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Newly discovered director dissolves into sparkling sea

Jean Epstein.LAUNCHING his career in Paris in the 1920s, Jean Epstein approached the new art of cinema from a position of rare intellectual freedom. Few filmmakers have worked so fruitfully in the zone where fictional narrative meets the avant-garde, and few have shown such wholehearted enthusiasm for using the camera to transform our vision of the world.
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It has taken a while for English-language film culture to discover Epstein. A retrospective at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival gives an indication of what we have been missing.

Epstein is a ''flashy'' filmmaker, in a literal sense. He is attracted to elemental forms of movement - whatever sparkles, flows, or drifts like smoke. He loves reflections, veils, superimpositions, close-ups, blurred focus, and anything involving rivers or the sea.

His favourite device is the slow dissolve, especially when dissolving between the rippling surface of water and the face of a character in thought.

Often developing his visual ideas through conventional melodramatic stories, Epstein rarely delves into psychology as commonly understood.

Instead, he invites us to relish the faces, bodies and gestures of his performers: one sequence of The Beauty from Nivernais (1923) is devoted to a small boy doing a giddy dance, with little relevance to the plot.

There's a playfully eerie side to Epstein's work, linked to a use of slow motion that puts human activity and the inanimate on equal footing.

In his 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of The House of Usher, candle flames and curtains acquire wills of their own, while hands and faces move as clouds.

Covering a fraction of Epstein's output, the retrospective concentrates on his 1920s silent films. Still, the new documentary Jean Epstein, Young Oceans Of Cinema covers his later, quasi-ethnographic shorts and features.

In the 1947 short Le tempestaire the obvious camera tricks have mostly gone: what remains is a spare yet intricate game with a handful of elements of image and sound. The rhythmic flashing of a lighthouse lamp is set against the whistle of the wind, the roar of the waves, and a plaintive melody sung by a fisherman's bride-to-be as she awaits her lover's return to land.

Asked why he so often depicted the sea, Epstein said it was out of a fear that ''obliges us to do what we are afraid to do''. That might be a clue to the true nature of this mysterious filmmaker, whose works seem lucid almost to the point of abstraction, yet deeply personal in their mingled ecstasy and fright.

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Regulator takes tougher stance with telcos

The communications regulator is warning of "more investigations [and] more court cases" against telcos that breach new customer service rules starting in four weeks.
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The new rules will stop telcos using the word "cap" and force them to offer clear pricing information, usage alerts and better complaint handling services. It also set up Communications Compliance - an industry funded body that will monitor breaches.

General manager of content, consumer and citizen at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Jennifer McNeill, said it will have little patience for telcos that flaunt the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

The ACMA previously used a gentle 'engage and educate' method to help telcos comply, but this attitude would be replaced with a tougher stance, she said.

"You will see more investigations, more directions and more court cases," she told a room full of telco industry representatives at a briefing.

"We expect immediate compliance with the obligations that have been substantially carried over from the old code."

Ms McNeill said the ACMA would no longer tolerate "good natured incompetence" as an excuse for breaches and would also ask telcos to substantiate any unbelievable service offers. Staff had been shifted around within the ACMA to bulk up its ability to enforce compliance, she added.

When the code starts on September 1, it will be the first time all Australian telcos are bound by a customer service code enforceable through fines of up to $250,000. The old code was voluntary and impossible to enforce.

The industry body that drafted the code, Communications Alliance, is conducting briefings and training sessions around the country to help companies prepare for the changes.

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Nufarm to settle class action for $43.5 million

A group of Nufarm shareholders, super funds and banks, who launched two class actions over the company’s alleged failure to disclose company weaknesses three years ago, are expected to share $43.5 million as part of a proposed settlement.
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In a statement released this morning, the law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon said an in-principle settlement had been reached with the agricultural supplies company after a mediation which was held yesterday.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, which at this stage have not been disclosed publicly. The deal must secure the approval of the Federal Court.

The class actions claimants accused Nufarm of failing the tell the stock exchange how worsening conditions in the market for herbicide glyphosate had affected its business and therefore its profitability and debt position.

Nufarm had denied the allegations.

The company’s chaiman, Donald McGauchie, said the board had considered the likely risks and potential costs of pursuing a defence at trial as well as the distraction it might cause to management.

“We are pleased to put this behind us and have the company fully focused on continuing to improve the operating performance of the business,” Mr McGauchie said.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Nufarm said the proposed settlement, which covers investors who bought shares between September 2009 to August 2010, encompasses claims made by the plaintiffs, accrued interest, the sums that will be paid to litigation funders for each of the class actions plus legal costs.

The class actions had been rolled into a single case and were due to be heard next year before Justice John Middleton in the Federal Court.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jason Geisker said the proposed settlement “represents a very positive and expeditious outcome for shareholders”.

Slater & Gordon’s Ben Phi said participants in the case included retail and institutional funds, individual shareholders and banks. Clients would be told about the deal in the next few weeks.

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Long jail terms are no deterrent – chief judge

Chief Justice Tom Bathurst ... believes the notion longer prison terms deter crime is "fiction".THE Chief Justice has made a thinly veiled call for the state government to change sentencing laws, saying the notion that longer prison terms deter crime is ''fiction''.
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The impact of an individual's sentence on the likelihood that someone else will commit a similar crime in the future - known as ''general deterrence'' - is one of the factors judges have to consider when sentencing a criminal.

But Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said there was no ''persuasive evidence that it works''.

Therefore, it was important to reconsider whether deterrence should continue to have a role in sentencing, he told the NSW Legal Aid criminal law conference yesterday.

Assuming that most criminals conducted ''a rational assessment of their planned illegal behaviour'', weighing up potential gain with potential penalties, bore ''little resemblance to reality'', he said.

However, white collar criminals - such as tax evaders, drug traffickers and insider traders - were the exception and ''far more likely to weigh up the risks and benefits of being caught [and jailed]'', he said.

''But it cannot be, I suggest, [a real deterrent] across the board in the crimes which are impulsive, crimes which come out of the cycle of poverty and abuse and generally … the less serious crimes.''

Chief Justice Bathurst said his comments did not mean he had a relaxed attitude towards crime, but warned ''political fear of being soft on crime should not immobilise our society from correcting or removing ineffective policies''. A review, under way, should consider if general deterrence worked, and if it found it didn't, it should consider ''whether it is appropriate to have a system founded on what is proving to be a false assumption''.

''I think it may be time to trust in the well-informed public to prefer a criminal justice system that honestly and transparently seeks to reduce crime and protect communities,'' he said.

Sentencing was one of the hardest things judges did, and involved conflicting sets of considerations such as the history of the offender and the impact on the victim, he said.

Research had shown that the fear of being caught was a powerful deterrent, but the fear of longer jail terms had little or no deterrent effect, he said.

The effect had been shown to be ''at most marginal if not entirely negligible'' compared to the cost of keeping people in prison for longer.

Evidence suggested public money was better spent on policing or alternative sentences and community-based crime prevention schemes, rather than keeping people in prison for longer.

The issue is one of a series of questions in a current investigation into the state's complex sentencing laws by the NSW Law Reform Commission, which is asking if deterrence is ''a valid purpose of sentencing'' and should be considered in all cases.

In its submission, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions suggests that deterrence should not be relevant to the sentencing of young offenders, but argues that abolishing the consideration across the board could be ''counterproductive''.

The Bar Association and Law Society suggest deterrence should remain available to judges on a case-by-case basis.

Even the Police Association's submission calls for ''further review of the purposes of sentencing'' in light of the evidence that ''higher sentences do not deter offenders''.

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US eyes Perth naval base

Projecting power: The US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian ocean.THE United States could base a US aircraft carrier and supporting fleet in Perth, under plans to be presented to Congress today.
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The proposal is one of four options set out in a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies commissioned by the US Defence Department.

The centre was directed to consider how the US military could undertake the so-called “pivot”  in the Asia-Pacific region announced by President Barack Obama last year in response to China’s increasing influence.

Chinese analysts immediately identified the plan as likely to antagonise China, saying it would confirm suspicions of an effort to contain it. Such a move would raise the temptation for China to use its huge economic leverage to retaliate, they said.

“It would be interpreted within China as another move to encircle China,” said Sun Zhe, the director of  Tsinghua University’s Centre for China-US Relations.

Song Xiaojun, editor of Naval and Merchant Ships magazine, said Australia would be unlikely to proceed with the proposal after it weighed security gains against export losses.

“Do they think China one day will invade Australia and rob its iron ore? said Song, formerly an analyst with a People’s Liberation Army academy.

The strike group would include a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a carrier air wing of up to nine squadrons, one or two guided-missile cruisers, two or three guided-missile destroyers, one or two nuclear-powered submarines and a supply ship.

The report also suggests that the US could consider building facilities to support “bombers and other aircraft”.

“Australia‘s geography, political stability and existing defence capabilities and infrastructure offer  ... significant military advantages to the United States in light of the growing range of Chinese weapons systems,’’  it says. “HMAS Stirling offers advantages including direct blue water access to the Indian Ocean ... submarine facilities including a heavyweight torpedo maintenance centre and the only submarine escape training facility in the southern hemisphere.’’

The report also notes the naval base offers ‘‘expanded surface ship facilities, including potentially a dock capable of supporting aircraft carriers”.

The document —  which includes advice from Andrew Shearer, foreign policy adviser to former prime minister John Howard —  provides the greatest detail yet about exactly how the United States sees its new role in the Asia-Pacific and Australia.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said in a speech in Canberra last night that Australia would look at an increased US presence at HMAS Stirling.

‘‘For Australia, this presence will support our long-held strategic interests in maintaining and expanding US engagement in our region.’’

He reasserted the need for a strong alliance with the US, as it had underwritten stability in the region for the past half-century ‘‘and will continue to be the single most important strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future’’.

Responding to a question, the minister said: ‘‘The US does not have a base in Australia and this will not change’’.

Mr Smith insists that the Northern Territory military base through which up to 2500 US marines rotate for training each year is not a US base. The report is believed to moot the possibility of increasing that number.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett dismissed the notion of such extensive US forces at Stirling.

‘‘I don’t think there’s any possibility of that happening,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think you could squeeze a nuclear aircraft carrier into Cockburn Sound.’’

The Greens reacted negatively. ‘‘The risks of routinely floating nuclear reactors in and out of Cockburn Sound shouldn’t be underestimated,’’ West Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam said.

‘‘Western Australian police and emergency services personnel are completely under-resourced to cope with even a minor reactor leak.’’

The head of a Canberra think tank also rejected the idea, though for different and multiple reasons.

Peter Jennings, a former deputy defence secretary and now the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the idea was unrealistic, citing the cost —  anywhere between  between $US1 billion and $US6.7 billion — as prohibitive in the context of deep US defence budget cuts.

What was likely, however, was more US naval ship visits to Stirling, he said.

Authors of  the Centre for Strategic and International Studies report were scheduled to give testimony before the US Congress Armed Services Committee overnight, Melbourne time.

The report notes: “Australia is unique among America‘s allies in having fought alongside the United States in every major conflict since the start of the 20th century.”

While Perth was a long way away from some strategically important areas, the report says the West Australian capital’s location could also be a benefit because it was beyond the increasing range of China’s defences.

A spokesman for the centre said the think-tank was unable to comment on the report until after some of its authors had testified before the Senate committee.

The Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin, said he agreed with comments made by Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta that ‘‘efforts to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific to advance a common security vision for the future are essential to the US strategy to rebalance toward the region’’.

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Mid-East uranium sale gets go-ahead

AUSTRALIA has agreed to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates as one of the Middle East's richest oil nations switches to nuclear power.
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Foreign Minister Bob Carr signed a safeguards agreement in Abu Dhabi yesterday, intended to guarantee Australian uranium is used only for peaceful purposes.

The deal, potentially worth up to $200 million in yellowcake exports, follows the controversial shift by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year to overturn Labor's ban on uranium sales to India.

Senator Carr said the UAE would become the first Middle East market for Australian uranium, in what has been interpreted as a sign of faith in the nuclear industry.

But anti-nuclear campaigners have slammed the deal as out of step with European moves to wind back the reliance on atomic power after the disaster last year at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.

''Germany has committed to get out of nuclear power within a decade and nations such as Switzerland, Belgium and Italy are moving away from nuclear power,'' said Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Sweeney also raised concerns over the long-term stability of the UAE while the country remained an absolute monarchy and was yet to go through a democratic revolution along the lines of those that have swept the Middle East.

Tim Wright of the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons said safeguards agreements only offered ''the illusion of protection'' against atomic bomb proliferation and the deal undermined Australia's support for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

''Opening up sales to the most volatile region in the world is a deeply troubling development, and should be strongly resisted,'' he said.

The UAE, with an official population of 5.3 million but home to many more migrant labourers, needs a huge amount of energy for desalination plants and for air-conditioning in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It plans to save its oil reserves for export and not use them for electricity.

Senator Carr said the ''strict'' guidelines would include safe handling of radioactive material and re-export restrictions.

Australia sells uranium to nations such as Russia, China and France under similar arrangements and has 22 nuclear safeguard pacts covering possible sales to other nations.

The Russian deal was held up in Parliament in 2009 over concerns Australian uranium could not be properly monitored and in what appeared a protest over Russia's war against Georgia.

The UAE deal will also need to be approved by Parliament's treaties committee.

Michael Angwin of the Australian Uranium Association said the deal was unlikely to make a large difference to Australia's uranium exports.

''But what it does do is signal the world's nuclear industry is growing,'' he said, adding that Australia's uranium sector had been through a difficult time.

He said Canberra provided a warranty to protect the exports with the safeguards arrangements, which carried a lot of weight.

The UAE is expected to build four nuclear reactors, with power generation to begin in 2020.

Senator Carr will also travel to Jordan to discuss the conflict in Syria, and then make his first official visit to Israel.

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Canberra needs to come clean on what’s going on

ENOUGH of the cute codes and doublespeak. Making Perth home to a mammoth nuclear aircraft carrier fleet would amount to an American base in Australia, plain and simple.
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The government needs to come clean with its military plans, given Australia has already agreed to host US marines near Darwin - and US bombers, spy drones and the existing ''joint facilities'' often overlooked.

Time to stop pretending this is just business as usual. Are we preparing to help Washington use the threat of force to contain China in the region?

That is certainly the impression. It is also the prevailing wisdom in Beijing. And at least some Americans seem to be banking on Australia to play a role in containing China, too.

There is a big debate to be had here, one that should not be shut down with rhetorical parlour tricks to dismiss questions as ''anti-Americanism''. Everyone deserves a say. Maybe the new Defence white paper, due next year, will give that chance. But not if the decisions have already been made.

And while ever ministers insist a deployment of soldiers is not a ''base'' or that a negotiation about access to facilities is merely a ''conversation'', the public gets a confused picture about what Australia is signing up to.

Surely it is not in Australia's interest to fuel an unnecessary rivalry between two major powers in the neighbourhood - one that happens to be our biggest trading partner, the other our chief military ally.

Let's step back for a moment. This idea of stationing a carrier fleet in Western Australia is only one option to give teeth in a supposed US ''pivot'' towards Asia. The proposal has been floated by think tank, a favourite haunt for ex-officials in Washington hiding out before the next change of administration.

That gives the Obama administration - and Canberra - a plausible excuse to say this is not an official plan. It is not.

But don't assume that means the plan won't be seriously considered, having been commissioned by the Pentagon and submitted with a secret annex. Contracting out strategic thinking is common practice.

This is part of the game in defence circles, to telegraph ideas without scaring other countries with an out-of-the-blue announcement.

The prospect of more US warships putting in at HMAS Stirling in Perth has been tossed around by officials for months. Expanding the wharfs and dredging a new shipping channel at the base was discussed in the March publication of Australia's own review of forces.

What is worrying is what it is all for. The basic question, why do it, has not been answered.

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NBN seeks verdict on ‘wall warts’

The battery (left) and network box.High life in the NBN fast lane
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IT'S the most annoying thing about getting connected to the national broadband network - a bulky power box on your lounge room wall.

But 10 months after NBN Co warned that the unsightly wall warts were causing customer complaints, the government is yet to decide whether they should remain compulsory.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley warned last October that the large battery back-up and power unit was the single biggest source of complaints from users in test sites.

The power unit keeps a telephone line active for about five hours during a blackout. But it is a large bulky box that is not necessary for connecting to the internet and many households may never use it. About 64 per cent of calls to triple-0 were made from mobile phones in 2010-11, according to the communications regulator.

A spokesman for the Department of Broadband said the government had consulted with a broad range of interested stakeholders to gauge attitudes to battery back-up.

''The government is carefully considering all stakeholder views to determine the best long-term deployment model and will make a decision shortly,'' he said.

NBN Co's updated corporate plan, due out tomorrow, may reveal a change in policy.

NBN Co said batteries were still mandatory in every house. If they were optional, households could plug the smaller network box straight into a power socket. The telco industry would prefer an opt-in approach as long as consumers are fully informed about what happens during a blackout.

The government ordered power units to be installed so the NBN would mirror what happens on the copper network during a blackout.

Copper wires carry electricity and remain active when household power goes down, which keeps telephones working.

But the copper wires will be removed once households are transferred to NBN Co's fibre-optic cables.

Fibre-optic cables carry light, not electricity, and are useless during a blackout.

Copper telephone line will be kept for at least 10 years in rural and regional areas where households will get wireless or satellite broadband instead of fibre-optic cables.

Mr Quigley argued last year that there would be a lot of batteries deployed for ''little return'' because many people no longer use fixed telephones.

''The big issue is the box … which is the battery back-up. That is the thing that most people object to, which is something we obviously need to be talking to the government about how we address that,'' he said last October.

There is also a huge cost associated with the batteries and an environmental impact, with at least 10 million 12-volt lead acid batteries needed. These batteries must be replaced every five years.

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Umpire asked to end CSL strike

CONCERNS over a strike causing possible blood plasma shortages in New Zealand have led plasma and vaccines firm CSL to take three unions to the national industrial umpire this morning, seeking to invoke little-used laws that allow the suspension or termination of a strike if it endangers lives.
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Unions had already put overtime bans in place and have taken 24-hour strikes as part of lawful industrial actions. But this week they stepped up work bans on processing blood for international destinations - to pressure CSL to resolve the dispute that began in April.

CSL has now warned that the industrial action could soon endanger people's health.

Under the Fair Work Act, industrial action can be stopped by Fair Work Australia if it threatens to endanger the life, health or welfare of the population, or part of it.

''The unions' tactics left us with no choice but to make an application to Fair Work Australia to stop the industrial action,'' said Sharon McHale, senior director of public affairs at CSL.

She said the company could not reach an agreement with the three unions - the National Union of Workers, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Community and Public Sector Union - that processing of NZ plasma should resume.

''Plasma products take nine to 10 weeks to process, test and release. Based on New Zealand's current inventory levels, we must start processing their plasma by the end of next week at the latest to avoid product shortages for patients,'' she said.

But the unions say their action does not endanger lives, and want CSL to resume negotiations.

The AMWU's Charlie Pandolfo said he doubted CSL would succeed at Fair Work, arguing that it would be premature given that New Zealand Blood Services is believed to have four months of stockpiles. And the CPSU's Sam McCrone said the quickest way to get an agreement was to return to the negotiating table.

The unions say staff discontent at CSL is growing, while job insecurity has increased and that management pay exceeds wage rises for other staff.

CSL has offered a 10.75 per cent wage rise over three years. Last week it withdrew an $800 sign-on bonus after staff voted down a proposed agreement.

Unions want a 5 to 6 per cent wage rise for each of three years. An agreement would cover about 1700 of CSL's 1800-strong Australian workforce.

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Whooping shots ‘less effective’

A NEW whooping cough vaccine introduced in 1999 is less effective than the one it replaced, possibly explaining a resurgence of the disease in children, researchers have found.
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A study of more than 40,000 Queensland children found that those who received a full course of the new vaccine were three times more likely to have developed whooping cough between 2009 and 2011, compared with the old vaccine.

The children studied were born in 1998, at a time when the old vaccine was being phased out, and therefore received either a full course of the old or new vaccine, or a mixture of both. The vaccine is delivered at two months, four months and six months.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, helps explain a spike of whooping cough cases in children aged between six and 11. Co-author Stephen Lambert said younger children were not included in the study, but the new vaccine appeared to offer good protection for some years.

That protection could wear off around the time they went to school, he said, and booster doses may not be sufficient to guard against the disease.

Professor Lambert said the old vaccine commonly caused redness, swelling and pain where it was injected, and could also lead to children developing fevers or crying for long periods.

''In making the switch in vaccines, we may have traded off some of the protection [the old] whole cell vaccines provided in exchange for a better tolerated vaccine,'' he said.

Cases of whooping cough in Australia have jumped from 14,287 in 2008 to 38,596 last year. In Victoria this year there have been 2595 cases, compared with 5361 for the same period last year. Eight infants have died of whooping cough in Australia since 2008, including a 14-day-old baby in Victoria last February.

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Mr Millions cancels party

Former Health Services Union president Michael Williamson.IT HAS been a busy week of cancellations for the man once known as Mr Millions.
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Michael Williamson has formally resigned as national president of the troubled Health Services Union. He handed in his notice via a text message to the union's acting president, Chris Brown, on Monday.

Also cancelled is the huge ''thank you'' drinks party Mr Williamson's family was throwing for him.

Guests from across the country received an email from Mr Williamson's wife, Julie, and daughter Alexandra yesterday morning notifying them that, due to ''unforeseen family reasons'', the celebratory drinks had to be called off.

The Williamsons last week sent invitations to their network of friends, political figures, Labor stalwarts and union mates asking them to the ''thank you'' party at the Verandah bar, in Sydney's Elizabeth Street, on August 10.

One senior Labor politician who was invited expressed disbelief that the Williamsons were throwing themselves a party.

Apart from wondering who was paying for it, he said: ''No one in their right mind would want to be seen associating themselves with Michael Williamson in the present climate.''

Alexandra Williamson last week resigned from her job as a media officer on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Earlier in the week, Ms Gillard had expressed dismay at the disclosures in the Temby report, which revealed that her staff member's family had received millions of dollars from the union, whose members are among the most poorly paid in the country.

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Living costs rising? You’re dreaming

THE government statistician has a sobering message for Australians who think their personal rates of inflation far exceed the official rate of 1.2 per cent: they are likely much lower.
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Living cost indexes released yesterday by the Bureau of Statistics show that among so-called working families, average costs climbed just 0.7 per cent in the year to June. A year earlier they had been soaring at an annual rate of 4.5 per cent.

Driving down the rates of inflation actually experienced by working households have been dramatic slides in mortgage interest rates, more than enough to offset higher electricity and gas charges. Mortgage payments are about 50 per cent more important to household budgets than energy charges. The ABS includes them in its calculation of household living costs but not in its measure of inflation.

Households headed by aged pensioners and self-funded retirees also experienced extraordinarily low cost increases in the year to June, each also recording 0.7 per cent, roughly half the official inflation rate and the lowest increase since such costs were first calculated in 1999. Sharp falls in the price of food explain the divergence, food being more important in the budgets of retiree households than it is in the calculation of the consumer price index.

Only one type of household identified by the bureau experienced a cost increase above the official inflation rate. Households headed by ''government transfer recipients'', such as unemployed Australians on Newstart, experienced an annual cost increase of 1.3 per cent, slightly above the official inflation rate of 1.2 per cent that will be used to adjust their benefits, meaning they will be left further behind when their benefits are next adjusted in September.

Households headed by beneficiaries spend a greater proportion of their incomes on rent and alcohol and tobacco than other Australians, leaving them more exposed to strongly rising prices.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan welcomed the bureau's calculations, saying they showed most Australians were experiencing very low rates of inflation. A family with a $300,000 mortgage was paying about $4000 per year less than when the Coalition was last in office.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the prices of essentials such as electricity, education, healthcare and rents were climbing strongly. ''All Australians use electricity,'' he said. ''Electricity prices are up more than 10 per cent over the past year, and up over 60 per cent since Labor came to power. This is before the carbon tax …''

The latest Melbourne Institute survey finds Australians expect inflation to jump to 3.3 per cent as a result of the carbon tax. The Reserve Bank expects the increase to be a one-off with no implications for interest rates.

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Cancer treatment ‘hijacking’ a fallacy: urologists

LEADING urologists have rejected claims that commercial interests are influencing the management of prostate cancer and say that over-treatment causing impotence and incontinence is being minimised.
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On Tuesday, Melbourne cancer specialist Ian Haines said prostate cancer treatment had been hijacked by commercial interests, causing many men to be ''over-diagnosed'' with low-risk disease that led them to have damaging surgery unnecessarily.

An Associate Professor of Medicine from Monash University, he said PSA (prostate specific antigen) tests and Gleason scores to diagnose and score prostate cancers were unreliable and he criticised the marketing of expensive robotic surgery, saying it was only marginally better than standard prostatectomy procedures.

Professor Tony Costello - the Melbourne urologist who pioneered robotic surgery for prostate cancer - yesterday described his comments as ''provocative'' and stood by prostate cancer tests for many men and robotic surgery for prostate removal.

He said while hospitals had to ''claw back'' the millions of dollars invested in robotic surgical equipment, in his experience, it did not influence surgeons' advice to patients.

Furthermore, he said while no data had been published yet, he had found robotic surgery to be better for his patients, reducing rates of impotence and incontinence two years after surgery.

Professor Costello said growing evidence of over-treatment had caused a shift to more surveillance and less treatment for men with low-risk cancers. He said a registry set up to track cancers in Victoria showed about half of the 5500 men diagnosed in Victoria last year were being monitored to see if the cancer got worse. This showed urologists were acting in their patients' best interests, he said. ''If you get a positive biopsy for prostate cancer in Victoria, 46 per cent are getting surveillance … and you're more likely to be put on surveillance in private practice than you are in the public system, so there's no commercial advantage,'' he said.

Monash Medical Centre urologist and a spokesman for the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, Associate Professor Mark Frydenberg, said Gleason scoring was a reliable way to differentiate low, intermediate and high-risk cancers, allowing some men to have life-saving treatment. However, he said men deciding on treatment should seek various opinions because robotic surgery only offered marginal benefits. ''The differences to date are not huge. The complication rates for continence and potency appear similar,'' he said.

Several men contacted The Age yesterday with stories about prostate testing and treatment, including one man who was told he did not have cancer after having his prostate removed.

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