World’s oldest sperm found in Australian fossil

A specimen of the modern Australian ostracod Newnhamia fenestrata with the right valve removed. Photo: Renate Matzke-Karasz Professor Michael Archer and Associate Professor Sue Hand at Bitesantennary fossil site in the Riversleigh World Heritage site. Photo: Tony Walters

A sketch of a male ostracod, showing the organisation and orientation of the reproductive system. Photo: R. Smith

The world’s oldest and best preserved sperm has been discovered in 17 million-year-old fossils unearthed in far north Queensland.

The sperm of an ancient species of freshwater shrimp, which were found inside a rock taken from the Riversleigh World Heritage area, were not only hardy, but huge compared to the animal’s body size.

The not-so-little swimmers were as long as the crustacean itself, which was only a couple of millimetres in length.

Palaeontologist Michael Archer, one of the three researchers who dug up the fossils in 1988, said: ”99.9 per cent of organisms who have sperm have, relative to their body size, small sperm [because] you’ve got to tuck them away in a little jiblet somewhere in your body.”

It was ”absolutely extraordinary” that the animal’s soft-tissue had been so well preserved, he said.

”When you’re in the field picking up hard, dry rocks and smacking them with hammers the last thing you expect to find in those rocks is a piece of what was once living soft tissue.”

Using a European synchrotron to scan the ancient critters, German researcher Renate Matzke-Karasz found many of the animal’s internal organs had been fossilised, including the sperm cells coiled inside the sex organs and the muscular pumps that thrust the sperm into the female.

Inside the giant sperm they also spied the nuclei that once held the animal’s DNA.

The fossilised shrimp, known as an ostracod, was uncovered on the floor of an ancient cave. ”The site was clearly a cave but the walls and ceiling of the cave have gone,” Professor Archer, from the University of NSW, said.

Research associate at La Trobe University, John Neil, found the fossils in the rubble after vertebrate fossils had been removed from the rock. Out of an ice-cream tub-sized container full of crushed limestone the size of gravel, Mr Neil found 800 specimens. Of those, 23 had some preserved soft tissue and just five contained well-preserved fossils with soft tissue.

”That gives you an idea of the rarity of what has happened,” he said.

A taxonomist, Mr Neil said advances in technology, such as being able to scan fossils using a synchrotron, meant a new frontier was opening up for palaeontologists, who could study the fossil record in greater detail than ever before.

The discovery, outlined in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, shed light on the evolution of shrimps, which have been around for 400 million years. Mr Neil said there was little difference between the structure and organs of the modern-day shrimp and its ancient ancestor.

”This is indicating a long period without change which gives the evolutionary biologists something to think about, which I think is very significant,” he said.

Riversleigh is known for its beautifully preserved fossils because on the death of their owner, they were petrified in water rich in the mineral calcium carbonate, which can dissolve and re-precipitate into solid limestone rock.

”The ostracods were living in a pool in a cave and for some bizarre reason the limestone has preserved the soft tissue,” said Professor Archer.

It was unclear how the cells, including their nuclei, had been fossilised so perfectly, he said.

While soft tissue fossils are extremely rare, those that have been uncovered are usually made of bacteria that, in the process of eating the dead animal’s flesh, had become fossilised themselves.

But Professor Archer suggested it was possible the chemicals inside bat droppings, found in large quantities on the cave floor, may have played a role in preserving the sperm. ”It’s kinda magic stuff.”

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Budget 2014: ‘A kick in the guts’ for NSW, says Premier Mike Baird

‘We haven’t got the financial capacity to meet the demand’: Premier Mike Baird. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Andrew Constance: “Potential impact on overwhelming our emergency departments.” Photo: Greg Ellis

Full coverage: federal budget 2014More NSW news

Federal government funding cuts to services including in health and education have been described as “a kick in the guts” for NSW that will cost the state budget about $2 billion over the next four years.

NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance estimates that $1.2 billion will come from health alone, while the impact on education will be about $240 million.

Premier Mike Baird said the cuts were “a kick in the guts to the people of NSW” that could potentially harm the state’s triple-A credit rating. He noted that one ratings agency already had the state on negative outlook before the federal budget announcement.

“Does the announcement last night potentially impact our credit ratings? Yes, it does,” he said on Wednesday.

“The ratings agencies say, well, how are you going to meet that cost? So we do have a challenge.”

Mr Baird and Mr Constance were responding to the budget handed down on Tuesday by federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, which will rip $80 billion from schools and public hospitals across Australia up to 2024-25.

From 2017, indexation of health and education funding will change to reflect the growth in population and inflation, instead of the amount of activity in each system.

At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Mr Baird challenged Mr Hockey to answer the question: “What services would he like us to cut here in NSW on the back of the funding cuts we’ve seen overnight?

“When we had our problems fiscally [and] got our house in order, we did not send the bill to Canberra,” he said.

“What we’ve had last night from the federal government is a flick pass. It’s cost shifting. And it says to this state: we have a problem, you work it out.

“Our message back to Canberra is no, we are in this together. You cannot outsource your problems to the state.”

Earlier, Mr Baird had said the prospect of deep cuts to federal funding has “brought forward” the debate about whether the GST should be increased to cover them.

On ABC radio, Mr Baird described the announcement as “almost a game of ‘tip and you’re it – we now want the states to solve these challenges”.

“Well, it doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Mr Baird said there was “a clear requirement” for the states and Commonwealth to come together “to work out how we solve this”.

“Because we haven’t got the financial capacity to meet the challenge being provided by the Commonwealth and we need to address it.”

Mr Baird said the types of discussions that were necessary included whether the federal government would allow the states to levy a proportion of income tax – a recommendation of the recent Commission of Audit.

Asked if he believed Mr Hockey was seeking to “wedge” the states on the issue of an increase to the GST by requiring them to find a way to fund extra health and education services, Mr Baird said he remained a supporter of Mr Abbott’s pre-election promise to have a “mature debate about tax reform”.

“That should take place,” Mr Baird said. “What we saw with events last night, that has brought that forward.”

At his news conference, Mr Baird said he favoured a proposal previously brought to the federal government whereby a portion of income tax is quarantined for the states.

“I have been very upfront on this,” he said. “If Canberra last night said we are going to quarantine some income tax to align with this expenditure responsibility, I’d be the first to give it a tick, because that’s what I’ve been arguing for consistently.

“It makes sense. But I’m not going to prescribe that as the only course of action. What I’m saying is we need to have the discussion on tax reform [and] federalism and we need to align revenue and expenditures.”

NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance said the state was also concerned about the impact of a $7 co-payment to visit a GP announced by Mr Hockey and “its potential impact on overwhelming our emergency departments”.

“We need to have a long and detailed discussion with the Commonwealth about further details regarding this announcement,” Mr Constance said.

Mr Baird agreed with concerns raised by Mr Constance that the $7 co-payment would push more people into public hospital emergency rooms.

“We can’t get queues a mile long in emergency departments, because that’s going to be expensive and that’s not an efficient way to run any health system,” he said. “So we do need to consider that in detail.”

Mr Baird said: “if it leads to long queues in emergency departments, well, that’s not something that’s sustainable.”

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‘I have never heard such rubbish in all my life’: Pensioner has a go at Tony Abbott over age pension changes

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was confronted by an angry pensioner on national television. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Federal budget 2014: full coverageMark Kenny: Trust deficit spells death for a salesman 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are defending accusations of untrustworthiness, saying their first budget was “fundamentally honest” and drafted in good faith.

But the Prime Minister’s greatest critic on Wednesday morning came from an unexpected quarter and left the Coalition leader momentarily speechless.

During one of a raft of breakfast television appearances, on the Ten network’s Wake Up, Mr Abbott was confronted by an elderly woman, named only as Vilma, who was furious about changes to the age pension and responded to his explanations on broken promises with: ”I have never heard such rubbish in all my life.”

But it emerged later on Wednesday that Vilma is Vilma Ward 85, the president of the Bulimba Senior Citizen’s centre and – according to a media report from 2010 – she served on Kevin Rudd’s election campaign committee in his first run for Federal Parliament in 1998.

‘‘Why don’t you leave the pensioners alone? If we pull the belt any tighter we’re going to choke to death,’’ Mrs Ward said on the TV program. ”Why are you picking on me?

‘‘I challenge you: come out and meet some of the pensioners, they’ll tell you a little thing or two.’’

Appearing distinctly uncomfortable, Mr Abbott told the program’s hosts that he’d been given a piece of Mrs Ward’s mind.

‘‘Fair enough, that’s your right in a democracy, to be able to tell the prime minister exactly what you think of him,’’ he said.

He then suggested to Mrs Ward that it was obvious that she had not voted for the Coalition, to which the indignant Mrs Ward replied ”Excuse me, it’s got nothing to do with who I vote for and who I don’t vote for”.

”Why are you picking on pensioners?” she asked the Prime Minister.

Mr Abbott then said: ‘‘This is a fair budget, everyone is doing his or her bit, including, dare I say, politicians.’’

Mrs Ward laughed and replied: ‘‘You’re a comedian, sir you’re a comedian.’’

Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey repeatedly made a plea for public trust and patience during their respective post-budget media blitzes, each man facing a barrage of questions over broken promises made during the election campiagn.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the budget delivered a large trust deficit for Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey.

“It’s a bad budget, it breaches a fundamental commitment to the Australian people,” he told ABC Radio.

“This government was elected on web deceit; they lied to get into office. This makes cost of living so much worse for Australian families. It is an attack on pensioners, and worst of all, it is the trashing of Medicare.

“This is a massive $80 billion hit cut to schools and hospitals, these are not areas you are able to cut without taking a massive hit to frontline services.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was in lockstep with his shadow treasurer’s assessment of the forward estimates.

“It’s a bad news budget, it breaks promises, it breaks trust and I just wish they had been straight with the families before the election,” he said.

“We oppose specifically, the increase in petrol tax, changes to the pension.

“We are not interested in supporting them gutting Medicare and cuts to education are simply unacceptable.

“Australia doesn’t have the budget crisis to warrant these cuts. We will oppose these measures and we will fight to the end to preserve Medicare.”

On Wednesday morning, Mr Abbott was repeatedly forced to defend the character of his government’s first budget, saying it was ‘‘fundamentally honest’’ and the right thing for the nation.

Conceding many voters would oppose the measures, he stressed the changes were necessary.

”I want to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for the government,’’ he told the Nine Network.

‘‘We are not going to cook the books, we are not going to make a series of rosy assumptions”, adding that the ”cannot keep using its credit card to pay the nation’s mortgage”.

Mr Hockey mounted a defence of his first budget on Wednesday morning, which includes a $7 charge for GP visits, lower pension rises and hikes in the fuel excise and income tax for people earning over $180,000, and cuts to family benefits, foreign aid and the ABC, saying ‘‘What we’re doing is good policy.”

ACTU president Ged Kearney said she was devastated by the figures in the budget papers, nominating the young unemployed and low paid workers as the biggest victims of the forward estimates.

“This is the end of civil society and the end of the fair go in Australia,” she said.

“Basically, if you are old, if you are sick, if you are looking for a job, if you lose job, if you are young, this government is saying ‘you are on your own’.

Leader of the eponymous Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer tweeted: “This is a heartless and cruel budget that will cause many Australians undue pain and all based on a fairy tale about a debt crisis.”

Greens leader Christine Milne described Mr Abbott as a “warped individual” for his budget priorities.

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Geoff Huegill pleads guilty to possessing cocaine

Guilty plea: Geoff Huegill and Sara Hill arriving at court. Photo: Chris PearceFormer Australian swimmer Geoff Huegill and his publicist wife Sara Hill have pleaded guilty to cocaine possession.

The pair were given six-month good behaviour bonds in Waverley Local Court on Wednesday after being caught with the prohibited drug in the bathrooms of an exclusive suite at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse last month.

Magistrate Clare Farnan blasted the swimming champion and father-of-two, saying she found it “disturbing” that a person who is looked up to in the community, particularly among young people, “should choose to behave in this way”.

“I deal day in, day out, with young people who I lecture about the choices you make,” she said.

Police were called to the suite on Schweppervesence Stakes day by a security guard after receiving a tip-off and observed Huegill placing something in his jacket pocket after emerging from a disabled toilet with his wife.

They questioned Huegill, 35, in a nearby unused bar area and he admitted he had a bag of cocaine in his wallet.

Hill, 30, then joined her husband in the bar area and admitted she also had a bag of cocaine in her handbag. There was less than one gram of the drug in each bag.

The couple’s lawyer Dean Woodbury told the court that the pair were polite and co-operative with police and Hill willingly approached officers and admitted she had cocaine on her.

“She had an opportunity to dispose [the drugs] but she didnt,” he said.

The drug bust occurred in a private area and involved a small quantity of cocaine, he said.

“It wasn’t like they were flashing it around where they were,” he said.

Mr Woodbury told the court that the pair had no criminal record, were loving parents and both “clearly people of exceptional character” who should be treated no differently because of their fame.

However he also asked Magistrate Farnan to consider Huegill’s impressive history as a swimmer, saying she would probably be familiar with his well-publicised comeback to the pool during which he shed 40 kilograms and won two Commonwealth gold medals at the 2010 Games.

“I don’t assume [to know] anything,” Magistrate Farnan replied. “I have certainly heard of your client.”

She accepted that Huegill and Hill were remorseful and humiliated but said it was a “mystery” why people with so much to lose would use illegal drugs.

“It’s a very sad thing to see people like you before the court,” she said.

Outside court, Huegill and Hill apologised “to all the people we have let down”.

“The last couple of weeks of our lives have been some of the most stressful,” Huegill said. “Stressful for our families, stressful for our friends and stressful for our business associates.”

He said they were both looking forward to earning back the trust and respect of those who have supposed them but the most difficult part of the ordeal would be telling their two young daughters one day.

“At some stage in the future, both Sara and I are going to have to have this conversation with our girls,” he said.

The champion butterflier retired after the 2004 Athens Olympic, made a comeback in 2010 then retired again in 2012 after he failed to make the team for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

He married Hill in 2011.

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LIVESTREAM: Hunter Innovation Forum

Newcastle Next: archive and entries

WATCH our dedicated livestream as leading thinkers gather in Newcastle this week for a multi-faceted forum looking at the Hunter region’s role in the global innovation race.

The 2014 Hunter Innovation Forum is a series of events for industry, experts and the broader community to consider the latest innovation trends and how the Hunter region can best benefit from embracing new ways of thinking.

The Herald has a dedicated livestream of the event, which you can view, simply by pressing play in the viewer below.

Resourceful innovation– Thursday afternoon – 15 May at Newcastle City Hall

Sessions cover solutions to contemporary challenges in the Hunter’s traditional industry strengths of mining, manufacturing and energy. The region is transforming and the change is being driven by smart SME’s, by big research projects and by the region’s skill development and commercialisation programs.

This afternoon is an opportunity to catch up on where we are and why our big industries will continue to adapt and drive our region’s economy.

Working Innovation– Friday 16 May at Newcastle City Hall

Sessions cover a broad range of industry sectors including creative industries, health, retail, transport, construction, and education and training. Areas of focus include disruptive innovation, traditional and emerging industries, health, crowd-sourcing and urban revitalisation.

Thursday’s presentation is split into two parts, with the “Australian Internet of Things kicking off in the morning, before the Hunter Innovation Forum beginning at 12:30pm.

The Australian Internet of Things can be viewed by clicking here.

The Hunter Innovation Forum Livestream can be viewed by pressing play below.

Over the years our City has seen great change, as has the media landscape that we operate in. Herald News Director Heath Harrison, Night News Director, Joanne Crawford and Multimedia Journalist Adam Santarossa discuss these changes in the video below.

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Nathan Tinkler buys Wilkie Creek mine for $150 million

Mining magnate Nathan Tinkler is making another sortie into coal, purchasing Peabody Energy’s Wilkie Creek mine in Queensland for $150 million.

The purchase comes less than a year after Mr Tinkler was forced to sell his stake in Whitehaven Coal for about half the price it was worth when he obtained it in 2011 after the company’s merger with Aston Resources.

Mr Tinkler, who formerly topped the BRW Young Rich List, became embroiled in a stoush with creditors after increasing his debts and failing to make repayments.

He was then forced to sell his stake in Whitehaven to make the repayments.

Mr Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group still owns NRL team the Newcastle Knights, but is likely to face a battle with members for the club after defaulting in March on his commitment to have a $10.52 million bank guarantee in place.

The deal for Wilkie Creek will be funded through equity from Mr Tinkler and the support of Leucadia and Jefferies, as US-based investment and private equity firm, Mr Tinkler told The Australian .

The mine was closed last year following Peabody blaming the carbon tax, falling coal prices and increased costs of doing business as reasons for the shut down.

Peabody hired UBS in 2012 to sell Wilkie Creek for around $500 million, but was unable to find a buyer.

“I looked at it 18 months ago … at the time people in the market were saying they were looking for up to $600m and we probably weren’t that far away from that number then,” Mr Tinkler told The Australian.

Mr Tinkler said he would like to have the mine back into production by the end of the year, but has no intention of listing on the Australian stock market in the near-term.

NATHAN Tinkler has bought back into Australian resources in a $150 million deal for a Queensland mine.

The former billionaire’s Singapore-based Bentley Resources bought Peabody Energy’s Wilkie Creek thermal coal mine for $70 million in cash and the assumption of some of the company’s liabilities.

Coal giant Peabody has had its Queensland mine on the market since mid-2012.

At the time, Wilkie Creek was exporting 2.5 million tonnes of thermal coal a year through the Port of Brisbane and a $500 million price tag was touted to prospective buyers.

The mine closed in December, last year, with the company blaming the carbon tax and there are no employees or equipment left.

Mr Tinkler’s investment was made with the backing of Leucadia National Corp subsidiary Jefferies Group, a US investment bank.

According to documents lodged with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, Peabody expected to pay $34.5 million for port and rail obligations related to the closure this year and $25.9 million in other closure expenses.

Peabody said Bentley Resources would assume the rail and port obligations and ‘‘other liabilities’’ as part of the sale, subject to some closing conditions.

The Newcastle Herald reported in April that the embattled Newcastle Knights owner was trying to raise funds for a new coal venture after selling Aston Metals.

It is understood Mr Tinkler did not receive a cent from the Aston Metals sale, with all proceeds going to his banks.


Shoulder pain leads to a search for realignment

“What we are doing today does not support our eons of evolution… the lack of movement at all is our first problem.”Whether it was years of swimming, too much sitting at the computer or too much driving, life was taking its toll on my body. My shoulder was messed up beyond belief; the pain seeped down my right arm and across my back, up into my neck.

With a 1.6 metre open water swim race just three months away, and a shoulder so rigid I could no longer raise my arm over my head, I went to the doctor. First he tried to decide if I had bursitis or a rotator cuff injury (common in swimmers). I was put on Advil and taken off swimming. Things calmed down, but not enough.

I thought I was an outlier, but at physical therapy, about 75 per cent of those in the room had some kind of shoulder injury. Friends have complained of debilitating shoulder pain from working too many hours at the computer, from overdoing it at yoga or from jumping too fast into a hard-core fitness program.

“What we are doing today does not support our eons of evolution,” said Heath Reed, a licensed massage and yoga therapist who practices in the US. “There is no way our biology can keep up with technology. The lack of movement at all is our first problem. The secondary problem is our dysfunctional movement.”

I wanted to try every option before I considered surgery. Here’s my path:

Physical therapy

With my doctor’s referral, my first stop was physical therapy. My therapist asked me about the pain and when it started, and she felt around to find out where exactly it hurt. She swung my arm up, down, across and over, to isolate the pain. Swimmers, she said, are often weak between the shoulder blades.

First, she said, I needed to make sure my computer was at eye level, my arms were at my sides, my phone was not stretching my arm and I was not reaching for my mouse. In the car, I need to wedge a rolled-up towel between the base of my spine and the seat, to keep the curve in my lower lumbar spine.

I also was given a stretchy rubber sash for a series of arm exercises that used the wall, the door, doorknobs and the floor. They were short repetitions that required little effort, and, frankly, I was sceptical. I like to push until it hurts. I was told I could swim, but not hard, and no butterfly.

Drew Jenks, a physical therapist from New York who works with athletes and specialises in shoulders, said physical therapists look at movement impairment and work to fix it. “Do you have tightness in the back side of your shoulder? Do you have poor posture? Poor thoracic spine mobility? Poor stability and tightening of the muscles around the shoulder blade? We might get a doctor giving us a diagnosis for therapy for rotator cuff impingement, but that is not specific,” said Jenks, chairman of the Shoulder Special Interest Group for the Sports Section of the American Physical Therapy Association.

I did my exercises. I came back for five sessions of physical therapy. I swam tentatively at first, then harder. After five weeks I had regained almost complete mobility. I could not push myself. But my arm was functioning.

I competed in my race, and my shoulder did not hurt much. Still, I wanted no pain. Was that possible?


My physical therapist said massage complemented her work.

Reed, the Arizona massage therapist, teaches workshops on medical massage that focus specifically on rotator cuff injuries, shoulder bursitis and tendinitis. He said massage can help prevent shoulder injuries and rehab them, and help clients recover from shoulder surgery.

After an injury, there is an inflammatory response, Reed said. Traditionally experts have recommended RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Once the inflammation eases, many experts recommend MICE (movement, ice, compression, elevation). In the past, experts immobilised the area of injury, to give the body a chance to recover. But, Reed said, too long a rest can lead to stiffness. This is where movement and massage can make the difference. “In our practice, what we try to advocate is a union of physical manipulation of muscle, massaging, working with ligaments, tendons, joints, range of motion, stretching, strengthening to begin to bring balance to that joint,” Reed said.

Massage loosened my shoulder in the short term, and it felt good.

Walking more, driving less

I knew that part of my problem was that I spent too many hours in front of the computer or in a car. Walking might not help my shoulder per se, but I felt that it would help my body overall.

Dr James Levine, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who invented the treadmill desk, coined the mantra “sitting is the new smoking,” and Reed agrees. “Movement is the missing ingredient in our modern, technologically oriented society,” Reed said. “We move significantly less than we did just a couple of generations ago.”

Even 15 to 30 minutes of walking every day would alleviate tens of thousands of injuries, Reed said.

To make that walk more effective, Reed said, exaggerate the swing of your arms and look about 20 degrees above the horizon. When you look up, he said, it activates parts of your brain that help with coordination. Studies have shown that walking is one of the best therapies for lower back pain, the pelvis, the bottom of the spine and for getting the synovial fluid moving.

I hiked every day. I hoped that would gently nudge my body back into alignment. I still spend many hours in front of the computer, but my shoulder feels better.


I’ve long been curious about Rolfing, named for Ida Rolf, a New York biochemist who studied alternative methods of body work and healing beginning in the 1920s. I had heard it hurt but that the results were phenomenal.

Rolf developed a theory that the body’s aches and pains arose from basic imbalances in posture and alignment, which were reinforced over time by gravity and learned responses among muscles and fascia — the sheath-like connective tissue that surrounds and binds muscles. Rolfing developed as a way to “restructure” muscles and fascia.

I felt like overworked muscles on my dominant right side were pulling across my back and yanking everything out of alignment.

Jan Sultan, a Redondo Beach-based Rolfer who was trained (and Rolfed) by Rolf and who has been practicing for 45 years, said that if a patient is orthopedically compromised with a rotator cuff injury, it lowers the probability that Rolfing will help. But it can help if the shoulder has a sprain, a muscle tear or imbalance to the joint.

My Rolfer, Maria Cristina Jimenez, discussed my history, symptoms and what I hoped to achieve. She had me walk, move and raise my arms over my head. Then she had me lie down on the table.

Her hands moved over my body, realigning and trying to find the pain. She was like a masseuse with extra-sensory powers. She found an upper rib (on the side of my injured shoulder) that had popped out, and with some pressure got it back in. Instantly my whole back and shoulder area felt better. The session ended with her gently cradling my sacrum and rocking me back and forth. There are many nerve endings there, she said. It felt weird, but good.

I walked home feeling clearer, taller and spaced out. After a lifetime of swimming, running, hiking, working, carrying children and sheer gravity, I realised that this is the crux of it: My body needs serious realigning — just like my car.

(I never got an official diagnosis because I chose not to get an MRI. And so far I’m not choosing surgery. I have just started swimming again after the race, so far without pain. I walk and practice yoga.)

The Washington Post

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National Union of Students slams tertiary reforms in federal budget as ‘horrifying’

Federal budget 2014: Full coverage

The national student union has condemned the federal budget’s shake-up of tertiary funding as ”horrifying” despite the changes being embraced by Australia’s leading university, the ANU.

The president of the National Union of Students, Deanna Taylor, said she was ”horrified but not entirely surprised” by the government’s most significant reform to the HECS scheme since its introduction in 1989.

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget announced restrictions on course costs will be scrapped while the amount of funding for university courses will decline from 2016. Graduates will also repay their HELP debts once they earn $50,638, rather than $53,345

But Ms Taylor said the changes mean a generation of high-school students nearing the end of their studies will have to reassess whether university is a viable option, given their family’s financial situation.

”The deregulation of fees is without a doubt going to leave students with a sharp increase in fees, which will hit disadvantaged students the hardest,” she said.

Ms Taylor said given the reforms announced in the budget, we may see more students paying in excess of $100,000 to receive a university education.

”We’re slowing moving towards United States models of tertiary education, which most people would agree is not the shining beacon of access to education,” she said. ”Obviously, we want our universities to be world class but the way to do that is not to punish disadvantaged students.”

Ms Taylor said there were some ”very big question marks” over the government’s promised scholarships for disadvantaged students and on access. The budget details 20 per cent of additional revenue raised through increased fees will be used to fund scholarships for disadvantaged students.

”The scholarships that the government has been talking about will not nearly make up for the increases in student fees and it remains to be seen how that equity scheme will actually work,” she said.

But ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young said ”the government is just being practical in these things”.

”We have seen over the last four years the demand-driven system has grown the cost to the budget significantly, now either the taxpayer is going to have to pay that or the student is going to have to pay that or the system will become impoverished … A slight change to the mix of what the taxpayer and the student affords is probably a good thing,” he said.

ANU Students’ Association president Cameron Wilson said disadvantaged students are already under-represented at the university and the budget reforms are likely to exacerbate inequality.

”Despite the equity scholarship fig leaf, disadvantaged students will have more and more trouble accessing university due to ballooning costs and dropping graduate incomes,” he said. ”We call on ANU to carefully consider and consult with students who are already crushed under huge student debts. ANU should have the best minds and not the best-paying minds.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Budget 2014 in words

What story does Joe Hockey’s words on budget night really tell? We’ve bundled the more than 3500 of the Treasurer’s words from his first budget speech into this word cloud. The biggest words are the ones the Treasurer used most often. First, we manually removed the words ”madam speaker”, ”government”, ”budget”, ”year” and ”people” since they featured very large but that seemed to be more a matter of necessary repetition than significance. Common words were also automatically excluded. In sentiment at least, the budget speech appears overwhelmingly positive. Words like ”better”, ”research”, ”more”, ”new”, ”benefit”, ”help” and ”jobs” all loom large. Such as ”the government will help” and ”provide help to those most in need”. This is despite many arguing it is the toughest budget since John Howard’s post-election budget in 1996. But the word ”build” was the top-scorer, mentioned 26 times in Mr Hockey’s budget speech. As in ”build a stronger Australia”.  ”Billion” featured high, too, with 21 mentions, largely in the context of a reduced deficit, debt and improved investment.  ”Work” was also up there, although whether that is positive or negative depends on the context, of course. This was sometimes in the form of ”the government will work” but also in the LIberal Party rhetoric of ”those who can work, should work … work gives a sense of self”. As is often the case, what was left unsaid was perhaps even more revealing. The words ”environment” and ”climate change” did not appear in the speech once. Although the word ”carbon” made it in there three times: ”We are abolishing the carbon tax”, ”the abolition of the carbon tax” and ”without the carbon tax”. If you squint you can see the word ”student” in the bottom right buried between ”future” and ”increase”. The implication of which will not be lost on students, since universites have been given the freedom to set their own fees. ”SBS” and ”ABC” were also conspicuously absent, since the government has broken an election promise by cutting the broadcasters’ budgets by $43.5 million. ”Mining” was also low-key, with only five mentions in the Treasurer’s speech. Although, admittedly, that’s a 500 per cent increase on the  number of times Wayne Swan said the word in last year’s budget speech. The word ”foreign” only appeared twice, matching a budget in which the government slashed foreign aid by $7.9 billion over five years. ”Hospital” was also used just once when Mr Hockey said that a reduction in interest paid after the debt was reduced was ”more than enough money needed to construct 15 major new teaching hospitals every year”. Despite slashing billions from the Commonwealth’s share of hospital funding.  

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Federal budget 2014: Victorian doctors slam GP co-payment

Victorian doctors have slammed the new $7 co-payment for GP visits and medical tests and say they will fight hard to prevent Victorian hospitals from introducing similar fees for emergency department care.

On Tuesday night, the Commonwealth opened the door for the state and territory governments to start charging people for emergency department services after announcing that as of July next year, Australians will be charged a $7 co-payment for GP visits, including imaging such as X-rays and pathology such as blood tests.

A spokesman for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Dr Simon Judkins, said the new fees could prompt more patients to go to emergency departments instead of their GPs because hospital treatment is free.

He said the potential for this to occur, combined with a Commonwealth Government announcement that it will cut hospital funding to the states, could prompt the Victorian Government to introduce fees for emergency department care to raise more funding for the health system.

But Dr Judkins said doctors would strongly oppose such a move because it could deter people from seeking help with devastating consequences.

He said doctors were particularly worried about poor people and those with mental illnesses who could walk out of hospitals when they realise they might have to pay.

‘‘We already have patients in emergency departments whose conditions deteriorate because they have to wait for a long period of time so if you throw in an additional disincentive of having to pay money before you see the doctor… then there’s potential for patients who are acutely unwell to walk out and deteriorate,’’ he said.

Dr Judkins said any new fee for emergency care would hit the poorest people the hardest, undermining the principle of universal care.

”People who work in public hospitals pride themselves on delivering equitable care to whoever turns up at our front door. We would hate to go down the path of the American system where people are charged for emergency care,” he said.

Dr Judkins said designing an emergency department fee would be difficult, too, because many patients who could be considered ‘‘GP type’’ patients present with problems that can escalate into serious illnesses such as meningitis or stroke.

‘‘The logistics of determining what is a GP-type visit or what is an emergency visit can only be done retrospectively and the bureaucracy and infrastructure that you would have to put into place to monitor that would far outweigh the cost or revenue made from such a co-payment,’’ he said.

‘‘We think any disincentive for anybody to come to an emergency department when they think they have a genuine health emergency needs to be strongly opposed.’’

Victorian Health Minister David Davis was unavailable for comment on Tuesday night, but Victorian Treasurer Michael O’Brien told 3AW radio that the Napthine government would closely monitor the $7 fee increase to see a doctor.

“We don’t want to see people deciding they are not going to see their GP because of this co-payment and they wind up clogging up our emergency departments in our hospitals with things which are really more appropriately seen by a GP,’’ Mr O’Brien said.

He said the Victorian Government was also concerned about the longer term reduction in federal funding for state hospitals.

“The state budget has put extra money into our hospitals, and extra money into our schools, and we will be very concerned if the federal government is, sort of, stepping back over the next decade,’’ he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.