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Health Minister asks states to undertake immediate investigation into silicosis risk

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is asking state workplace regulators to immediately investigate risks to the health of stonemasons, and stop unsafe work practices.

Key points:

Greg Hunt says he will raise the issue at a health COAG meeting in Adelaide on Friday
Mr Hunt will also ask the meeting to consider a national dust diseases register
Doctors believe silicosis is Australia's worst occupational lung disease crisis since the peak of the asbestos disaster

It comes after calls from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Thoracic Society for urgent national health screening of stonemasons to check for the dust lung disease, silicosis.

The Queensland Government yesterday confirmed 35 stonemasons have the potentially fatal disease, after cutting engineered stone kitchen benchtops.

An investigation by the ABC's 7.30 program has discovered more cases in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

In the past three financial years in Victoria there have been 16 s..

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is asking state workplace regulators to immediately investigate risks to the health of stonemasons, and stop unsafe work practices.

Key points:

  • Greg Hunt says he will raise the issue at a health COAG meeting in Adelaide on Friday
  • Mr Hunt will also ask the meeting to consider a national dust diseases register
  • Doctors believe silicosis is Australia's worst occupational lung disease crisis since the peak of the asbestos disaster

It comes after calls from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Thoracic Society for urgent national health screening of stonemasons to check for the dust lung disease, silicosis.

The Queensland Government yesterday confirmed 35 stonemasons have the potentially fatal disease, after cutting engineered stone kitchen benchtops.

An investigation by the ABC's 7.30 program has discovered more cases in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

In the past three financial years in Victoria there have been 16 silicosis claims by stonemasons, and in NSW there were 23 total silicosis claims, some by stonemasons.

Mr Hunt issued a statement saying he and the Chief Medical Officer would raise the issue at a health COAG meeting in Adelaide tomorrow.

He said the meeting would be asked to consider whether a national dust diseases register should be developed.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would back a national screening program, saying he did not think the issue should become a "political football".

Doctors believe silicosis is Australia's worst occupational lung disease crisis since the peak of the asbestos disaster.

Last month the Queensland Government issued an urgent warning after 22 silicosis claims were lodged with WorkCover, including for six people who were diagnosed as terminally ill.

The NSW Labor Opposition has also backed calls by medical professionals and former stonemasons for urgent action to protect workers.

Melbourne man Tahir Ozkul, 46, has had a lung transplant after developing accelerated silicosis.

For years he worked in a small factory where all he had was a paper mask, which failed to protect him from the dust created as he cut kitchen bench tops.

Engineered stone can contain up to 90 per cent silica, much higher than the content in granite or marble.

After a day at work he would be covered in dust and said he looked like a "snowman".

Silicosis left Mr Ozkul struggling to walk more than 20 metres unassisted and needing oxygen to breathe.

"I can't do normal activity like walk, I can't go somewhere easily," he told 7.30.

"The pain, the short breath is very bad, I feel very uncomfortable."

'Just the tip of the iceberg'

Roger Singh, who specialises in dust diseases at Shine Lawyers, is representing 12 clients from around the country affected by silicosis and said he was receiving weekly enquiries.

"The numbers we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg," Mr Singh said, adding "potentially several thousand in each state" have been affected.

"For many it's too little too late, but if steps are taken at this point in time, it may save the next generation of stonemasons.

"I've been speaking with individuals, workers and stonemasons in their 20s, 30s, and 40s — that is far too early to be impacted by a horrific disease of this calibre."

The NSW Opposition has suggested a ban on dry-cutting which Mr Singh said there was a strong case for.

"There is some argument for that. I have heard workers suggest there should be a complete ban of the product and people should return to fabricating and cutting natural stone which contains far less silica content," he said.

"If there was asbestos in these work environments you can bet your bottom dollar those workshops would be shut down immediately.

"Actions would be brought against workplaces and those who supplied the products who put workers in harm's way … there is fault at many levels."

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Australia

Relive days two and one at the Parkes Elvis Festival in our live blog!

Are you ready to Rock and Roll? Were all shook up this year over the 2019 Parkes Elvis Festival. Theres a program full of non-stop entertainment, competitions, dancing and a lot of black leather, and were going to be following it from the trains, to the Wall of Fame and much more. During each day of the festival the Parkes Champion Post will bring you the best content – if you cant be here in Parkes we will make you feel like you are part of the crowd, and if you are make sure you keep an eye out for your photo and details from the days events. READ MORE Want to know whats coming up next? Find the program below!

Are you ready to Rock and Roll?

Theres a program full of non-stop entertainment, competitions, dancing and a lot of black leather, and were going to be following it from the trains, to the Wall of Fame and much more.

During each day of the festival the Parkes Champion Post will bring you the best content – if you cant be here in Parkes we will make you feel like you are pa..

Are you ready to Rock and Roll? Were all shook up this year over the 2019 Parkes Elvis Festival. Theres a program full of non-stop entertainment, competitions, dancing and a lot of black leather, and were going to be following it from the trains, to the Wall of Fame and much more. During each day of the festival the Parkes Champion Post will bring you the best content – if you cant be here in Parkes we will make you feel like you are part of the crowd, and if you are make sure you keep an eye out for your photo and details from the days events. READ MORE Want to know whats coming up next? Find the program below!

Are you ready to Rock and Roll?

Theres a program full of non-stop entertainment, competitions, dancing and a lot of black leather, and were going to be following it from the trains, to the Wall of Fame and much more.

During each day of the festival the Parkes Champion Post will bring you the best content – if you cant be here in Parkes we will make you feel like you are part of the crowd, and if you are make sure you keep an eye out for your photo and details from the days events.

Want to know whats coming up next? Find the program below!

This story Relive days two and one at the Parkes Elvis Festival in our live blog! first appeared on Parkes Champion-Post.

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Australia

Cotton Australia, irrigators hit back at criticism over fish kill

IRRIGATORS and cotton growers have hit back at suggestions they, in combination with government policy, were somehow responsible for the fish kill that took out as many as a million fish early this week near Menindee Lakes. NSW Irrigators Council chief executive Luke Simpkins and Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray have both defended their respective organisations water use, while lamenting the fact such a disaster occurred. Both blamed drought for the fish kill. “What has happened is as a result of the drought and no water flowing into the rivers. This drought is a devastating time for all of us. This is not about diversions, but about inflows,” said Mr Simpkins. “Without inflows, blue-green algae events will continue to kill fish. This was predicted in December in an ABC report and algal blooms have killed fish before,” he said. “It should be remembered that irrigation farmers on the Upper Darling have not been allocated any water from the system for 18 months because of ..

IRRIGATORS and cotton growers have hit back at suggestions they, in combination with government policy, were somehow responsible for the fish kill that took out as many as a million fish early this week near Menindee Lakes. NSW Irrigators Council chief executive Luke Simpkins and Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray have both defended their respective organisations water use, while lamenting the fact such a disaster occurred. Both blamed drought for the fish kill. “What has happened is as a result of the drought and no water flowing into the rivers. This drought is a devastating time for all of us. This is not about diversions, but about inflows,” said Mr Simpkins. “Without inflows, blue-green algae events will continue to kill fish. This was predicted in December in an ABC report and algal blooms have killed fish before,” he said. “It should be remembered that irrigation farmers on the Upper Darling have not been allocated any water from the system for 18 months because of the drought.” He said general security allocations (meaning the percentage of a water licence farmers are able to use) have been at zero per cent in both the Gwydir and Lower Namoi valleys. “The water simply isnt there for anyone. “As we approach the state election in March and the federal election in May, it is understandable that MPs seeking re-election and candidates seeking election will want to raise their profiles by allocating blame. “Ultimately it is their credibility that will evaporate when they seek to deny the existence of the drought and the lack of rainfall/inflows,” said Mr Simpkins. Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray said cotton growers should not be blamed for this weeks fish kill, nor those last month. “New South Wales is in the grip of a long and devastating drought. This drought is impacting all agricultural sectors, including the cotton industry where this seasons crop is forecast to be at least half of last seasons,” he said.. “On the Barwon-Darling, the impact on cotton production is even more devastating with no cotton being grown in Bourke this season, down from 4000 hectares the year before. “Further upstream at Dirranbandi (home of Cubbie Cotton), just 300 hectares of cotton has been planted, which is 1pc of what can be planted in a very good season. “Cotton Australia is very proud of our industry that produces a quality fibre that is in demand both here at home and around the world, but as an industry we are tired of being the whipping boy for all the problems that are being brought on by this crippling drought. “About 18 months ago, 2000 gigalitres of water was in the Menindee Lakes before the Murray-Darling Basin Authority took the deliberate decision to accelerate releases from Menindee to meet downstream requirements and reduce overall evaporation losses from the lakes. “In hindsight, this was probably a poor decision, but it does highlight the incredibly difficult task of managing flows in a manner that minimise losses, but ensures enough water is available for communities and the environment during extended severe droughts. “Since July 1, 2017, irrigators have extracted just 16 gigalitres out of the Barwon-Darling – an amount that would have evaporated out of Menindee in just 16 days. “Coupled with the extensive drought and the simple fact there has been little to no rain, the release of water from the lakes has exacerbated the conditions leading to these fish deaths,” said Mr Murray. “What this issue highlights is how difficult the management of the Menindee Lakes is.” You can now receive updates straight to your inbox from the Daily Liberal. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up to our free or subscriber only newsletters below:

NSW Irrigators Council chief executive Luke Simpkins and Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray have both defended their respective organisations water use, while lamenting the fact such a disaster occurred.

Both blamed drought for the fish kill.

“What has happened is as a result of the drought and no water flowing into the rivers. This drought is a devastating time for all of us. This is not about diversions, but about inflows,” said Mr Simpkins.

“Without inflows, blue-green algae events will continue to kill fish. This was predicted in December in an ABC report and algal blooms have killed fish before,” he said.

“It should be remembered that irrigation farmers on the Upper Darling have not been allocated any water from the system for 18 months because of the drought.”

He said general security allocations (meaning the percentage of a water licence farmers are able to use) have been at zero per cent in both the Gwydir and Lower Namoi valleys.

“The water simply isnt there for anyone.

“As we approach the state election in March and the federal election in May, it is understandable that MPs seeking re-election and candidates seeking election will want to raise their profiles by allocating blame.

“Ultimately it is their credibility that will evaporate when they seek to deny the existence of the drought and the lack of rainfall/inflows,” said Mr Simpkins.

Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray said cotton growers should not be blamed for this weeks fish kill, nor those last month.

“New South Wales is in the grip of a long and devastating drought. This drought is impacting all agricultural sectors, including the cotton industry where this seasons crop is forecast to be at least half of last seasons,” he said..

“On the Barwon-Darling, the impact on cotton production is even more devastating with no cotton being grown in Bourke this season, down from 4000 hectares the year before.

“Further upstream at Dirranbandi (home of Cubbie Cotton), just 300 hectares of cotton has been planted, which is 1pc of what can be planted in a very good season.

“Cotton Australia is very proud of our industry that produces a quality fibre that is in demand both here at home and around the world, but as an industry we are tired of being the whipping boy for all the problems that are being brought on by this crippling drought.

“About 18 months ago, 2000 gigalitres of water was in the Menindee Lakes before the Murray-Darling Basin Authority took the deliberate decision to accelerate releases from Menindee to meet downstream requirements and reduce overall evaporation losses from the lakes.

“In hindsight, this was probably a poor decision, but it does highlight the incredibly difficult task of managing flows in a manner that minimise losses, but ensures enough water is available for communities and the environment during extended severe droughts.

“Since July 1, 2017, irrigators have extracted just 16 gigalitres out of the Barwon-Darling – an amount that would have evaporated out of Menindee in just 16 days.

“Coupled with the extensive drought and the simple fact there has been little to no rain, the release of water from the lakes has exacerbated the conditions leading to these fish deaths,” said Mr Murray.

“What this issue highlights is how difficult the management of the Menindee Lakes is.”

Would you like more Dubbo and regional news?

You can now receive updates straight to your inbox from the Daily Liberal. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up to our free or subscriber only newsletters below:

This story Cotton Australia, irrigators hit back at criticism over fish kill first appeared on Daily Liberal.

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Australia

Marise Payne declines to put timeframe on Rahaf Alqunun’s asylum claim

Marise Payne has declined to put a timeframe on how soon Australian authorities will be able to reach a decision on whether to offer asylum to Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun.

Key points:

The Foreign Minister said Australia was accessing Rahaf Alqunun's claim for asylum
Ms Payne said there were “a number of steps” still to be taken in the assessment process
She said she had also spoken to Thai government officials about the detention of Hakeem AlAraibi

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was speaking in Thailand after talks with Thai Government officials, said Australia was engaged in the process of assessing Ms Alqunun's claim for asylum.

But she stopped short of saying how long the claim would take to be processed.

“There are, as I have just said, a number of steps in the process, including in terms of that assessment,” Ms Payne said.

“They are required to be taken and they will be completed within due course and then that matter will be resolved.”

The Department o..

Marise Payne has declined to put a timeframe on how soon Australian authorities will be able to reach a decision on whether to offer asylum to Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun.

Key points:

  • The Foreign Minister said Australia was accessing Rahaf Alqunun's claim for asylum
  • Ms Payne said there were "a number of steps" still to be taken in the assessment process
  • She said she had also spoken to Thai government officials about the detention of Hakeem AlAraibi

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was speaking in Thailand after talks with Thai Government officials, said Australia was engaged in the process of assessing Ms Alqunun's claim for asylum.

But she stopped short of saying how long the claim would take to be processed.

"There are, as I have just said, a number of steps in the process, including in terms of that assessment," Ms Payne said.

"They are required to be taken and they will be completed within due course and then that matter will be resolved."

The Department of Home Affairs confirmed on Wednesday that the United Nations refugee agency had referred Ms Alqunun's case to Australia for consideration.

Ms Alqunun's asylum application was fast-tracked, partly because of security concerns, after the young woman's father and brother arrived in Bangkok and asked Thai police to see her.

Ms Alqunun, 18, flew into Thailand from Kuwait on the weekend, saying she had a ticket onwards to Australia where she had hoped to seek asylum over fears her family would kill her for renouncing Islam.

But when she arrived in Bangkok she said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa.

The teenager then barricaded herself inside her room at an airport hotel, and requested to speak to the United Nations refugee office.

Ms Payne said she had also spoken to Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister about the detention of Hakeen AlAraibi, and his possible return to Bahrain.

She said Mr AlAraibi had been visited by officials from the Australian embassy on a number of occasions and the Australian Government was engaging with his legal team.

"We are, as I've said, very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for return of Mr Araibi to Bahrain," she said.

"I have reiterated those concerns to both ministers."

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