7 per cent used drugs yearly, 3 per cent did so monthly and 5 per cent used weekly.

Using the participants’ responses, the researchers estimated Australians missed a total of 1.6 million days due to alcohol and about 854,000 days due to drug use that year, with rates of absence increasing with riskier and more frequent consumption.

The researchers then used two measures to work out the cost. The first measure multiplied the self-reported number of days missed by $267.70 (one day’s wage plus 20 per cent employer on-costs).

The second measure calculated the amount of any illness/injury absenteeism attributable to alcohol and drug use by estimating the average difference in absence for those who used alcohol or drugs compared to abstainers. This figure was also multiplied by $267.70.

On the first measure, 2.5 million days were lost annually, costing $680 million. On the second, 11.5 million days were lost annually, costing $3 billion.

Lead author of the study, Ann Roche, said people indulging in alcohol and drugs on the weekend may not realise it is causing their stomach upset, headache or worsening cold by Monday, making the second measure arguably more reliable.

“Alcohol puts a bit of a tax on your immune system … and it’s quite implicated in mental health problems. If people are prone towards anxiety and depression, they often self medicate with alcohol,” she said.

Professor Roche said there was also anecdotal evidence of “Weepy Wednesdays” among people who use amphetamines and alcohol on the weekend and then experience a deterioration of their general wellbeing during the week.

While the average amount of alcohol being consumed by Australians has been decreasing, Professor Roche said there was evidence a minority of people were drinking extreme amounts of alcohol – enough to end up in hospital.

“There has also been a statistically significant increase in baby boomers drinking at risky levels. We’ve never seen that before,” she said.

Professor Roche said Australian businesses should promote healthy behaviour to reduce the costs of absenteeism. She recommended formal alcohol and drug policies, education and training for staff and confidential access to counselling and treatment if people need it.

“The good news is that these kinds of strategies have been shown to be highly effective,” she said.

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Why it pays to plead guilty: discount for serious crimes revealed

Criminals who plead guilty are doing so sooner in the judicial process.Criminals have more reason to plead guilty early as first-of-its-kind research reveals most offenders are getting reductions of 20 to 30 per cent off jail sentences in Victoria’s higher courts.
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The second-most common discount was even higher, of up to 40 per cent, and in a third of cases the type of sentence was changed entirely and the offender did not receive any jail time.

The data comes from a Sentencing Advisory Council report into the effect of regulations that since 2008 have required judges to disclose the discounts given to people who plead guilty to certain offences.

The study, which looked at more than 9600 cases in the Victorian county and supreme courts for the five years to June 2014, found those who pleaded guilty were doing so sooner in the judicial process.

“That saves everybody time and money,” council chair Arie Freiberg said, adding that it spared victims trauma associated with drawn out court proceedings.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Greg Davies said although it was important to encourage guilty pleas, discounts that were too generous were also damaging to victims.

“On average, it’s a massive discount and while this process allows many victims to avoid experiencing revictimisation through the trial process it then opens them up for revictimisation through what they may perceive to be an inadequate sentence,” he said.

The report also found most criminals in the higher courts (72 per cent in the Supreme Court and 84 per cent in the County Court) pleaded guilty, young people were the most likely to plead guilty and those sentenced for murder were least likely to plead guilty.

Most discounts were “quite standard, in fact, towards the moderate end of the range”, of what was happening in other states and overseas, Professor Freiberg said.

The report found widely criticised sentencing laws passed in 2014 to impose a baseline median for the most serious offences could deter offenders from pleading guilty and complicate plea negotiations, leading to agreements over lesser charges to avoid the baseline.

“It may be if you plead guilty to that then you may be facing that baseline so there is a motivation of an accused person to plead not guilty and take their chances at getting an acquittal,” Professor Freiberg said.

The report comes as the Victorian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper into the role of victims of crime in the criminal trial process, calling for input on whether victims should be given more power.

Mr Davies’ submission to the commission will call for dedicated personnel at courts to support victims akin to those supplied for accused people, he said.

“At the moment a victim has no greater status at trial than as a witness and they’re the worst treated witness at that,” he said. “Someone needs to be there to give victims some support and understanding and to raise their status above that of a witness.”

Other reforms considered by the review include whether victims should be allowed to have a lawyer represent them at trial and the prospect of abolishing committal hearings.

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