Fraser man Paul Lawton prepares for Young Care Simpson Desert Challenge

May 3, 2015 – 11:30PM

Clare Colley

Reporter at The Canberra Times

Paul Lawton, of Fraser, is using Mount Ainslie as one of his training venues before the Youngcare Simpson Desert Challenge to raise awareness of younger Australians with high care needs living in aged care facilities.

Paul Lawton, of Fraser, is using Mount Ainslie as one of his training venues before the Youngcare Simpson Desert Challenge to raise awareness of younger Australians with high care needs living in aged care facilities. Photo: Graham Tidy

Walking for 10 days across 300 kilometres of desert might sound monotonous, but it’s nothing compared to the tedium of everyday life for young people living in aged care homes.

That’s the view of Paul Lawton, from Fraser, who is gearing up for the Youngcare Simpson Desert Challenge to raise awareness and funds for the more than 6000 young Australians with high care needs forced to live with fellow residents decades older than themselves.

Mr Lawton, and 20 other trekkers, will lug their possessions and food supplies in 15-kilogram backpacks, experience day time temperatures of almost 40 degrees, before they rug-up for plummeting temperatures when they sleep under the stars each night from May 6.

He believes the discomfort will pale in comparison to the lack of choice and isolation young people in aged care face.

“The idea behind the trek is being in a harsh environment with limited choice and that monotony of routine and isolation which is trying to be some sort of insight into what a young person goes through in aged care,” he said.

“Nothing against the aged care sector, they do a great job, but it’s for the elderly and they’re not set up for young people with high care needs.

“The stats around that are pretty appalling; the average age is 83 and the average life expectancy is three years so for a young person to be in that environment is pretty debilitating.”

In the ACT 63 people between the ages of 50 and 65 were living across 17 residential aged care facilities as of December 3 last year, according to an ACT government submission to an inquiry into the adequacy of residential care for young people with severe disabilities.

But Mr Lawton said the number of young people living at home with care from their parents was largely unknown.

“While there are 7000 young people in aged care [in Australia] it’s estimated there are another 700,000 living at home and being cared for by parents,” he said.

“It’s an impending issue where the parents at some stage will get too old to look after them and it becomes a question of ‘where will those young people live?’.”

Mr Lawton signed up for the challenge through his work as the ACT’s CTP portfolio manager with GIO, a founding partner of Youngcare.

“We see through personal injury insurance that people’s lives can be changed in an instant through an accident or a debilitating illness and it literally could happen to any one of us,” he said.

To build his strength and endurance Mr Lawton regularly walks Mount Ainslie and the Centenary Trial and on April 19 travelled to Stradbroke Island to meet his fellow challengers for sand training before he tackles more than 1000 sand dunes on the trek.

But he believes the biggest challenge will be the isolation and the lack of home comforts including his mobile phone.

“I know one year they had a mice and rat plague… that’s not something I’d be looking forward to,” he said.

Each of the trekkers is aiming to raise $35,000 for Youngcare.

Mr Lawson said the ACT insurance industry had lent its support and a recent trivia night at Federal Golf Club had raised more $10,000.

He wants to continue fundraising in the ACT after the trek to help boost Youngcare’s grants for young people needing home help and modifications.

To find our more or donate visit:


The Canberra Times

ACTEW Water rebranded as Icon Water

May 3, 2015 – 11:30PM

Canberra's water and sewerage utility ACTEW Water has been rebranded Icon Water.

Canberra’s water and sewerage utility ACTEW Water has been rebranded Icon Water. Photo: Supplied

Canberra’s water and sewerage utility ACTEW Water has been rebranded Icon Water as of Monday.

The name change is an attempt to distance the publicly-owned entity from ActewAGL and“eliminate brand confusion”, a spokeswoman said when it was announced last October.

It cost $2.5 million to rename the utility from ACTEW Corporation to ACTEW Water in 2012, but the latest change was expected to cost about $500,000.

About $220,000 was to be spent on internal interviews and artwork and $300,000 for the rollout expected to take several months.

From Monday bills and other communication from the company would be rebranded Icon Water, but billing and direct debit details will remain unchanged.

Icon Water’s communications manager David Hohnke said the Icon brand would be seen on vehicles, staff clothing and identification, buildings and signage around the ACT.

“At Icon Water, you can expect us to be reliable, efficient and helpful for our community,” he said.

“We have also renewed our commitment to the community that we will continue to enhance the lives of Canberrans wherever we can.”

The company’s website is now


The Canberra Times

Geoff Hewatt recalls what went wrong on Majura parkway

May 1, 2015

John Thistleton

Reporter for The Canberra Times.

Mr Hewatt said rostered days off in April, 2014, for Anzac and Easter, and a souring relationship with head contractor Fulton Hogan worsened his position.

Mr Hewatt said rostered days off in April, 2014, for Anzac and Easter, and a souring relationship with head contractor Fulton Hogan worsened his position. Photo: Matt Bedford

Geoff Hewatt has reached the bottom of the darkest ditch he has ever hit as a bulk earth mover. For him, coming up from the bottom began in March after former employees were paid entitlements after his business collapsed financially last year. He feels badly.  “My heart goes out to the people still owed money,” he said.

In May last year administrators took control of his business which had grown over 23 years from a single grader to a $9 million fleet, using 18,000 litres of fuel a day. A wet winter in 2013 left him in a financial bog on Majura parkway. He says when word leaked out incorrectly he was insolvent, engineers left him. Staff stole anything not bolted down.

He rung his parents in Corryong, Victoria, to assure them rumours he had “topped himself” were just that. “I had to take my kids out of school for over a month because of the rubbish they were getting,” Mr Hewatt said.  “The civil industry loves rumours. The old saying is if you have not heard a rumour by smoko, you make one up. ”

Administrator PPB Advisory’s director Alan Walker say $8 million has since been repaid to finance companies, nearly  $1.5 million to employees, and $1.8 million to ordinary creditors. Another $1 million will go to secure creditors and $1.4 million to unsecured creditors, leaving trade creditors short of $30 million. They elected last year not to put the Hewatt​ companies into liquidation. PPB Advisory will continue overseeing obligations for about six months.

Mr Hewatt said rostered days off in April, 2014, for Anzac and Easter, and a souring relationship with head contractor Fulton Hogan worsened his position. Mr Walker said slim margins had left little room for error, ” and those rains wiped out any margin that the company was going to get,” he said. ” It got to a point where it was losing money monthly on that contract. It could not agree with [Fulton Hogan] on a variation that allowed it to finish, at no profit, no loss situation, so directors were left without any alternative,they could not fund their losses on the contract.”

Two weeks after PPB Advisory arrived, Mr Hewatt rang the ACT government, furious his track record in Canberra had not been enough for anyone to contact him. “I couldn’t believe it,” Mr Hewatt said. “They didn’t even ring me up. I was just a grubby subbie under the fingernail of life. I’m not saying I need a halo above my head, I’m not perfect. [But] give us a break will you, we employed 300 people.”

This adds to his annoyance the government had not acknowledged Hewatt’s heavy dozers and operators who fought the 2003 fires. “My dozer was the first up there when it started and it was the last dozer out. The amount of effort we put in was phenomenal, I couldn’t sleep because I had blokes working up there, I nearly lost blokes up there. I was gutted. We had six or seven graders, water carts, my father nearly lost his life, people don’t hear about it. The thing that ticked me off,  we were never mentioned about putting the whole firebreak around the ACT, the army was.” [A spokeswoman says the ACT government had no contractual relationship with the Hewatt group, declined to comment on the issues raised, except to say Majura parkway is on time to be completed by June,  2016.]

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s ACT secretary Dean Hall rang Mr Hewatt, asking if he was OK, a surprise given the battles unions have with employers. Mr Hewatt recalls the late 1990s after winning the earthworks contract for the new Australian National Museum at Acton and meeting for the first time the CFMEU’s Stephen King and a mate, who threw their weight around in his office, making demands.

“Lucky I was sitting behind a desk because my legs were shaking that much it wasn’t funny,” Mr Hewatt said. “But I just sat there and took it all in my stride. They drove off and 15-20 minutes later they rang me back up, and said ‘Can we come and visit again and I said yeah, come back if you want and have a sensible talk, not an idiot talk.” In time Mr King became a good friend.

Mr Hewatt was 19 when he jumped on a D10 dozer, the world’s biggest model at the time. The eldest of plant operator Kevin “Happy” Hewatt’s four children, he began work as a labourer, then a surveying chainman, always with an eye on giant yellow machines. He worked in Queensland’s mines and in Victoria alongside his father for Vic Roads.  “You learned off the hard boys back in those days, you worked hard and played hard, that was the name of the game,”  he says. By the time he was a leading hand on a grader at Lake Crackenback resort and the Skitube, he had $15,000 in his back pocket, enough for a 10 per cent deposit on a Mitsubishi MD-500 grader. He was 28.

He came to the ACT region, helped build roads in Banks and Conder before a major highway project near Bookham and later on the Gunning bypass with Leightons, where superintendent John ‘Macca’ John McKillop asked him on his arrival. “You ever heard of meals-on-wheels?”

“Yeah, why?”

” Well that’s what you’re going to do. You work 12 hours a day.”

His father joined him with a water cart and, aside from roadwork, began redeveloping a 40-acre block near Hall where he has lived ever since. He began building a heavy machine fleet, updating his plant regularly. ” For every $1 million you borrow, for 48 repayments, you are looking at $25,000 a month repayments. What I started off doing, when I owned a machine, for example a D7, I’d buy another D7, it would help pay for the next D7, ” Mr Hewatt said. “I have always brought my machinery on hire purchase over 48 months. Thank God we did because when we went into voluntary administration we had the assets to sell to distribute back out.”

On the Federal Highway duplication at Lake George in the late 1990s, he lost $130,000 overnight when another sub-contractor went under, and was grateful a developer Len Hoyle, who was upgrading the prestigious Capricorn Park thoroughbred stud near Hall paid him crucial cash flow. In Canberra major contracts included Brindabella Business Park and Canberra Airport’s runway extension, a difficult job working around aircraft and passengers.

“We had respect from NSW’s RTA (Roads and Maritime Services] and a track record for bulk earthworks. A lot of people think that’s all we do. Go to the airport there’s a lot of sewer, water services, electrical, pump out stations, lift pits. We changed from Hewatt Earthworks to Hewatt in the last couple of years. ”

Hewatt had worked with Fulton Hogan for eight years on other projects and introduced their key people to the ACT civil construction sector. When the $288 million Majura parkway tender came out he says he headed to their Sydney office for three to four days a week, accompanied by engineers to work on putting in a partnering bid. “I had my own car park in Sydney, I had my own swipe cards to get in and out of their office, I had my own office up there.”

But after winning the project the two civil contractors would not agree on the works program. “You were forever fighting with them. You’d move the dirt over there and move it again at my cost. I remember I went away for two weeks holidays and came back and there was 40,000 cubic metres stockpiled in them middle of the carriageway. What the bloody hell is going on here?

“When we got to the end, Fulton Hogan were supportive, they paid us on time, but didn’t pay variations on time which added up to big money. We had to do variations up front and fight it out later, pay for products, comes out of cash flow. ” [Fulton Hogan declined to answer questions for this article.]

Hewatt plant and operators were also working on a wind farm west of Nimmitabel, a helicopter training base near Nowra​ and airport runway extension and road works at Orange, when Mr Hewatt had to advise he was heading towards insolvency, which triggered a domino of collapses, with key people taking flight. “I had no choice in the end, I lost five engineers, when I lost the engineers, I knew then Fulton Hogan would call up another part of the contract and once they called up that part, I knew I would be buggered.

“I can handle stress to a certain extent. I chew my fingernails. I haven’t heard of too many people dying of cancer from chewing their fingernails. I don’t smoke. Your creditors hold your life. Yes you are going to have pissed off creditors, let’s face it, you have taken money off them, they have worked their guts out, they have put their neck on the line, they have done everything to support you and you have done everything to support them.”

Mr Hewatt said when word spread he was going under some people who had worked for him for many years, who expected a firesale, stole $2 million worth of goods, including a shipping container, vehicle, buckets off machines, GPSs, fire extinguishers, 72 first aid kits, $400 UHF radios and  reversing cameras.

“Whatever wasn’t bolted down went,” Mr Hewatt said.


The Canberra Times

Queensland history’s hidden warrior

May 3, 2015

Tony Moore senior reporter

Skirmish between aboriginal people of Logan and Bribie Island on an area of Brisbane near what is now Juliette Street at Woolloongabba.

Skirmish between aboriginal people of Logan and Bribie Island on an area of Brisbane near what is now Juliette Street at Woolloongabba.
Skirmish between aboriginal people of Logan and Bribie Island on an area of Brisbane near what is now Juliette Street at Woolloongabba. Photo: Supplied
Queenslanders, in general, know more about the great cowboys and Indians of mid-west America than their own land struggles as the state began.

We know of the Indians, who battled valiantly to protect their homelands from the cowboys pushing onwards with cattle, ranches, railways and eventually towns and cities.

We grew up knowing the names of famous Indian chiefs – like Cochise, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Geronimo – of the 1830s to 1880s.

Wood engraving of Dundalli - aboriginal warrior of Southeast Queensland 1820 to 1855.
Wood engraving of Dundalli – aboriginal warrior of Southeast Queensland 1820 to 1855. Photo: supplied

While that US history is now not as powerful as the 1950s to the 1970s when television pumped out movies of America’s Great West it is still more powerful than our own history of very similar battles of imperialism.

How many Queenslanders can tell you of Dundalli, who was an Aboriginal warrior so large and so powerful, “news crews” of the 1850s came from Sydney to witness his trial and hanging.

There were other powerful aboriginal leaders of the time; Milbong Jemmy, Commandant, Moppy, Ubie Ubie and Dakki Yakka.

Cover of Libby Connors book on Dundalli, "Warrior"
Cover of Libby Connors book on Dundalli, “Warrior” Photo: Supplied

What do know of them?

University of Southern Queensland historian Libby Connors has begun to right this wrong, without glamourising the aboriginal men.

Born around 1820, by 1842 Dundalli became the key man in Aboriginal politics and the man chosen to lead the struggle against the Europeans.

Dundalli was an aboriginal Dalla man – from the Blackall Ranges north of the Glasshouse Mountains.

He was born around 1820 in land rich in bush game; “kangaroos, possums, bandicoots and echidna, carpet snakes and goannas; where cabbage palms were coated with honey as a treat.”

Libby Connors’ new book “Warrior” is all about Dundalli. She believes the warrior, eventualy hung outside what is now Brisbane’s GPO in Queen Street in January 1855, was chosen by Aboriginal people to protect their land.

“And trying to protect his people,” Professor Connors said.

“I think the difference is that the Aboriginal people preferred to respond the Europeans in their own law, not white man’s law,” she said.

“There was no point in challenging Europeans to war.

“They had certain ways of fighting and sorting out inter-tribal issues that Europeans just would not agree to.”

Dundalli faced five counts of murder but was ultimately led out in chains – “with every town constable on duty because of his size and strength” – to face two charges of murder.

Aboriginal people tried to limit the spread of Europeans after Brisbane’s penal settlement was settled in 1825, Libby Connors believes.

At that time, “Brisbane” was home to many Aboriginal tribes.

This includes the Jagera and Turrbal people, the Nunukul of Stradbroke Island, the Joondaburri of Bribie Island, the Ningy Ningy of Moreton Bay, the Gubbi Gubbi of the Sunshine Coast and the Yagera and Ugarapul from Rosewood out towards Helidon. The Quandamooka people represented Moreton Bay and the smaller island tribes.

The Dalla people – Dundalli’s direct people – came from north of Kilcoy around the Blackall Ranges.

From 1825 to 1842 there were many soldiers in the Brisbane penal settlement and some the Aboriginal people’s earliest fighters were killed.

By the 1840s the Aboriginal people were rightly suspicious of the Europeans in southern Queensland, Libby Connors says.

They had tried to confine Europeans to the river’s edges and burned their crops as they pushed further north, west and south.

In the Lockyer Valley the Yaggera and Ugarapul people lost patience and began to show they had had enough.

“Around about Marburg they sent warnings. They said from now on we are going to attack your horses, we are going to attack your oxen, we are going to steal from drays and that sort of thing,” she said.

“And at times, they would kill individual Europeans who were vulnerable.”

Dundalli would have known of these attacks and would have been related to these Yaggera men, Professor Connors said.

The Joondaburri people from Bribie Island – also viewed as Dundalli’s people – also sent messages to the shifting Europeans, she said.

“They would evict Europeans from the coastal plains. And often one of the parting messages was ‘You are not coming in this direction. You go in the other direction’.”

As Dundalli grew to become an adult, it became his early role to try to negotiate with the Europeans, to hold them back and to strike at their homesteads to strike fear into the homes.

These attacks began to occur at Petrie and at Burpengary.

Dundalli was accused by children from the Burpengary mission of threatening to eat them in 1838.

“It was absolute nonsense. The whole point of their exercise was to destroy the crops, to destroy the huts and to take the provisions,” she said.

“They did wound the missionary, John Housmann. But he takes off in the middle of the night through tracts of land back to Nundah.

“It would have been so easy for the Aboriginals to have tracked him and killed him. But they didn’t they let him go.

She maintains the main point of Dundalli’s Burpengary raid was a warning.

“No cropping on this land. No farming on this land. This is our land. This is your limit.”

There was a time when the Brisbane-based tribes closer to the penal camp, the Jagera and Turrbul tribes, received some benefits from being close to the Europeans.

They received glass and metal for their weapons and to European crops and food.

“So that gave them advantages over the Yaggara (Lockyer Valley), Dalla (Blackall Ranges) and the Gubbi Gubbi people (Caloundra to Noosa) people,” she said.

Eventually all tribes tried to get access to the metal and glass.

Dr Connors said that was one of the earliest seeds of difficulties between the different Aboriginal people.

From 1841 and into early 1842 settlers pushed out into the Brisbane Valley, but it was when up to 60 Aboriginal people were poisoned at the MacKenzie’s station near Kilcoy that relations changed.

“The owner was away and the Yaggerah Aboriginal people to the west had already attacked a nearby station to the west,” Dr Connors said.

“And in December, January is the big bunya nut gathering time which happened at nearby Baroon Pocket.”

She said “hundreds of Aboriginal people” came to look at these new white people and their new animals after the bunya nut gathering.

“There are descriptions of how the Aboriginal people would just camp near a hut or camp near the head station and just watch the Europeans.”

Dr Connors said there was confusion among Aboriginal people.

To the west, the Yaggera people said these Europeans were bad, would not share and complained when they took sheep on their lands.

To the north, the Dalla people – who were interested in their metal and food – said they were talking to them and wanted them to plant food on their land.

“There was obviously this period, when all the people to the north of Brisbane were saying they were not sure how to respond,” Dr Connors said.

In the absence of the Shepherds, who owned and ran the Kilcoy property, staff panicked and poisoned either the flour, the meat or the bread to ward off the Aboriginals.

Between 1842 and 1843, “the bora” – the collective council of the aboriginal people – met twice to decide their strategy against the Europeans.

And Dundalli slowly became the warrior for these people.

“He was first sent to negotiate with them. He would say we want you to plant on our lands.”

“But we will hunt for you.”

By 1843 his role had changed.

“I argue that the big bunya nut gathering of 1842 and 1843 – (one year after the poisoning) we have evidence that there was an agreed strategy to oppose Europeans.

“And that is when the Ningy Ningy people – who had been working very closely with the (Burpengary mission) – turned against the (Burpengary) mission.

“And Dundalli’s role changes.

“For the first time he is involved in an attack on a station, at the Durundur Station out near Woodford.”

And the warrior of Southeast Queensland’s Aboriginal people takes on the role of aggressor.

It is a role he fills for 13 years and generates fear and admiration among the people of Southeast Queensland.

Warrior: a Legendary leader’s dramatic life and violent death on the colonial frontier. By Libby Connors, Allen and Unwin.


The Brisbane Times

Myuran Sukumaran could have fled Indonesia but chose to try to save others

May 3, 2015 – 10:22PM

Jewel Topsfield, Tom Allard

Myuran Sukumaran was tipped off about the arrest of the four Bali nine mules and could have fled the country, but chose to return to a hotel where fellow Bali nine members were waiting in an attempt to save the two men.

According to information never revealed previously, the third in command of the Bali nine, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, has recalled “the greatest and most special moment that I will always remember about Myu is something no one will know”.

Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen with Myuran Sukumaran during their trial.
Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen with Myuran Sukumaran during their trial. Photo: AP

He says Sukumaran, executed last week by an Indonesian firing squad, acted selflessly to save fellow drug smugglers Si Yi Chen and Matthew Norman.

“I wanna share something with all of you. In memory of Myu,” Nguyen wrote in a message that was shared on Facebook.

His fondest memory, said Nyguyen, was not something Sukumaran did in jail, or his art.

“[It was] the fact that he cared and worried about the rest. Calm and collected. This is what I will always remember about him,” Nguyen wrote.

“Myu could of panicked and left the country.”

The revelation comes as the Australian Federal Police, which has been widely criticised for tipping off Indonesian police with information leading to the arrests in Bali and knowingly exposing the Bali nine to the death penalty, will hold a press conference on Monday.

Commissioner Andrew Colvin, Deputy Commissioner Mike Phelan and Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close will discuss the AFP’s work during the Bali nine investigation.

They will also discuss the AFP’s guidelines in relation to death penalty matters in 2005 and the procedures the organisation operates under today.

Nguyen told Fairfax Media he and Sukumaran were at Bluefin, a Japanese fusion restaurant in Kuta, the day of their arrest on April 17, 2005.

Sukumaran was tipped off about the arrests of Martin Stephens, Renae Lawrence, Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj, the couriers for the Bali nine syndicate who were apprehended at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport with heroin strapped to their bodies.

“There is a reason why code system are used. To alert if something goes wrong and flee the country,” Nguyen wrote.

“Myu didn’t pack up and left the country. No. He went back to the hotel where the other two were waiting. Moved them somewhere else, and telling them the most important thing at the moment was getting them out of the country safely. Calming them down and be aware [sic] what’s happening.”

Of all the Bali nine, Sukumaran had the best chance of escaping after their operation had been compromised.

He had been under surveillance by the Indonesian authorities but they did not know his name. He was known only to Indonesian police as “the black one” or “the negro”.

I Nyoman Gatra, an Indonesian police intelligence officer who led a surveillance operation after the tip-off from the AFP, told the Denpasar District Court in 2005 that Sukumaran had not been listed on an AFP alert letter sent on April 8 about a week before the Bali nine were arrested.

“At first I thought he was a bodyguard,” he said at the time.

Sukumaran, Nguyen, Chen and Norman were arrested the night of May 17, 2005, at the Melasti Beach Bungalows in Bali.

Sukumaran wasn’t actually in the room at the Melasti when it was raided by police, as has been previously reported. He was outside standing guard and was pushed into the room when the police stormed the hotel.

Police discovered rucksacks containing 334 grams of heroin and a bag of pepper, to put sniffer dogs off the scent.

Andrew Chan was arrested the same day on an Australian Airlines flight about to depart for Australia. He had no drugs in his possession but several mobile phones.

Sukumaran and Chan were executed at 12.25am on April 29.

Nguyen, who is serving life imprisonment in a jail in Malang, East Java, told Fairfax Media that after he wrote about what had happened he felt so much better.

“I can finally let go now.”


The Brisbane Times

Medical journal editor sacked and editorial committee resigns

May 3, 2015 – 11:03PM

Anna Patty

Workplace Editor

MJA's editorial board have written to Australian Medical Journal president Brian Owler to review the decision to appoint Elsevier.

MJA’s editorial board have written to Australian Medical Journal president Brian Owler to review the decision to appoint Elsevier. Photo: Andrew Meares

All but one member of the editorial advisory committee for Australia’s top medical journal have resigned following the sacking of its eminent editor.

Stephen Leeder, an emeritus professor of public health at the University of Sydney and chair of the Western Sydney Local Health District Board, was sacked as editor of the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia after he raised concerns about a decision by the journal’s publisher AMPCo to outsource the journal’s production to Elsevier. AMPCo is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian Medical Association.

Professor Leeder said he was “bereaved” by his departure from the MJA, but said that working with Elsevier was “beyond the reach of my ethical tolerance”.

“I feel deeply deeply bereaved,” he said. “I loved the job, I loved the journal.”

Leading doctors from around the country are outraged at the decision and appalled at the treatment of Professor Leeder, saying they share his concerns about Elsevier which has published “fake medical journals”.

Nineteen of the Medical Journal of Australia’s 20 editorial advisory committee members co-signed a letter of resignation over the appointment of Elsevier, saying they could see no point “in continued involvement with this tragedy, particularly as our advice is neither sought nor apparently considered”.

One of the signatories, Professor Gary Wittert, the head of medicine at Adelaide University, said AMPCo’s track record in sacking editors, including Annette Katelaris in 2012, and its commercial arrangements with Elsevier “does not inspire confidence in editorial independence”.

Professor Paul Zimmet from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute said the treatment of Professor Leeder, who he described as an “Australian icon”, was “a disgrace”. Professor Leeder was accompanied out of the office after his sacking.

“It’s a disgrace and very undignified,” Professor Zimmet said. “Stephen Leeder is one of the most respected academics in Australian medicine, a great commentator and a very ethical guy. He was sacked about a matter which a number of us are concerned about.”

Professor Zimmet said global publishing giant Elsevier, had produced “fake” medical journals in Australia that were funded by pharmaceutical companies and not subject to peer review.

Elsevier in 2009 declared as “unacceptable” its creation of publications in 2000 to 2005 that were sponsored by Merck to promote the drug Vioxx, which was discontinued because of its links to safety risks, including heart attack.

“The publications were mainly directed at the products of those companies, but their overall appearance and the way they were published made it look like they were real journals,” Professor Zimmet said.

Professor Zimmet said the anti-vaccination movement was fuelled by the research published in the Lancet, an Elsevier publication.

He said: “They have a bad track record in terms of the Lancet, which in 1998 published an article linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as a possible cause of autism.” He said that it was found to be  questionable research, but it “took 10 years before the Lancet retracted it”.

More recently, The Lancet raised controversy over its publication last year of an open letter by a group of doctors “denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel”.

Australian doctors are also concerned about Elsevier’s former involvement in running arms fairs, before withdrawing from the practice in response to complaints from customers.

Professor Zimmet and Professor Gary Wittert, a member of the MJA’s editorial board, have written to Brian Owler, the president of the Australian Medical Journal of Australia, calling for a review of its decision to appoint Elsevier.

“We said the AMA should investigate the whole thing and the implications for ethical publishing of the medical journal,” Professor Zimmet said.

“AMA members would be very interested to know what the process was that led to this decision and how the due diligence was carried out.”

Tania Janusic resigned as general manager of the MJA and rejected an offer to take over Professor Leeder’s position, saying she was “appalled at the action of the AMPCo board in dismissing him”.

Dr Owler defended the decision to outsource production of the medical journal, saying AMA members have contributed $2 million each year to its publication.

“We are not in a position to continue to do that,” Dr Owler said.

“The only thing that is being outsourced is production, not editorial content. That has been made clear right from the start.

“I remain supportive of the AMPCo board and its decision.”

Dr Owler said Professor Leeder was a well respected member of the medical community.

“He has an outstanding career particularly in terms of public health and we have been fortunate to have had his services over the past two years,” Dr Owler said.

“But unfortunately the AMPCo board, which runs the business, was not able to reach an agreement with him to secure the financial future of the journal. Publishing is a very difficult field at the present time and we can’t continue to do things in the same way that has been done before.”

Dr Owler said the AMPCo board had considered controversial issues involving Elsevier and had interrogated those.

But after a competitive process, was satisfied with Elsevier.

AMPCo Board chairman, Richard Allely, said views on the outsourcing proposal were sought and concerns raised by Professor Leeder and the editorial team were considered by the Board.

“It was deemed necessary to seek operational efficiencies to put the journal on a sound financial footing,” he said.

He said “any criticism of Elsevier was related to editorial content and the company will have no editorial role with the MJA”.

A spokesman for Elsevier declined to comment “on any external commentaries surrounding the decisions made by AMPCo”.

“We’re aware of these, but any queries that were put to the AMPCo Board about Elsevier were completely and comprehensively addressed to the full satisfaction of the Board,” the spokesman said.

With Julia Medew


The Sydney Morning Herald