British knighthood for Wizard of Oz

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby is in line to receive a knighthood, sparking a fresh row over cronyism in the British honours system.

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A Whitehall source has revealed the 58-year-old will receive the gong in the New Year Honours List on Thursday, The Sunday Times reports.

The election guru, who has been dubbed the “Wizard of Oz”, started working for Mr Cameron in 2013 and is credited with masterminding the Conservative party’s first outright win for more than 30 years in May.

Previously he had helped Boris Johnson become mayor of London.

Mr Crosby’s supporters say he brought focus and professionalism that had been lacking in the Conservative party machine.

But he became embroiled in a row over his links to the tobacco industry.

He was forced to deny playing any part in the government’s decision to shelve plans for cigarette plain packaging when it emerged his lobbying consultancy CTF had been working for tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris.

Britain’s Labour Party also highlighted his tax arrangements after he was linked to a network of offshore companies.

Mr Cameron has been accused of using the honours system to reward friends, political allies and donors.

Labour MP John Mann condemned the award for Mr Crosby, saying it degraded the honours system and was “an insult to the country’s heroes”.

Alexandra Runswick, the director of Unlock Democracy, which campaigns for political reform, also condemned the award, saying the honours system was supposed to be about rewarding dedicated public service.

“David Cameron using it to reward a lobbyist and political consultant who helped get him elected demeans the honours system and undermines trust in politics, ” she told The Sunday Times.

Mr Crosby is eligible to receive an honour under the British system as Australia is one of 15 “Commonwealth realms” that have the Queen as their monarch.

Boof to have break but he wants more

Darren Lehmann will take a temporary break from coaching Australia next year but he has no plans to leave the post.

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Australia will travel to the Caribbean in June for a one-day international tri-series against West Indies and South Africa.

Lehmann will sit the trip out, with Western Australia coach Justin Langer to mentor the squad in his absence.

Langer is viewed as Lehmann’s likely successor.

But the man who replaced Mickey Arthur on the eve of the 2013 Ashes still has plenty he wants to achieve.

“I’d love us to win in the sub-continent for a start. Play better cricket there,” Lehmann said.

“The T20 (World Cup), that’s another one, and obviously defend the (ODI) World Cup.

“There’s a couple of goals there but end of the day you’re guided by results along the way and how you go.”

England are hosting both the ODI World Cup and Ashes in 2019, with Lehmann desperate for his side to win both.

“That is still a burning desire,” Lehmann said of Australia’s next Test tour of England.

“We let ourselves down this year. 2013 was a different scenario, we were changing the whole setup.

“I’d love to have another crack at that. But you’re guided by results along the way, you can’t look that far ahead.”

Lehmann conceded the job wasn’t something he could do “long term”.

“Not international coaching. You’re away 300 days a year,” he said.

“The one-day series (in England this year), I was pretty much cooked.

“You can’t go that long in a run. That tour was four-and-a-half months in the end. You’ve got to make sure you freshen up as best you can.

“We’re always trying to give our coaches and our support staff a bit of a break. This is the first sort of break I’ve had since I’ve taken over.”

Lehmann will spend time with his family but also start planning for next summer, when South Africa and Pakistan are both touring.

He hopes the break will prolong his career.

“I haven’t got an end date in mind. I’ll go for a while yet,” he said.

“You try to tick off all the boxes you want to as a coach, and hopefully you’ve achieved them, then it’s probably someone else’s turn.”

Henriques’ season in doubt due to injury

Moises Henriques’ Big Bash League campaign looks over, and his shot at a spot in the Australian side for the summer’s international short-form fixtures is in jeopardy, due to a calf injury suffered in Sydney Sixer’s five-wicket loss to Melbourne Stars.

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Henriques injured the calf as he attempted a run in his top score of 41 in the Sixers’ total of 6-139.

The Sixers captain was forced to retire hurt and was taken from the SCG on Sunday night in a medicab.

He’s injured the same left calf he hurt in the Sheffield Shield in November. That injury sidelined him for a month.

Henriques, who has played three Tests, six ODIs and four Twenty20 fixtures for Australia, also struggled with calf trouble last summer.

The 28-year-old will go for scans on the injury on Monday.

Nic Maddinson filled in as Sixers skipper in the loss to the Stars.

He said Henriques had given no indication as to how serious he felt the injury might be.

“He is a little bit disappointed, he was icing it up when I went in so I can’t be sure how it is,” Maddinson said after the match.

“We are feeling for him. He has just come back from a calf injury and suffered another one last year.

“It is a little bit disappointing but until we know the severity of it, it is hard to say how he is feeling.”

The Stars’ win, with half-centuries from Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb, was the side’s first of the season from three games. Sydney’s loss leaves the Sixers at 2-2.

Maxwell said it was difficult to watch his friend Henriques go down with the injury.

“Moises was hitting the ball beautifully and I really feel for him, we have been mates for a while,” Maxwell said.

“He is really putting his name down for one-day contention and for him to go down, my heart breaks for him because he seems to have these setbacks nonstop.

“All I can hope is that he has a speedy recovery but it was pretty hard to watch.”

Medicare review: The 23 items set to be axed and what they mean

**Please note this is a December 2015 story, for more recent coverage see:

 

Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler says the removal of items from the Medicare Benefits Schedule could lead to higher out-of-pocket costs for patients.

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Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley announced on Monday 23 tests and procedures, including ear, nose and throat surgeries and diagnostic imaging, have been recommended for removal as part of a major shake up of Medicare.

Ms Ley said in a statement the 23 items, which also include gastroenterology, obstetrics and thoratic medicine services, cost $6.8 million in the past year and were used 52,500 times.

“This first stage of work has provided recommendations about the immediate removal of lower-volume MBS items in some specific specialities where there is clinical consensus that they are ‘obsolete’ and no longer represent clinical best-practice,” she said.

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“These are also items that clinical experts deem will not have adverse impacts on a patient’s access to health services if removed.

“Reasons range from more-clinically appropriate and/or efficient technologies and procedures already listed on the MBS through to patient safety, unnecessary doubling-up of item claims and decreasing usage.”

However Professor Owler criticised Ms Ley for saying the items were obsolete before the consultation process had even begun.

“It is really not up to the minister to make those sorts of comments,” he told SBS News.

“If she’s already made up her mind there’s no point in having this consultation.”

Professor Owler said the removal of some of the items, like older diagnostic imaging services, “would not be too controversial”, but “just because something is not used often it doesn’t mean it is obsolete”.

He said some patients would be left out-of-pocket as some of the items recommended for removal were part of other procedures or were used for very specific circumstances.

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“That is the AMA has been concerned about with this process all along,” Professor Owler said.

“It is a cost-cutting exercise, they’re looking to make savings. We are concerned patients will be left out-of-pocket.”

He said there were also questions among medical professionals about how long it would take for new items to be included in the Medicare schedule.

Ms Ley said the task force reviewing all the 5700 items on the MBS would seek further advice before scrapping the first 23 items.

“It is important to understand that this is not by any means a comprehensive or complete list of final findings about the final makeup of the MBS,” she said.

“It is also important to remember further advice from the Taskforce will not just focus on the removal of items from the MBS altogether, but also maintaining clinically-relevant MBS items, the addition of new MBS items where appropriate, and more intricate changes around the rules governing the eligibility and use of an MBS item for a particular patient cohort.”

What’s on the chopping block?

Imaging:

– Intravenous Pyelography: an X-ray test of the kidneys, bladder and urinary tract.

– Graham’s Test (cholecystography): an X-ray examination of the gallbladder and bile duct.

– Pelvimetry: an assessment of the female pelvis in relation to a woman’s ability to deliver a baby.

– Bronchography: an X-ray examination of the respiratory system inside the lung after they have coated in a contrast dye.

– Vasoepididymography: using a contrast dye to examine the vas deferens and epididymis in male genitalia.

– Peritoneogram (herniography): an imaging technique used to detect certain types of hernias.

– Venography: an X-ray of the veins using a dye injected using a catheter into the veins or bone marrow.

Ear, nose and throat surgeries:

– Klockoff’s tests: four separate tests to measure hearing.

– Glossopharyngeal nerve (serves tongue and throat) injection with anaesthetic.

– Cryotherapy to nose: use of extreme cold to treat to nasal haemorrhage.

– Cryotherapy to turbinates: use of extreme cold to treat turbinates, which warm the air we breath.

– Division of pharyngeal adhesions: An operation to the pharynx.

– Direct examination: of postnasal space (behind nose) with or without removing tissue.

– Direct examination of Larynx, with removal of tissue.

– Direct examination of the Larynx’s sub regions.

Gastroenterology:

– Gastric hypothermia: without gastrointestinal haemorrhage using a refrigerant.

– Gastric hypothermia: with upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage using a refrigerant.

– Biliary manometry: measurement of pressure relating to bile ducts.

– Sigmoidoscopic examination: rectal examination of lower intestine and application of heat or removal of polyps, less than 45 minutes.

– Sigmoidoscopic examination: rectal examination of lower intestine and application of heat or removal of polyps, more than 45 minutes.

Obstetrics:

– Treatment of habitual miscarriage: with injections of hormones, not administered via routine checks during pregnancy.

Thoracic medicine:

– Bronchospirometry: the study of gas exchanged from each lung separately by placing a catheter in one lung’s major air passage.

Study to find best time for heart surgery

A new British study aims to help doctors better pinpoint when to operate on heart disease patients.

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The research will cost STG1.3 million ($A2.66 million) and look at tracking more effectively when a heart is starting to fail, helping medics decide the best time to perform surgery while minimising the risk to patients’ health.

Operating too early can put heart patients at unnecessary risk but intervening too late can mean heart muscle becomes irreversibly damaged.

The Edinburgh study, which will recruit between 200 and 300 patients in Scotland, will focus on patients with the most common form of valve disease, known as aortic stenosis.

The condition is caused by the narrowing of a major valve, which puts heart muscle under pressure and reduces its capacity to pump properly. It can lead to heart failure and sudden death.

Gauging the severity of heart valve disease can pose difficulties, particularly in older patients who may suffer from a number of other health conditions.

The trial will see patients undergo detailed heart scans and blood tests to track the capacity of their heart to pump blood, providing a baseline against which their future heart function can be compared.

Half of the patients will receive early surgery, and the other half will be given treatment later.

By analysing patients’ heart function before and after surgery, doctors will determine what impact replacement valves have had. They will also be able to tell at which point the surgery has had the greatest effect.

The project is funded by the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust through its annual Award for Biomedical Research.

Dr Marc Dweck, British Heart Foundation research fellow at Edinburgh University, said: “This type of heart disease is very common and, with an ageing population, we are set for an epidemic. Rates are set to treble by 2050, so it is crucial to develop new interventions now.”

Black and white TV still OK in UK

Thousands of Britons have turned a blind eye to huge high-definition TVs and streaming programs in favour of their old black and white set.

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According to TV Licensing, 9356 people in the UK still have a licence to watch television in shades of grey, nearly 50 years after the first colour broadcasts.

But the number has reduced dramatically since 2000, when 212,000 people went without colour, while nine years ago, 50,000 people stuck with black and white.

“It’s astounding more than 9000 households still watch on a black and white telly, especially now over half of homes access TV content over the internet,” TV Licensing spokesman Jason Hill said on Monday.

“Whether you have the latest 4K TV or a black and white set from the 1970s, however, if you are watching or recording live television, then you do need a TV licence.”

The first regular colour TV broadcasts in the UK were from the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in July 1967 as David Attenborough, then controller of BBC2, raced to beat networks in Germany to it.

Londoners account for the most mono licences with 2222, while residents of Birmingham and Manchester trail with 429 and 313 respectively.

“There are hundreds of collectors like myself who have many black and white TVs; some of them are purists who won’t have this new-fangled colour TV in the house,” said television historian Jeffrey Borinsky.

“We like the glow of valves, rich sound and wonderful warm smell of these old sets. It’s simply pure nostalgia and the joy of seeing old equipment still working in the internet age.

“Older people who grew up with black and white still love it and don’t see why they should throw away their perfectly good set to get colour they don’t even want.”

About 20 killed in Nigeria bombing

About 20 people have been killed and 90 wounded by a bomb explosion in a mosque in northern Nigeria.

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The blast comes a day after the army fought Boko Haram militants west of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state and birthplace of their campaign to create an Islamic state in the northeast of Africa’s most populous country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Monday’s blast bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, whose insurgency has killed thousands and displaced 2.1 million in the region.

The explosion happened in a western suburb where the army had exchanged fire on Sunday with suspected Boko Haram fighters who it said had tried to slip into Maiduguri to stage suicide bombings. Residents then reported explosions and heavy gunfire.

Musa Abdukadir, a resident, said after the mosque attack he counted the bodies of more than 50 victims in the state specialist hospital in Maiduguri.

Medics had told him more bodies had been brought to two other hospitals. The count included victims from Sunday’s fighting.

“We all fled yesterday as our houses were on fire. This morning we came back, and while we were counting the people who had burned in the houses, another bomb exploded,” said Ibrahim Goni, a resident who said he had visited the blast scene.

An army counter-offensive earlier this year recaptured most of the territory Boko Haram had seized over the past few years.

Boko Haram has since reverted to a strategy of hitting soft targets such as markets, bus stations and places of worship, as well as hit-and-run attacks on villages, mainly in Borno state.

Thunder move to top of BBL ladder

Sydney Thunder secured a hat-trick of wins for the first time in the BBL courtesy of an easy seven-wicket win over Adelaide Strikers, with Jacques Kallis and Andre Russell leading the way.

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Set 118 for victory in Monday night’s clash at Spotless Stadium before a sellout crowd of 21,500, the Thunder cruised to victory with 21 balls to spare as Kallis hit 49 off 48 balls.

The comfortable win, coming on the back of victories over Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars, thrust the Thunder to the top of the BBL ladder as the only undefeated side in the competition.

The Thunder have at last cast off their tag as Twenty20 easybeats and the three wins so far this season matches their output from their three previous campaigns.

Kallis and Blizzard (35 off 29 balls) combined for a first wicket stand of 66 in 10 overs on a pitch that didn’t appear to have the same demons as it did for the Strikers to put the home side right on track for the win.

Russell added to his 2-28 with the ball by hitting 17 off just seven balls.

Earlier, captain Brad Hodge topscored for the visitors in hitting 34 off 33 balls in their total of 9-117.

The visitors slumped to 2-3 early after Tim Ludeman was out first ball of the innings and Craig Simmons was dismissed the following over.

Two needless mid-innings runouts to Mahela Jayawardene (21 off 31) and Michael Neser (2 off 8) with Ben Rohrer involved in both, didn’t help the Strikers’ cause.

Hodge and Adil Rashid (25 off 18) combined for the Strikers’ most fruitful partnership of 37 for the seventh wicket to push their score past 100, before 14 runs off the final over gave the visitors something to defend.

The loss was the Strikers’ first in three matches this season.

Before this season they had only secured five victories over the first four seasons of the BBL.

Thunder probably only need to win two more games to secure their first finals appearance.

Skipper Mike Hussey said Sydney controlled the contest from start to end.

“It was a brilliant performance all round,” Hussey said.

“Getting those early wickets certainly put them under a lot of pressure and they couldn’t really get any momentum going with their innings.

“All in all I’m rapt with the performance.

“Sometimes with those small totals it can be a bit nerve racking but Kallis and Blizzard got off to a nice calm start and then Andre came in and added a bit of excitement towards the end.”

Comanche stages epic comeback to win Sydney to Hobart race

Comanche sailed into Constitution Dock in Hobart after crossing the finishing line at around 10 p.

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m. local time (1100 GMT) ahead of compatriot Rambler 88, which was set to take second place, followed by Australia’s Ragamuffin 100 and Italy’s Maserati.

Rambler 88 had led the race for several hours after Comanche briefly retired on Saturday night, before quickly reversing that decision and electing to battle on.

Most of the leading yachts sustained damage this year, amid wild weather and southerly gusts of up to 40 knots which knocked out the Australian pre-race favourite Wild Oats XI, thwarting its bid to break its record of eight victories.

Organisers say it has been the toughest race since 2004.

It is a sweet victory for Comanche’s owner Jim Clark as well as for Australian co-owner Kristy Hinze-Clark, who was among the crew and was showered with champagne as the yacht arrived in Hobart to a crowd of supporters dressed in American Indian headdress.

Even more so for skipper Ken Read.

“That is a hard, hard body of water,” Read told reporters after arriving, recounting his decision to continue the race despite damage to a daggerboard and a rudder.

“It was my decision. Sure enough this boat did its thing and got us out of trouble.

“We love this boat.”

It is the first victory for Comanche, a 100 foot super-maxi designed to be the fastest monohull ever built, and deliberately made to break records. It is also the first time since 1998 that a U.S. yacht has won the ‘blue water’ event.

On its first attempt at the 630 nautical mile classic in 2014, Comanche lost its early lead and ultimately had to settle for second place as Wild Oats XI won a record eighth line honours title.

Comanche had already stamped its seal on the race as the fleet headed out of Sydney Harbour on Saturday but then ran into trouble as conditions worsened a few hours later.

Its crew spent 13 hours battling to regain the lead from Rambler 88, which belatedly discovered it too had sustained damage.

Comanche finally crossed the finish line in a time of two days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds.

(Reporting by Chris McCall; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Comanche takes Syd to Hob line honours

A fightback line honours victory for American supermaxi Comanche could well make owner Jim Clark reconsider his decision not to recontest the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

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Bruised and battered, the 100-footer crossed the finish line just before 10pm (AEDT) on Monday in a time of two days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds, well outside the 2012 record.

Clark said before the 2015 race that the four-and-a-half-month campaign to bring the boat Down Under cost too much time and money.

But he admitted Monday’s result could change his mind.

“There’s lots of other things to do in the world,” Clark argued.

“But we’ll think about it, we’re not sure if we’ll come back.”

However Clark’s wife, Australian model Kristy Hinze-Clark – who steered the boat across the line on Monday night – had no such doubts.

“It’s not going to be the last time she’s here … not if I’ve got anything to do with it,” co-owner Hinze-Clark said.

Skipper Ken Read said the boat took a pounding when it hit something in the water on the first night at sea.

The heavy knock dislodged the dagger board which was flailing beneath the boat, attached only by ropes.

“I was most worried about the sharp edges of the dagger board puncturing up through the hull of the boat so we desperately were trying to cut the ropes to get rid of the dagger board,” Read told reporters after the race.

“Of course when we cut the ropes to get rid of the dagger board we saved the hull but cleaned out the rudder.”

It wrecked the steering system and broke off the tiller arm, leaving the rudder facing backwards.

At first the crew dropped the sails and everyone thought the campaign was over, but after some emergency repairs, the race was back on and, 13 hours later, the lead Comanche had lost to Rambler 88 was regained.

The extent of damage to the boat remains to be seen.

“I’ve gone around the world a couple of times and I don’t think I’ve come into a dock … as wounded as this boat is,” Read said.

“We don’t even know what the underbody looks like, I have a feeling we’ve got some pretty big gashes.”

Comanche was one of many boats damaged during the 2015 race.

From the starting fleet of 108, there have been 31 withdrawals, most linked to the first night of rough conditions.

Second-placed Rambler, also from America, and due to finish about 8am (AEDT) on Tuesday, has suffered dagger board damage, as has third-placed Australian supermaxi Ragamuffin.

The standings for handicap winner remain wide open and are not expected to be finalised for days.