More sex offenders claiming ‘sexsomnia’

Most children affected by sleepwalking grow out of the condition by adulthood. Of those still affected, a small proportion will also experience sexsomnia. Photo: Simon SchluterA growing number of people charged with sex offences are claiming to be affected by “sexsomnia”, where they initiated sexual contact while asleep and cannot recall the event.

The Australasian Sleep Association is concerned that some sex offenders are feigning the affliction, and want to ensure the doctors called to give expert testimony in court are well versed in its symptoms.

Woolcock Institute of Medical Research medical director Dev Banerjee is giving a presentation to colleagues at an Australasian Sleep Association conference in Perth on Thursday on how to conduct themselves in court if they are called to give evidence in such cases.

“It’s a wake-up call that there are a lot more of these cases in the public media and therefore it’s highly likely that this sort of defence – of sexsomnia and automatism – will be coming their way,” Dr Banerjee said.

Automatism is a criminal defence under which the defendant claims that he or she did not consciously perform the guilty act.

Sleepwalking is the classic example and is used in various driving, murder and assault cases.

Dr Banerjee said it was important that sleep clinicians called to give expert testimony in sexsomnia cases were able to identify true manifestations of the condition.

“We’re seeing a few clinicians out there who think they’re experts in sleep who aren’t trained to give expert advice,” he said.

“I’ve been involved in cases where I thought the defendant probably could have got away with it, and at the end of the day we’re trying to protect society.

“I’ve done a lot of cases where the Crown and police are staggered that the jury has acquitted the defendant.”

Sleepwalking affects about one in 25 children, but two thirds of them outgrow the condition by adulthood.

Only a very small proportion of sleepwalkers – usually men – will also experience sexsomnia, which includes masturbating, sexual vocalisation, fondling another person or intercourse while sleeping.

But researchers believe it is under-reported because people are embarrassed to admit to it.

Sleep clinician Peter Buchanan said he has provided his expert opinion in about 12 sexsomnia cases in the past decade, including three in the past 18 months, although he has been asked to do so on many more occasions.

All of the victims were known to the perpetrators and asleep in the same house when the assaults took place.

Recently he was asked to give his opinion in the case of a man who allowed his stepdaughter, a young teenager, to share his bed while her mother was away.

During the night he performed two sexual acts on the girl.

“These cases are distressing,” Dr Buchanan said.

“Whether the perpetrator is exonerated or not there is still a victim. The victims are almost always minors.

“They’re usually flummoxed.

“In this particular case [the victim] had no sexual experience whatsoever.”

The man was found convicted of indecent assault and is awaiting sentence.

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GP co-payment would crush NSW emergency departments: report

John Robertson says the GP co-payment will “smash the health system”. Photo: Max MasonEXCLUSIVE

An extra 500,000 people a year would choke NSW emergency departments at a cost of $80 million if the federal government proceeds with its GP co-payment, internal health department documents show.

The analysis by NSW Health has been backed by doctors and health groups who say a$7 Medicare fee for GP visits would be a disaster forthe state’s health system, blowing out emergency department waiting times and hurting society’s sickest and poorest.

Scenarios prepared for the NSW government in May, obtained by NSW Labor, assumed a $6 co-payment, lower than the $7 fee later proposed by the federal government.

It found a potential increase in emergency department attendances “in the vicinity of 500,000”, leading to increased costs of about $80 million a year.

There were 2.6 million presentations to NSW emergency departments in 2012-13; that figure would have jumped by 27 per cent under a $6 co-payment, the analysis found.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said the figures showed the co-payment would “smash the health system” and hurt families.

“Thousands of people will be forced to turn up in emergency departments to avoid paying the fee to their local GP,” he said.

NSW opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said it was time the state government “stopped defending their federal counterparts and stood up to Tony Abbott and his GP tax”.

Following the budget in May, NSW Premier Mike Baird expressed concern about the $7 payment to visit a GP, saying “if it leads to long queues in emergency departments, well, that’s not something that’s sustainable”.

The co-payment is among a host of budget measures whose passage through the Senate has been delayed due to a lack of support from Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously signalled a compromise deal could be offered to ease the burden on pensioners.

The government says $5 of the $7 co-payment will go towards establishing a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. Health Minister Peter Dutton has said the government will push through a smaller version of the fund if the GP co-payment fails.

Australian Medical Association Federal President Brian Owler said hospitals have worked hard to improve emergency department waiting times.

“Putting another 500,000 people into that system is going to mean all of those gains are going to be lost, and we are probably going to end up in a worse position than when we started,” he said.

Dr Owler said the policy was “driven by a fiscal and economic outlook, there is no consideration of … the health care needs of the Australian community.”

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia chief executive Adam Stankevicius said the findings “show what a disaster the co-payment would be for primary health care in Australia, pushing so many patients toward belated emergency treatment”.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the “rudimentary scenarios” for a GP co-payment were developed after the National Commission of Audit proposed the measure.

Ms Skinner said she had written to Mr Dutton regarding the policy, but she did not detail what was said.

A spokesman for Mr Dutton said his government had given states the option of charging co-payments at emergency departments for GP-type presentations. Ms Skinner has previously ruled out that option.

“The simple facts are that Commonwealth spending on health is increasing each and every year. If action isn’t taken Medicare will collapse under its own weight,” Mr Dutton’s spokesman said.

As Fairfax Media reported last month, federal government spending on health has grown at an average annual rate of 5.5 per cent over the past two decades, compared with 8.8 per cent growth for public order and safety, 23.5 per cent for communications, and 2 per cent for scientific research.

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Australia well prepared to deal with Ebola virus

Tracey-Lee Osling, Nurse Unit Manager of Westmead Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, prepares protective equipment for the Ultra Isolation Rooms, designed specifically to manage patients with highly infectious diseases. Photo: NSW Health/Carlos FurtadoSydney’s Westmead Hospital has been conducting drills to prepare for a potential outbreak of Ebola, while the nation’s health departments say they are well equipped to deal with possible cases of the deadly virus.

The federal health department says the risk of an outbreak in Australia remains very low, and “our infection control mechanisms in hospitals are first rate”.

Staff at Westmead Hospital have done live training exercises and information about how to manage suspected cases has been sent to emergency departments, clinicians, GPs and diagnostic laboratories across the state.

Westmead Hospital is the designated hospital for the treatment of Ebola in NSW because it is equipped with isolation rooms and a highly secure laboratory, where doctors can test for the virus.

The isolation areas have low air pressure to stop air flowing outside, as well as a double air lock. Staff who would care for Ebola patients have received special training.

“While Ebola is a very serious disease, it is not highly contagious. Ebola is not like influenza. It is not caught through coughing or sneezing. It is only caught through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal,” said Vicky Sheppeard, director of the NSW Health communicable diseases branch.

Ebola has killed more than 3400 people mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Recent UNICEF figures estimated at least 3700 children in those countries have lost one or both parents, and many have been shunned by relatives who fear being infected.

Sierra Leone recorded 121 deaths in one of the single deadliest days since the disease appeared there more than four months ago, government health statistics showed on Sunday.

A Spanish nurse is the first person to contract the virus outside of west Africa, after treating an infected priest repatriated to Madrid. A Liberian man with the virus is in hospital in Dallas after travelling to the US from the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

In Australia, Customs and Border Protection and Department of Agriculture biosecurity officers are alert to the possibility of Ebola when identifying sick passengers.

Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne, of the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, said Australia’s preparedness goes back to the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, when many countries bolstered their plans for emerging infections.

An Ebola outbreak in Australia remains a low possibility in part because there are no direct flights from west Africa, he said.

“The UK is at high risk and that’s simply because of the traditional relationship the UK has with Sierra Leone. In the same way, we weren’t really surprised that the first case exported was Liberia through the US because they have traditional relationships,” Dr Hill-Cawthorne said.

“Australia doesn’t really have traditional relationships with west African countries. Overall, Australia is at pretty low risk.”

With agencies

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Warrnambool’s Arie Eddy still searching for job as politicians promise action

Hard at work: Arie Eddy works harder than most unemployed to find work, despite going for almost three years without luck. Photo: Vicky HughsonWarrnambool teenager Arie Eddy has been searching for a job for almost three years without luck. Until Fairfax Media interviewed Mr Eddy in August, he had received only one interview despite applying for more than 780 jobs. 

Mr Eddy was left disappointed by some potential employers, a restaurant and local radio station, who offered him cadetships or job interviews, but when he contacted them they said they’d already filled the positions.

“It upset me that they filled the positions straightaway and didn’t even give me a chance to get in touch,” he said.

Two months later he’s still jobless, but now he’s optimistic.

“I’ve had an interview with Warrnambool Toyota and Clinton Baulch’s Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealership. Five or six months ago I was applying for jobs and I’d just never hear back,” he said.

“At the moment I’ve been looking in the paper for jobs rather than just handing out resumes everywhere, so I’ve changed my strategy and now I’m applying for jobs I know are available.”

On Monday and Tuesday this week the state Liberal and Labor parties announced a number of new measures aimed at creating jobs. 

The Labor Party has pledged $100 million to reduce payroll tax by $1000 for each long-term unemployed person a business hires and Mr Eddy said this strategy would be the most affective.

“This to me sounds like the best incentive for business to employ someone who has been unemployed for 12 months or 12 years. With lower tax, the business doesn’t have to pay as much to employ someone,” he said.

Like Mr Eddy, Geelong resident Rod Barratt, 53, is also unemployed. A machinery operator, Mr Barratt had worked for K&S Freighters for 11 years but was made redundant six weeks ago.

He’s optimistic he’ll find work quickly when he begins his hunt in the New Year but is aware some businesses will look past him because of his age.

“Some employers do discriminate secretly against mature-age workers, you can’t really blame them for that but it doesn’t help when you’re looking for secure employment,” he said.

“But I have good confidence in myself that I’ll find work. It’s all in the way you speak and present yourself.”

Mr Barratt said the Liberal and Labor party job creation strategies sounded the same.

“I suppose it’s great they’re doing something,” he said.

“But what we don’t want to see is another $40 million being given to a business like Alcoa, which closes anyway … there needs to be value for money in the long term, not just the short term.”

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Ebola crisis in west Africa sees cocoa prices soar

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

West Africa’s Ebola crisis has generated fear in the cocoa industry that the deadly virus will cross into the Ivory Coast and Ghana and swipe half the world’s cocoa supply – sending bean prices soaring.

The two countries, so far free of Ebola, produce 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa. Experts say if an outbreak occurs, bean prices will surge beyond the 3.5-year high reached in September and affect retail chocolate prices.

“If prices rise at a greater rate, chocolate manufacturers will pass the increase onto consumers,” said Andrew Rolle of Juremont, a major Australian importer of chocolate ingredients.

“It’s a fragile market there at the best of times. There will be labour issues with the cocoa farmers in the fields, political issues, transport issues with accessing stock through ports.”

Australian chocolate makers typically have six to 12 months’ of cocoa supply in storage, so any price rises after an outbreak won’t be immediately seen, he added.

The commodity price was heading for a sixth straight monthly gain, the longest streak in 12 years, the International Cocoa Organisation said.

Boutique chocolatier Haigh’s raised prices by 3 per cent earlier this year, expecting bean prices to remain rising because of the growing popularity of dark chocolate and Asia’s booming middle class.

Chief executive Alister Haigh said the outbreak was at the forefront of his mind, as a third of Haigh’s cocoa was sourced from Ghana.

“The prices we’ve set will suffice for the near future. That’s not to say there’s been a huge increase, but we’re well covered for the next six months.”

Nearly two-thirds of the 3000 deaths have occurred in Guinea and Liberia, which share a porous and poorly policed border with the Ivory Coast, a vital source for chocolate giants Cadbury and Nestle.

“It’s a long border. It’s vulnerable and hard to control. It’s a serious threat,” an exporter in the port city of Abidjan told Reuters.

The US health authorities have predicted another 1.4 million people could be infected in West Africa by January without extra intervention. If the virus spreads into the Ivory Coast, transport restrictions may be enforced, swaths of farming land quarantined, and migrant workers stopped in their tracks.

The economy-sustaining cocoa industry could be brought to its knees, hitting the incomes of millions of farmers, buyers and exporters.

“What we fear is that under a quarantine nothing will move, that farmers will flee, that trucks won’t go in and that the cocoa will rot on the trees,” an exporter told Reuters. Another market strategist said that would be “pandemonium”.

Both Mondelez, owner of Cadbury, and Nestle did not respond to questions about possible impacts on retail prices.

Mondelez said it was monitoring the epidemic closely and none of its supply was under any immediate threat. A spokesman said: “However, as a matter of normal practice we do have contingency plans in place to address potential supply risks.”

Nestle, maker of KitKat and Milo, said: “It is too early for predictions on the possible effects on our business.”

Higher prices, though, are unlikely to suppress Australia’s insatiable appetite for chocolate, with IBISWorld figures showing we are on track to spend $1.98 billion on the mood-lifter this financial year.

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