FAILURE to initiate a paid parental leave system in this year's budget would be a sign the Federal Government did not care about women in the workforce, according to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.
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In a final plea for the scheme to receive funding, Ms Broderick said paid parental leave was fundamental to making sure the Government fully benefited from the money it was spending educating and training women.

“If you consider”, she told the National Press Club yesterday, “that $66 billion was spent on education in Australia in 2007-08 and over half of that is spent on females, the hard question we need to ask ourselves is: are we getting a return on our investment in women's education and training?”

Ms Broderick said a report by the World Economic Forum showed that Australia ranked first for women's education, but it was 40th for workforce participation.

“How can we claim to be tapping into the full productive power of women?” Ms Broderick said. “Attempting to force a female life cycle into a male career model does not work, has never worked.”

A government-funded parental leave system would make a significant contribution to the number of women in the workforce, she said. It would also mean more women would be able to retire with adequate superannuation instead of relying on the age pension.

Australia is the only developed country without a legislated parental leave system. The United States does not have a national scheme, but several states, including California and New York, do.

Last year the Productivity Commission recommended that the Government pay for 18 weeks of parental leave at $544 a week, roughly the minimum wage. The scheme would cost $450 million a year but much of that would be covered by scrapping the $5000 baby bonus to women who qualified for the scheme.

But the Government appears to have gone cold on the idea. Senior ministers repeatedly refer to it as something that might not be affordable in the deteriorating economic conditions.

Ms Broderick said paid parental leave was “symbolic” of the Government's attitude towards women. “This says that women matter in the workforce,” Ms Broderick said.

She suggested she might be open to a compromise such as immediately offering the scheme to low-income women only. But this would only be acceptable if the Government guaranteed all women would have access to paid parental leave.

The Greens senator Sarah HansonYoung has said she will introduce a private member's bill to provide for 26 weeks of publicly funded parental leave when Parliament returns next month.

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UNIVERSITIES are gearing up to stop students from countries afflicted by swine flu returning to their studies as part of protective measures against a possible outbreak in Australia.
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Australian universities are already cancelling or advising deferral of travel to Mexico and monitoring the wellbeing of staff and students in Latin America, the US and Canada. Pandemic response guidelines developed during the SARS outbreak six years ago are being reviewed and updated. Universities and schools are regarded as major sites for the spread of disease.

If the virus reaches the level of human-to-human infection in small clusters, the Australian Catholic University has signalled it will require staff and students returning from an affected region to remain on leave until they gain medical clearance.

In the event of a pandemic, the university will shut down campuses, with the vice-chancellery building only staffed by four uninfected staff to monitor any communication. Macquarie University's staff health and safety manager, Michael Carley, said a crisis management plan would be activated in the event of a pandemic. However, he declined to reveal any specific details.

He said the university had identified and contacted students and staff travelling in Mexico, Canada and the US, with any non-essential travel to Mexico cancelled.

“The university … will continue to be guided by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing and the NSW Department of Health through integrated pandemic management plans.”

A University of Sydney spokesman, Andrew Potter, said the university was monitoring an academic in Mexico, and one student on an exchange program in Monterrey. He said the issue of a pandemic or major disease outbreak had been considered with response strategies detailed in a crisis management handbook.

A spokesman for the University of Technology, Sydney, Robert Button, said a number of students were on exchange in Mexico as well as staff conducting research in Latin America.

A meeting involving deputy vice-chancellors, student services and occupational health and safety staff was held yesterday to discuss the response to a potential outbreak.

On Tuesday the Director General of Education, Michael Coutts-Trotter, sent a memo to all primary and secondary school principals and TAFE directors, advising them of guidelines to control the spread of infection.

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THE Federal Government is stepping up measures to counter swine flu, although testing of suspect patients had by last night failed to show any confirmed cases of the virus in Australia.
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Last night health authorities were investigating a total 112 “suspect” cases, 54 of them in NSW. But an official bulletin said that there were no “probable” or “confirmed” cases of swine flu yet identified.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, earlier yesterday announced a significant upgrade to measures to identify passengers who might be infected with swine flu, expanding checks to incoming air travellers from all points overseas, not just the Americas as initially required.

This will require aircraft captains to notify Australian authorities before arrival of passengers with possible symptoms who would then be checked by quarantine officials after landing.

The measures will cover an average 33,000 incoming travellers who arrive from overseas, including New Zealand, every day.

Ms Roxon said the Government would heed the advice of its expert committee to send thermal scanners, which can detect elevated body temperature of arriving travellers, to eight international airports.

She said the Government was also preparing to introduce mandatory health declaration cards to be completed by international air travellers if that became necessary.

As yet the measures did not need to be implemented, Ms Roxon said.

“But I think when you look at the way the disease is spreading around the world it would be very unlikely that we would be able to protect ourselves entirely from this disease if it continues to spread with the speed that it has elsewhere around the world,” she said.

More than a third of suspected cases in NSW of swine flu have been cleared.

However, one person tested positive for Influenza A – the virus subgroup containing swine flu – which will require a second round of testing at a specialist World Health Organisation laboratory in Melbourne.

“We need to send it to the specialist lab to do genetic sequencing,” the NSW chief medical officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said. “It could just be a strain [of virus] that had been previously circulating or it could be [the swine flu] strain and this is the way that we can rapidly identify it”

The results of the additional tests, including the sample sent to the WHO, are expected today.

Dr Chant defended the high number of tests carried out as vital precautionary measures, and said it had not stretched emergency departments across the state.

“I think it's a really positive sign that people have been presenting to our emergency departments and attending their general practitioners and heeding the advice we've been putting out,” she said.

Meanwhile, the state cabinet passed new measures to help health authorities deal with people who ignore instructions to stay at home.

Under the new measures, doctors were given powers to issue public health orders to enforce the isolation, although Dr Chant said that all the people who had been tested so far had co-operated with authorities.

As international authorities lowered the number of deaths directly attributable to swine flu to seven, the NSW Health Minister, John Della Bosca, appealed to people to keep a “sense of balance” over the outbreak.

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ANOTHER cash machine is blown up, scattering debris across a residential street. A car crashes into a family restaurant and is set alight and a man is shot dead in front of terrified guests at a 21st birthday party.
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The city is in the grip of a violent crime wave, according to the media. But there is evidence to suggest the public at large is unmoved; it has begun to tune out.

Last month the State Government introduced laws to crack down on warring bikies, but Mark Findlay, from Sydney University's Institute of Criminology, believes law and order is no longer such a hot topic with the electorate. As the recession deepens, people are more concerned with financial security than crimes that seem to have no immediate impact on their lives.

“Our concerns have drifted to whether we're going to have a job and be able to pay our mortgage … not whether some bikie is going to bash another bikie,” Professor Findlay said. “And there is a sober reflection out there that this sort of stuff [a crime wave] happens every 10 or 15 years.”

Criminals have certainly been doing their best to get the public's attention in the past few days.

On Tuesday at 11.20pm, two men drove a white four-wheel-drive through the front window of the Al Aseel restaurant at Brighton-le-Sands. They torched the car and the fire quickly gutted the single-storey building.

Co-owner Charlie Obeid said he had no idea why he had been targeted, but guesses he “was not welcome in the area”.

Three hours later, on the other side of Sydney, a cash machine was blown apart. The Bendigo Bank in Glen Street, Belrose, was badly damaged and debris from the blast was scattered across the mall.

Police chased a silver BMW seen leaving the mall, but it outran them.

Yesterday's ATM blast was the latest in a string of at least 30 attacks across Sydney since late last year. Thieves are using a new method nicknamed “plofkraak” which involves pumping gas into the cash machine then igniting it.

So far, no one other than the thieves has been injured in the attacks.

Despite the catalogue of recent incidents, the NSW Police Deputy Commissioner, Dave Owens, said crime levels were actually falling in NSW, in some cases “significantly”.

Robberies with a gun were down 31 per cent in the past year, while other armed robberies fell 19 per cent. Robbery without a weapon is down 6 per cent.

Mr Owens's assertion is backed by the state's top crime statistician, Dr Don Weatherburn.

“The broad picture for violent acquisitive crime is way down in the state,” he said.

“The firearm robbery rate is lower than it's been since 1990. The robbery rate is down below what it was in 1995.”

But he does acknowledge that despite a general reduction in crime, there have been surges in particular criminal activities.

“There's no doubt at the moment that there's a problem with ATM robberies. There's a problem likewise with the bikies; they are real problems.”

It is just that it does not seem to worry the public as much as it used to, said Professor Findlay. “I think the public has very, very slowly realised that a number of the madder assertions about crime and justice just don't hold.”

with Georgina Robinson

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THe coach of the Central Coast Mariners, who have not won a competitive match this year, says it’s time to shake up the playing group as they head towards a rapid exit from the Asian Champions League and prepare for the next A-League season.
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The Mariners have long held stability and loyalty in the highest regard, and their conservative ethos has served them well, yielding two grand final appearances in four years.

However, their failure to take the next step domestically and their inability to make an impression in Asia have led to questions being asked by the club hierarchy about the changes required to produce success.

Mariners’ executive chairman Lyall Gorman said last week it was time to "refresh" the squad, and although some may find it a surprise, coach Lawrie McKinna agrees the time has come.

"We’ve had a very stable squad since year one but it’s now time to bring in some new faces," McKinna told the Herald yesterday. "I’ve always thought stability was important in our success, and still do, but there comes a time when we have to look at if we can bring in better players.

"We’re on the hunt for players from both here and from overseas who can improve the squad. We need to find a balance between new and existing players."

McKinna said the club had lost a number of experienced players whom they failed to replace at the end of last season.

"It’s always good to have young players coming through, and we’ve done that, but from that grand final side we’ve lost Tony Vidmar, John Aloisi and Tom Pondeljak," he said. "That’s a lot of experience right down the middle of the park that we’ve had to cover. Those three players had a lot of maturity gave fantastic leadership to the dressing room.

"We’ve already started looking for some players to help fill in, although there’s not much available elsewhere in the A-League. We’ll probably look at the lower leagues in England and see if there’s any interest."

While the Mariners squad is set to be cut down after the ACL, McKinna might also lose Danny Vukovic, Matt Simon and Dean Heffernan – all fringe Socceroos .

Meanwhile, Sydney FC yesterday announced its new board, with Prime Television owner Paul Ramsay as chairman and Scott Barlow, who will "represent the interests" of co-owner David Traktovenko, as vice-chairman.

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