Fashion brands slow to improve wages

Fashion brands in Australia are taking slow steps towards ensuring the workers who make their clothes are paid a decent wage.

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A new report card on the local fashion industry shows that while many companies now have better information about their suppliers, most haven’t acted to make sure garment workers receive a living wage.

Data collected by Baptist World Aid found the number of companies able to show that a portion of garment workers, who are usually in third-world countries, earn significantly above the minimum wage has more than doubled.

However, two thirds haven’t taken any action to ensure workers receive a living wage, or enough money to cover basics such as food, water, shelter, clothing and healthcare.

Pumpkin Patch, Oroton, General Pants, and Best & Less all rated poorly in the report.

Baptist World Aid advocacy manager Gershon Nimbalker said low wages force garment workers, who are usually young and female, to remain trapped in poverty at a time when the fashion industry generates more than a trillion dollars in export revenue.

“It’s good for companies in terms of their reputation and long-term profitability and sustainability if their workers are paid well,” he told AAP.

“From a consumer angle, they can choose to vote with their wallets and preference those companies that look after their workers and make sure people aren’t being exploited.”

In terms of how much extra consumers could pay if workers received a living wage, the report noted a Fair Wear Foundation study that estimated up to $US5 ($A6.39) would need to be added to an item’s price tag.

Mr Nimbalker said much of the problem stems from fashion brands not knowing enough about their suppliers – which range from those who grow cotton, to fabric makers and garment factories.

The report found while a growing number of companies (over 70 per cent) know about their manufacturing suppliers and “input” suppliers such as fabric makers, just five per cent know who supplies the raw materials used to make their garments.

Mr Nimbalker said that until more companies know about “input” and raw material suppliers, workers risk being abused.

A total of 87 companies that own 300 brands were assessed by Baptist World Aid, with each given a rating ranging from A to F based on how they mitigated the risk of exploitation.

Just two scored an A+: Etiko and Audrey Blue.

Textile & Fashion Industries of Australia boss David Giles-Kaye said as consumers were more educated about supply chains, companies that don’t lift their game to end exploitation could lose customers.

“There’s a moral issue first and foremost but at the end of the day it’s good business practice as well,” he said.

The report was released just before the third anniversary of the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, where 1134 people died and hundreds of others were injured.

FINDINGS ON FASHION COMPANIES

* 87 companies assessed

* median grade was C+

* six received A grades, nine received Fs

* 79pct trace input suppliers, up from 49pct

* 39pct trace raw materials suppliers, up from 17pct

* 5pct know where their raw materials come from

* 3pct publicise data about wages paid to workers

* 48pct publicise which countries they source from

SOME OF THE BEST AND WORST PERFORMERS

* As : Etiko, Audrey Blue, Adidas, Patagonia

* Bs : Cotton On, Country Road, Target, David Jones, Pacific Brands, H&M, Inditex (Zara)

* Cs : RM Williams, Quiksilver, Bardot, Billabong, Big W, Coles, Lowes, Myer

* Ds : Lorna Jane, Pumpkin Patch, Oroton, Best & Less

* Fs : Boohoo, General Pants, Roger David, Seed Heritage

Source: Baptist World Aid Australia

Regulator failures over pedophile doctor

NSW health authorities knew about sexual abuse complaints against a trusted family doctor in 1992 but failed to act for almost two decades, putting more children at risk, an inquiry has found.

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There may be other victims of convicted pedophile Dr John Phillip Rolleston who have never come forward, the child abuse royal commission’s report released on Wednesday said.

NSW health care regulators received allegations about Dr Rolleston sexually abusing boys from 1992.

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission did not tell police about two victims’ complaints, the royal commission found.

There were also lengthy and unacceptable delays in its investigation of a 1998 complaint by one victim, AWC, who felt discouraged from going to police by his dealings with HCCC.

The NSW Medical Board was also told about AWC’s complaint but failed to link it to the 1992 telephone calls.

The HCCC wrongly decided to end the investigation into AWC’s allegations of serious criminal offences at a time when Dr Rolleston was still practising medicine and there was a need to protect patients from the risk of predatory activity by him, the commission said.

“Ultimately, the (investigation) report observed that after 22 years there was no longer a public interest in taking disciplinary action and recommended that no further action be taken.”

The commission criticised the HCCC for its insensitive approach to a 2003 complainant and for ending that investigation without considering the similar reports against Dr Rolleston.

The commission said that by November 2006 the Medical Board knew about three complaints against Dr Rolleston but did not exercise its statutory powers to immediately suspend or restrict a medical practitioner’s registration.

Dr Rolleston continued to practise medicine without appropriate conditions on his registration until June 2009, the commission said.

“Having regard to the power given to the Medical Board to protect children, this was a significant failure to act to protect children who may have been at risk of assault by Dr Rolleston.

“Although we know of people who have reported sexual abuse by Dr Rolleston when they were children, it is reasonable to assume that others were abused who have never come forward.”

Dr Rolleston, who worked as a GP in private practices and hospitals, was arrested in 2009 and later jailed.

The commission also found Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital never confronted a volunteer with allegations of child sexual assault from the 1980s, despite police believing there would potentially be other victims.

The hospital sacked Harry Otto Pueschel in January 1998 but made no mention of the allegations, which the commission said left open the possibility of him working elsewhere as a volunteer.

He was still able to access the hospital wards after being dismissed.

The commission said a Royal North Shore Hospital representative discouraged the father of a boy abused by a psychologist in the late 1960s from going to police, to spare him from “interrogation and all those distressing things”.

The victim told the commission that psychologist Frank Stuart Simpson sexually abused him under the guise of play therapy to treat his asthma.

In a statement issued by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital on Wednesday, chief executive officer Christine Kilpatrick said allegations aired in the inquiry forced it to further review and strengthen safety, protection and welfare practices.

She said inquiry testimony taught the hospital that only “eternal vigilance” would give the community confidence that all children in their care were safe.

DV groups say funding is needed to back ‘respect’ campaign

In a scene from the federal government’s new $30 million domestic violence advertising campaign, a woman tells a girl who has had a door slammed in her face: “He did it because he likes you.

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The campaign aims to tackle family violence by challenging underlying societal attitudes which may contribute to male aggression towards women.

Domestic Violence NSW’s Moo Baulch said the government’s campaign is welcome, but measures to tackle the problem need to go further.

“I think it’s a first step,” she said. “But I think we also need to be looking at issues around gender inequality and violence-supporting attitudes.”

Ms Baulch said campaigns such as these tend to increase the demand on support services.

“So what we really need to see is the funding and resourcing for those services to be able to meet the demand.”

One-in-six women over the age of 15 has experienced violence from a current or former partner, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, the rates are are even higher. Women with a disability and those from diverse backgrounds are also considered to be at risk.

Greens senator Larissa Waters has urged the government to back up the campaign by restoring a funding cut in previous budgets to community legal services and shelter accommodation for women fleeing domestic violence.

“We need to make sure the services are there so when women do reach out they can get the help that they need and not be turned away,” she said.

The Greens are calling for funding to family violence services to be addressed in the upcoming federal budget.

National Chairperson of the Women’s Services Network (WESNET) Julie Oberin has welcomed the television campaign, calling it a “world first”.

“It’s absolutely vital to address not only violence, but the underlying attitudes which support violence, which many people may not even know they have,” she said.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic family violence, help is available. National domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT. In an emergency call 000.

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Call for crackdown on cosmetic industry

Cosmetic surgery patients will die unless Australia acts to regulate the booming industry.

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That’s the blunt message from plastic surgeons after an investigation by NSW’s health watchdog found six breast implant patients at one clinic suffered potentially life-threatening complications during surgeries in the past year.

On Tuesday, it was revealed a NSW Health Care Complaints Commission probe found the clinic, The Cosmetic Institute, was routinely administering adrenaline in combination with local anaesthetics at dosages well above safe levels.

The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons says the practice is rampant at cosmetic clinics, which carry out major operations such as breast enhancements and liposuction while licensed to give only “conscious sedation”.

“What happens in practice is, conscious sedation becomes unconscious sedation very, very quickly and an uncontrolled situation occurs,” the society’s president Associate Professor Hugh Bartholomeusz told AAP.

“Now combine this with large volumes of local anaesthetic which are toxic to your heart, and you’ve got an incredibly volatile situation.”

He said patients can have fits and go into a cardiac arrest, which is what the HCCC probe found occurred at The Cosmetic Institute.

“It’s a really, really dangerous situation and we are just fortunate that nobody has died,” Prof Bartholomeusz said.

The Cosmetic Institute says its patients now undergo surgery at a licensed private hospital.

The clinic has also reviewed its procedures to ensure safe upper limits for adrenaline and local anaesthetic usage, according to general manager Andrew Gill.

But plastic surgeons are calling on state and territory governments to urgently tighten regulations around anaesthetic use, practitioner credentials and the licensing and accreditation of facilities.

They say patients’ lives are at stake.

“Unfortunately somebody will die. There can’t be any messing around with ifs, buts or maybes – it will happen,” Prof Bartholomeusz said.

Bali guards allegedly attacked Perth man

An Australian man says he was beaten and handcuffed by security guards at a popular Bali nightclub, and left with fractures to his face.

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But police say he was restrained so that guards could “calm him down” and that CCTV of the incident was only kept by management for a few days.

Joshua Hughes was at Sky Garden in Kuta in the early hours of April 2 when he tried to “stick up” for his friend during a fight.

It was then that around a dozen security guards set upon him, handcuffed him and “beat the s***” out of him, he said.

The matter was reported to police a few days later.

Kuta Police Station Chief Wayan Sumara said the 32-year-old had suffered broken bones, including to his nose, as a result of the attack.

On April 8, police went to the nightclub and spoke with the guards, all of who denied any attack by security took place.

“(They said) what happened was that he was beaten by (four) other guests when the victim tried to stop a fight involving his friend,” Wayan told AAP.

The attackers were described as foreigners.

After being hit, Wayan said security guards went over to Mr Hughes to try and “calm him down”.

“That is why he must be handcuffed to take him down and out of Sky Garden,” he added.

“We’ve checked the CCTV, but according to Sky Garden management, the record of that incident was only kept for a few days.”

It is understood, police said, that Mr Hughes is back in Australia.

However, Sky Garden said that while the two men who were allegedly involved in an altercation were handcuffed, the club had followed “proper procedure”.

“First and foremost, we are truly upset about the injuries that happened to the man from Perth, Australia. We do not condone violence and we take every pre-caution to help prevent it; our patrons safety and comfort remain our top priorities,” the club said in a statement on Wednesday.

They denied the altercation involved guards at the premises and said CCTV was used the “piece together” the sequence of events that showed there was no foul play.

Investigations are continuing.

India still wants the Koh-i-Noor Diamond

India will make all possible efforts to get back the Koh-i-Noor Diamond from Britain despite comments by New Delhi’s solicitor-general that the priceless jewel should stay with the former colonial ruler, the government says.

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India has repeatedly demanded that Britain return the 105-carat diamond, which was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 and today sits on display as part of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

India’s solicitor-general surprised many on Monday when he told the Supreme Court that his country should forgo its claims to the jewel because it was given to Britain as a gift by an Indian king, rather than stolen as many Indians today believe.

The government said on Tuesday his view did not represent its own and that it was yet to give its opinion to the court, which is hearing a case demanding the diamond be returned.

“The government of India further reiterates its resolve to make all possible efforts to bring back the Koh-i-noor Diamond in an amicable manner,” the ministry of culture said.

The ministry said the stone was a “valued piece of art with strong roots in our nation’s history” and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was determined to get it back.

A lawyer in India’s neighbour Pakistan last year filed a court petition calling for the stone’s return. India and Pakistan became two different countries with partition in 1947, when they became independent from Britain.

The Koh-i-Noor is set in the crown worn by Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the reigning monarch, at the coronation of her husband George VI in 1937, and was placed on her coffin at her funeral in 2002.

The Duchess of Cambridge, who last week visited India with her husband, Prince William, will wear the crown on official occasions when she becomes queen consort.

William is second in line to the British throne.

End charge for paper bills: Keep Me Posted

Companies that slap customers with additional fees for mail-delivered bills are being accused of penalising people who don’t have internet access.

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Up to $3.20 per bill is being charged to people who prefer them posted rather than emailed, consumer group Keep Me Posted says.

The group launched a campaign in Canberra on Wednesday calling on companies to stop charging people for paper bills and statements.

“When you add up all the utility bills, telco bills and financial statements, it’s those who are most disadvantaged who are impacted,” Keep Me Posted’s executive director Kellie Northwood told AAP.

The group highlights most Australian households with incomes with less than $40,000 not having access to the internet, with the elderly, disabled Australians or those in remote areas most affected.

Australia also lags much of the world in terms of internet affordability, according to a World Economic Forum report released in April 2015.

It ranked 76th out of 143 countries in terms of fixed broadband affordability, well behind Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Japan, France and the United States.

The Keep Me Posted campaign is supported by federal crossbench senators Nick Xenophon, John Madigan and Jacqui Lambie, with Senator Xenophon to introduce legislation to protect consumers from “unfair” fees.

The practice is a clear example of “corporate greed”, Senator Lambie said.

The push has been welcomed by seniors groups who argue the fees penalise people who are likely companies’ long-time customers.

“The internet is not universal. We are penalising people who have no idea even how to turn a computer on,” Council on the Ageing NSW’s Ian Day told AAP.

“It’s getting silly that customers are getting charged for what’s traditionally a normal way of working.”

The argument that non-paper bills are more environmentally beneficial is often overplayed, Ms Northwood said.

“E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in Australia,” she said.

“Paper is a renewable resource whereas digital devices use finite mineral resources.”

Energy company Origin, which does charge a fee for paper bills, said it waived the extra charge for customers who contacted the company with legitimate concerns.

“We are happy to make other arrangements for customers who tell us they have difficulty with email or internet services,” a company spokesman said.

Banks to pay $120m to beef up ASIC

Banks will cough up $120 million to beef up the corporate regulator.

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Treasurer Scott Morrison says taxpayers will no longer be forced to foot the bill for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, as it moves to a user-pays model.

“Those whom it’s enforcing the regulations and rules on will pay the price for that,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Mr Morrison said ASIC would get a $61 million boost for enhanced data analytics and surveillance capabilities.

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“In the 21st century economy, you need a tech cop on the beat,” he said.

ASIC will also get $57 million for increased surveillance, investigation and prosecution capacity to pursue cases.

ASIC boss Greg Medcraft’s term has been extended for 18 months and the government has also appointed an additional commissioner to ASIC with special expertise in prosecution.

“We want an ASIC that leans forward and we want an ASIC that actually prosecutes and takes those matters up,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said he would be “furious” if the banks passed the additional costs onto consumers through higher fees and charges.

“(These levies are) easily digestible by the banks and must be and should be.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the banks would be popping champagne corks because the government won’t force them to a royal commission.

“Asking the regulator to investigate themselves isn’t going to fix anything,” he told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

But Labor won’t let the issue go, with Mr Shorten convinced the only way to extract the truth about the widespread problems was a royal commission.

Labor MP Ed Husic accused the government of announcing $120 million of “hush money”.

Chinese-Australian artist wins 2016 Gallipoli Art Prize

When artist Jiawei Shen arrived in Sydney in the 1980s, he supported himself by sketching portraits for tourists.

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“I didn’t waste time. I used that time to research about the human face, about portraiture,” Mr Shen said.

“So after that time I became a professional portrait artist.”

Since then Mr Shen has painted everyone from Pope Francis, to former Prime Minister John Howard and Mary, the Crown Princess of Denmark.

“If the artist himself can sit at the front of his own painting and never want to stop, it means the painting is okay.”

However, it was his time serving as a member of China’s People’s Liberation Army that Mr Shen says greatly shaped his career.

“I had some experience in the army so I very much understand comradeship,” he said.

That understanding helped Mr Shen win the Gallipoli Art Prize for his painting of a famous World War I photograph. 

It is the first time a Chinese-born Australian has won the award.

“As a Chinese-Australian artist, and also as a history painter, I think this is my duty,” Mr Shen said.

His portrait was described by judges as a stand-out.

“It’s got that heroic vision about it but it doesn’t descend into sentimentality,” said prize judge Jane Watters.

The piece was also praised by the director of the Gallipoli Memorial Club John Robertson for its unique perspective on Gallipoli.

“Love of country. Comradeship, friendship, loyalty,” he said.

Despite having painted hundreds of pieces throughout his career, Mr Shen described his winning Gallipoli portrait as one of his favourites.

“If the artist himself can sit at the front of his own painting and never want to stop, it means the painting is okay. This painting is for me like that.” 

Portraits from the Gallipoli Art prize will be on display in Sydney until the end of the month.

Market attacks final nail in Syria peace talks coffin?

Escalating violence in Syria in recent days has left a seven-week partial truce on the verge of collapse.

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The latest incident piles pressure on the faltering Syrian peace talks in Geneva.

The air strikes in Idlib province are believed to be the deadliest since the cessation of hostilities took effect in February.

Two marketplaces in rebel-held towns in northwest Syria were hit.

Rescue workers say at least 38 people were killed when the central vegetable market in Maarat al-Numan was bombed at about noon.

Another ten people were killed in an air strike at another market in Kafranbel, about ten kilometres away.

At least three children are among the dead.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military, but US State Department spokesman John Kirby says it’s likely Assad government forces are reponsible for the attacks.

“It is our understanding at this time that it was most likely regime forces, but information is still coming in. So, I want to be a little careful here in how I couch that. And it has been, as we’ve said by and large, the majority of the violations have been by the regime. We have reason to believe at this point that that was the case with this particular bombing.”

Prospects for a speedy resumption of the UN-brokered Syrian peace talks in Geneva are fast diminishing.

Syrian opposition representatives have suspended their role in talks.

High Negotiations Committee spokesman Salim Al Muslat says the Idlib strikes are just the latest of many violations by the government of the partial truce.

“I believe we made the right decision now, because what’s going on there on the ground, what we’re having for the last few days is really a great deal of pressure from inside Syria because of the crimes that Assad is committing there. He did not respect the truce, the agreement by the Russian and the States. And now we witness the massacre in Maaret Al Numan in Idlib this really cannot be, if we look for successful political talks.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has been critical branding the decision a mistake.

Earlier, he said actors on the fringe of the conflict are to blame for disrupting peace talks.

“There are some players on the outside who still cherish the dream to overthrow the (Syrian) regime by force and try to do everything possible for that, including the attempts to provoke a failure of the Geneva talks.”

But Mr Lavrov says the decision to leave does not mean a complete breakdown of talks.

He says the opposition’s goal of a political settlement can only be achieved through negotiations.

But Syrian government delegates are resisting compromise too.

Syrian government chief negotiator Bashar Ja’afari says the political future of President al-Assad is not up for discussion.

“Our mandate as delegation engaged into the proximity talks in Geneva – stops and ends at forming the national unity government. We have no mandate whatsoever either to address the constitution, constitutional issue – meaning establishing the new constitution – or addressing the parliamentary elections, or addressing the fate of the presidency.”

He blamed what he called radicals in Turkey and Saudi Arabia for meddling in Syrian affairs and dooming the talks in Geneva.

“They don’t want to have, at the end of the day a political settlement, a peaceful political settlement to the Syrian crisis. 90 per cent of the Syrian crisis is mainly due to foreign hands, to foreign interference into Syrian domestic affairs.”

But other foreign influences are intent on ending the Syrian crisis by pushing peace talks – despite repeated setbacks.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the United Nations and the United States are determined to bring the warring parties back to the table.

“The UN, I would point out, has not described the situation as breaking down. They have acknowledged that the talks have been postponed but, you know, there still is a framework in place and I believe that there are still technical discussions that are taking place in Geneva even as we speak. So there still is a path forward here and it’s understandable that there is a frustration, to put it mildly, on the part of the opposition about the ongoing talks when we see repeated violations of the cessation of hostilities by the regime and supporting forces.”