International: Australia’s Healthcare One of the Best in the Developed World, Study Finds

Australian healthcare system has been ranked as one of the best in the developed world while the US’ is the worst, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by American thinktank Commonwealth Fund, found that the United Kingdom has the healthcare system out of 11 developed countries, while Australia ranked second, the Netherlands third and the US last.

The researchers found that the US performed poorly in terms of access, equity and healthcare outcomes, despite having the biggest spending in healthcare. It not only had “the poorest performance of all countries on the affordability subdomain”, but also on “population health outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy at age 60”.

The report concluded by encouraging the US to take important lessons from the top three nations on universal health insurance coverage. “All three provide universal coverage and access, but do so in different ways, suggesting that high performance can be achieved through a variety of payment and organizational approaches,” the report said.

The study’s results came amid the Republican Party’s attempt to repeal former president Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

The Senate is set to vote on the legislation in a few weeks. Two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Susan Collins, have said that they will not be voting for the repeal bill.

Sources: ABC, The Hill

National: TasWater Lifts Boil Alert as TAS Government Continues Takeover Plan

Mole Creek residents can now drink tap water safely for the first time in 70 years, as boil water alert has been lifted.

Tasmania’s water provider TasWater said the alert lift was a significant step in addressing water quality issues in 24 towns across the state, which are expected to be cleared of boil water alerts by August next year.

“The Mole Creek water supply is just one of many projects in a fully-funded, affordable 10-year-plan to improve Tasmania’s water and sewerage infrastructure,” said TasWater chairman Miles Hampton.

However, Premier Will Hodgman remained sceptical about the provider’s ability to deliver the promise in time.

“There are plenty of communities across this state that for years have been calling out for boil water alerts to be lifted,” Hodgman said. “They were meant to be fixed by now. They’ve said in the past these communities would be fixed sooner and it hasn’t been the case.”

The state parliament is set to table a legislation after the winter break to enable the utility takeover from July next year. The government said the acquisition would allow speedier infrastructure upgrades.

National: Southern Sydney’s F6 Freeway Extension to Cost $18 Billion

The planned freeway extension linking Sydney and Wollongong has been priced at $18 billion, about three times as much as the rail alternative.

Government documents seen by the ABC and Fairfax reveal that the F6 toll road’s 32-kilometre extension is also estimated to cost $1 billion more than WestConnex.

The toll road would extend from St Peters to Waterfall through the Royal National Park. The construction costs are estimated at $14.5 billion, while operation and maintenance costs are at $3.5 billion.

Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said the cost for the F6 is still tentative. “We’re still in the very early stages, so no decision has been made regarding the final alignment,” Pavey said. “There is no decision on final cost.”

NSW Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Fahruqi described the $18 billion price as “madness”.

“$18 billion of taxpayer’s money for yet another toll road, potentially through a National Park, is just obscene.”

International: Paddington Bear Creator Michael Bond Dies at 91

Michael Bond, the creator of children literature character Paddington Bear has died at 91 years old.

Bond’s publisher HarperCollins said he died on Tuesday at his UK home after a short illness.

Bond created Paddington in 1956 after seeing a teddy bear on a shop window on his way home from work. The coat-and-hat-wearing bear first appeared in Bond’s 1958 debut book titled A Bear Called Paddington, and then went on to feature in more than 20 books, a TV show and a film.

Today, over 35 million copies have been sold around the world and translated into 40 languages. The statue of the bear also stands at the Paddington station in London.

Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books said Paddington “touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations.”

Technology: NASA Discovers 10 Earth-Sized, Potentially Habitable Planets

NASA has discovered 219 new possible planets outside our solar system, including 10 near-Earth-sized candidates with potentially habitable conditions.

After four years, the Kepler Space Telescope mission has found a total of 4,034 planet candidates, with over half of them confirmed.

“With this catalog, we’re able to extend [our analysis of planets’ demographics] out to the longest periods, those periods that are most similar to our Earth,” said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute in California.

“As a result, this survey catalog will be the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy’s most compelling questions: How many planets like our Earth are actually in the galaxy?”

However, Thompson said it will still take a year for the Kepler team to find out how common potentially habitable planets are in the Milky Way galaxy.

National: NSW Budget to Spend on Roads, Buses and Hospital

The New South Wales government has announced its plans to build a new hospital, three new Sydney motorways, double-deckers and additional bus services, just a week before the state budget arrives.

Next week’s budget will allocate a billion-dollar package as planning money for three new motorways. $21 million will be allocated for the M12, whereas the F6 Motorway and the M9 Outer Orbital will receive $15 million and $2.09 million respectively.

“We want every community to be a vibrant community – and a local roads project can make a world of difference,” Perrottet said. “Some of these will be the most important links in greater Western Sydney for getting home and doing business.”

Also in the budget is a $534 million allocation to buy a site in Tweed and build a 350-bed hospital with extra cardiac and cancer services. “We believe that whether you live in the north shore of Sydney or northern New South Wales, every community deserves access to high quality health care,” said Treasurer Dominic Perottet. The hospital is expected to be built after 5 years.

Finally, the budget also aims to purchase 176 new buses. 134 of them are to replace aging fleets, while the rest is to boost the overall bus numbers. Six of these new buses will be double-deckers, set to replace bendy buses. “It’s a far better way in terms of road space to better utilise the roads, the bus commuting,” said Transport Minister Andrew Constance. There will also be over 3,300 new services for metropolitan Sydney, western Sydney, the Hills District and south west Sydney.

National: ASIO Warns Parties About Chinese Donations

Australia’s intelligence agency ASIO has warned major political parties against taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A Four CornersFairfax investigation found that ASIO has briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott as well as opposition leader Bill Shorten about the threat of CCP influence.

ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis also briefed officials from the Coalition and Labor parties privately in 2015 about billionaire property developers Huang Xiangmo and Chau Chak Wing, who have made a total of around $6.7 million in political donations along with their associates. While Lewis did not tell the parties to reject the funds, he said that the CCP has influence over businessmen, and donations might come with strings attached.

However, the parties went on to accept the money anyway. Since then, the Coalition has taken $897,960, while Labor took $200,000.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari was also found to have repeatedly assisted Huang in his citizenship application, which is currently temporarily blocked while ASIO investigation is still ongoing.

In light of the report, Turnbull ordered a major inquiry into espionage and foreign interference laws.

“The threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services is a problem of the highest order and it is getting worse,” Attorney General George Brandis said in a statement.

“Earlier this year the Prime Minister initiated a comprehensive review of Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, which he asked me to lead. I will be taking legislative reforms to Cabinet with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year.”

National: Federal Government Grants $1.2 Million to Food-Rescue Groups

The federal government has granted a $1.2 million funding to food rescue organizations to reduce their energy costs and improve food distribution and storage capacity.

Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg said the government committed to support Oz Harvest, SecondBite, Foodbank Australia, and Fareshare through grants for energy efficiency purposes.

“They’re designed to boost energy efficiency and get food to those who need it most,” Frydenberg said.

“It could be new solar panels, or refrigerated vans or helping these groups expand their refrigerated capacity.”

The grants came after ABC’s War on Waste series, which revealed that four million tonnes of food are wasted every day in Australia, costing the economy about $20 billion.

Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey said the organization would use the funding to buy new cool rooms and more solar panels, cutting its power bills. However, Casey said more could be done by the government to ease the “crisis” that leaves one in six Australians without enough food.

Environment: Switzerland Votes to Ban New Nuclear Plants

Swiss voters have voted to ban new nuclear plants and allocate funds for renewable energy subsidies.

58.2 per cent of the voters agreed on the ban in a referendum on Sunday. “The results shows the population wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants,” said Switzerland’s energy minister Doris Leuthard. “The law leads our country into a modern energy future.”

The ban does not apply to the five existing nuclear plants in the country. Currently, nuclear power accounts for a third of electricity generation in Switzerland.

This effort to exit nuclear energy mirrors other European countries such as Austria, which banned nuclear power, and Germany, which pledges to phase it out by 2022. Last week, the newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron also appointed anti-nuclear advocate Nicolas Hulot as energy minister.

National: Jetstar to Charge Adults Traveling with Babies on Domestic Flights

Jetstar has introduced a new fee for adults with babies on domestic flights, and increased the infant charge for international travels.

Adults carrying children under two years old must now pay an extra $30 on domestic flights, and $50 on Trans-Tasman and international flights.

Jetstar’s infant fee matches Tigerair’s $30 fee for having babies sitting on a guardian’s lap. Qantas and Virgin Australia do not charge a fee for babies on domestic flights yet.

A Jetstar spokesman said the fee covers up to four oversized infant items such as strollers, highchairs, prams or portable cots.

“Like other oversized items, there is additional manual handling and equipment required for oversized infant items like prams,” he said.

“We know that fees and charges can be unpopular, but giving customers choice and charging each customer for what they actually need helps us to offer the lowest possible fares, every day.”