Caltex cleans up in worker compo ‘hoax’

Caltex is accused of ripping off workers. Photo: Simon BoschAmid the fracas of a wage fraud scandal tearing through Caltex, more than 200 franchisees and senior executives jetted into Tokyo in late March for a three-day conference at Tokyo’s swish Hilton Odaiba, overlooking Tokyo Bay.

Instead of the usual pomp and excitement of previous annual shindigs, the mood was sombre. Dozens of franchisees had been left off the invitation list after refusing to comply with a mandatory workplace compliance audit and those who had accepted came in the hope they would get some clarity on their future.

As the franchisees piled into the auditorium to listen to Caltex boss Julian Segal and the general manager of retail operations Karen Bozic, silence enveloped the room when they were told the future of the retail operating model – including the franchisee model – was still under review.

“We understand this will cause some angst until you get clarification,” the room was told.

Yet, almost six months later, franchisees are still in the dark about their future. There is a sense of foreboding that the wage fraud scandal and two separate projects – project Oyster and Project Reef – will collide and franchisees will be the collateral damage.

Project Oyster is exploring Caltex’s role in the competitive and underdeveloped $20 billion convenience store sector as Caltex grapples with the longer term trend of declining income from fuel, and the more immediate hole it has to fill in the wake of the Woolworths decision to end a long-term strategic alliance with Caltex and sell its 500-plus Woolworths-owned fuel and convenience store sites to BP.

Project Reef is looking at the underlying business structure to see if the franchise model – or a corporate model – is the best way to support its convenience store strategy, which is seeking to tap into changing tastes including fresh food and other convenience options at stores.

At the same time Caltex, which has a market value of more than $8 billion, is conducting mandatory audits across its network to ensure workplace laws aren’t being breached.

Through those audits, Caltex can seize hundreds of stores. Stores which franchisees have paid at least a combined $1 billion to buy Caltex can take and pay little or no compensation if workplace laws are violated at any level.

Shrinking networkBetween November and July, the franchise network shrunk from 650 to 500 stores while Caltex corporate sites expanded from 150 to 230. In the process Caltex converted about 80 franchised sites to corporate sites. Caltex says it already owns the stores and so there will be no impact on Caltex’s balance sheet.

For franchisees, termination means financial devastation.

On top of the audit process, franchisees whose five to 10-year franchise agreements are due to expire are being put on short-term contracts while the retail operating model review is in progress.

All this uncertainty is pushing the market value of Caltex sites down. Some franchisees say the market value has halved in the past year.

Caltex CEO Julian Segal Photo: Pat Scala

Quite how far the audit process has gone is revealed in a note Caltex wrote to franchisees saying: “So far decisions have been made or audits are in process for about half the franchise network.”

The note, obtained by Fairfax Media, said so far 30 stores “have been found to be complying with workplace obligations or are working with Caltex to remedy breaches”.

To date 116 stores have been issued termination notices or have prematurely ended their contracts after refusing to participate in a compulsory workplace audit.

Audit boycottIn some cases franchisees are refusing to do the audits because they have been underpaying workers, in other cases they fear Caltex will use technicalities to terminate them.

Ash Vatsa bought two stores in April 2015 and has been juggling two jobs to pay the bills. He says he is on financial assistance from Caltex because his stores are losing money.

He owes the bank $350,000 and is worried that an audit will be used to remove him from the system.

Ash Vatsa stands by the Caltex petrol station in Merrylands where he is the franchisee. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Vatsa says he has always paid his workers correctly but he is worried he might not have all the paperwork the audits require. When he bought into the network in 2015 the records weren’t rigorous and he says it can be hard to keep track of students on visas, including when they are on holidays from university.

He is currently on an assistance program from Caltex because he is struggling to stay afloat.

“It is hard to get them and you go through so much and then six months later do it again,” he says.

“I should have applied last year but I was scared to apply.”

He says even with assistance he has to work a second job.

“My second job is in hospitality. I’m working at least 80 hours a week,” he says.

“It is very stressful not knowing what is happening, we owe $350,000. How do we pay that, where do we get the money to pay for that.”

Process ‘fair’In a statement Caltex insists it follows a “fair and rigorous process” before ending a franchise agreement.

Franchisee Sanjeev Kumar, who has a store in Woodridge West, Brisbane, is also refusing to take part in the Caltex-funded audit.

Kumar’s store was audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman in October and received a notice in April from the regulator saying there had been a minor compliance issue which required the repayment of $13 to one employee and $40 to another.

He wrote to the company discussing his financial and mental plight.

“My health problem has become more severe that I have developed back and frozen shoulder severe pain due to increased stress level.”

Kumar wrote that he “humbly” requested Caltex to refund his franchise fees of $160,000 on pro rata basis.

On July 31 Caltex wrote: “We are mindful of the health issues you have outlined below, however as I indicated in our meeting …Caltex is not willing to consider a buy-back or surrender of your franchise at this time. A surrender of your franchise agreement does not fit within Caltex’s current strategic plans.”

So far 43 franchise sites have refused to take the audit. They hired law firm Lander & Rogers, which negotiated a settlement with Caltex, the terms of which are confidential.

According to Tean Kerr, it now represents a further 50 additional Caltex franchise sites in dispute with Caltex despite “many of them having already passed wage reviews by the Fair Work Ombudsman”.

“They are in dispute with Caltex because they believe that Caltex are intent on stealing their stores and the franchise fees they have paid.”

Kerr says the 7-Eleven scandal made Caltex management realise “Caltex is to blame for creating a franchise model that makes money for Caltex but exploits franchisees and pressures them into cutting corners to make ends meet”.

Professor Allan Fels has blasted the Caltex compensation scheme. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Caltex says in a statement that “initial investigations and audits were focused on stores where Caltex received allegations of wage underpayment or identified a high risk of non-compliance”.

It argues then that the high “run-rate” of breaches so far should not be seen as representative of the whole network.

It says its independent experts had found the model is sustainable, allowing franchisees to draw a wage, make a profit and pay employees lawful wage rates.

Caltex refuses to reveal the average profit, saying “the appropriate bottom-line profit for each store is highly variable depending on many business factors”.

But it is understood the average figure is about $60,000, which franchisees argue isn’t enough to pay bank loans and live.

Many say it is getting harder as they get squeezed to pay more to head office including royalties, rent, wages, Star Card fees, Star Boss, coffee machine leasing, drive-offs, where customers fill their tanks with petrol and drive off without paying, uniforms, accounting, electricity and bank card fees.

Draconian rulesFormer ACCC chairman Allan Fels, a former head of the 7-Eleven compensation scheme, said the terminations were unduly harsh. “These sorts of actions are draconian and exploitative of franchisees,” he said.

Professor Fels said with a “terribly” weak bargaining position, it demonstrates the need for more than just the newly minted Protecting Vulnerable Workers Act, which beefs up penalties for wage fraud and makes franchisors jointly responsible for workplace abuses if they have a “significant degree of influence or control” or influence over their franchisee’s affairs.

It is this control over franchisees that Professor Fels believes will result in a parliamentary inquiry into the $170 billion franchise sector.

Caltex has taken over the running of more than service stations. Photo: Sasha Woolley

Under Caltex’s franchise contract if a franchisee is terminated due to a breach of the franchise agreement the value of the business is returned to Caltex with the franchisee receiving only the value of any stock or other owned assets. Goodwill and other rights belong to Caltex.

“You acknowledge and agree that except expressly provided under the agreement or as may be required by law, at the end of the franchise you are not entitled to receive any payment or compensation from Caltex,” reads the relevant clause in a franchise agreement agreement.

After Caltex seized the store in late May, Hanna has been trying to find work so he can repay his business loan. He believes the termination process is a “heap of crap”.

Another franchisee who had three highly profitable sites worth an estimated $1 million each, believes Caltex used its might to take back highly sought after stores.

“They are acting like the police,” the franchisee says.

The stores were seized after an audit found a series of issues including wage fraud, not paying super, not of good character and various other contraventions.

The franchisee, who requested anonymity, says the family bought the stores from Caltex in 2015 for $200,000 each and built them up.

A final payment of $68,000 plus interest was made on one of the three stores to Caltex on July 3. On July 19 the franchisee was terminated and the stores seized.

“How unethical is that? To take the money then terminate us and get the value of the stores for nothing.” Caltex declined to comment, citing legal and privacy reasons.

The problem for employees is that if a franchisor terminates a franchisee and that franchisee is then left with no site and a big bank loan to repay, the chances of them repaying workers is slim.

So it isn’t just franchisees who feel aggrieved. Workers are also feeling done over.

Fairfax Media can reveal that four months after Caltex set up a $20 million compensation scheme for underpaid workers, only 101 have applied and nobody has been paid out, this is despite more than 116 stores either being kicked out or leaving after refusing to participate in an audit.

The scheme has raised the ire of the Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James who said this week that Caltex had failed to engage with the regulator to develop the fund or report those individuals it had breached or terminated.

She warned that Caltex was likely to face “enforcement action” and that the investigation so far, which involved raiding 25 sites, had “similar themes emerging to 7-Eleven”.

Professor Fels describes the compensation fund as bogus and a “public relations stunt” requiring regulatory scrutiny.

Conditional compensationConfidential letters obtained by Fairfax show that the compensation Caltex is offering workers is a fraction of their alleged underpayment. It also shows that the payouts are conditional on the workers keeping the information confidential and not making negative comments about Caltex. The conditions have raised concerns of the regulator which said in a statement it would take it up with Caltex.

The compensation scheme is a hoax, says former worker, Mustanser Bajwa, a bio-chemistry student at Sydney University.

He says the process from dobbing in his franchisee to making the claim made him feel used and exploited.

He informed on his employer in late 2016 after receiving a call from Caltex’s auditors to speak up. The franchisee was terminated in May, with Caltex seizing four stores worth an estimated $2.2 million.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James Photo: James Brickwood

Earlier this month Bajwa finally received an offer from Caltex that was a fraction of the estimated underpayments he was owed between 2015 and 2016. He wasn’t allowed to go back any further, to 2012, because the Caltex fund only makes refunds from 2015.

“I have all the documents to pay me back to 2015 but they offer me so little,” he said.

He says the sad part for workers is that most of the serious underpayments date back further than 2015, before 7-Eleven was exposed for wage fraud.

“Caltex is not willing to investigate prior to 2015 because I believe before 2015 the underpayments across the Caltex sites were as bad as 7-Eleven stores,” he says.

So far 7-Eleven has paid out $150 million to thousands of workers.

But Caltex said it went back to 2015 because “allegations of wage underpayment in the franchise sector in were first raised in 2015”.

Therefore, Caltex considers January 2015 to be a “fair and reasonable date.”

To exploited workers like Bajwa, Caltex’s behaviour is worse than that of the franchisees.

“At least they aren’t hypocrites,” he said. “Caltex makes out they care about us but they are also underpaying us what we are owed. What’s the difference?”

Another worker Saad Rafique, who came to in 2012 from Pakistan, worked an average of 65 hours a week at Caltex and was grossly underpaid.

Rafique is currently working at a Caltex store but agreed to speak up because he feels so strongly about what is going on. He says he was underpaid for years and has all the evidence.

He lodged a claim with Caltex but was shocked by the lowball offer, which he believes it 30 per cent of what he is owed.

“The offer is so little yet they won’t tell me how they calculated the amount,” he says.

Rafique says he was puzzled by what Caltex was doing with the money.

“They are taking away the livelihood of franchisees, paying them nothing when they terminate them and giving workers nothing.”

He believes Caltex is no better than the franchisees that underpay workers.

“Why won’t they do the right thing, they want us to say nothing bad about them, they want to silence us and we have no idea how they are making the calculations.”

Another worker, a student on a visa, said most workers decided not to apply because the bar was too high to prove underpayments and unlike 7-Eleven Caltex would only pay up to 20 hours for students.

“Everyone knows that students have to work longer hours to make up for the low wages they get paid,” he says.

“Sometimes students don’t have any choice but to breach their hours, but Caltex doesn’t care. This makes many think they can’t be trusted.”

Payments calculatedCaltex says in a statement the compensation fund relies on the information provided by franchisee employees to calculate wage underpayment.

It says the payment is an ex-gratia payment that “represents a contribution towards any claim they may have in respect of their employment with the franchisee”.

It tried to distance itself from the problem, saying Caltex was not the employer, had no part in wage underpayment and had no liability to pay franchisee employee entitlements.

“Caltex has established the fund to do the right thing by franchisee employees and provide some assistance to those who have been underpaid.”

As the Fair Work Ombudsman continues to examine the findings of the stores it raided last year, franchisees and former franchisees are coming forward alleging the business model is being increasingly stacked against them as Caltex grabs more and more in fees and rentals.

Certainly there is evidence from the emails obtained by Fairfax and interviews with former franchisees that Caltex was made aware of wage fraud issues over a number of years.

One email seen by Fairfax Media by a former site owner to a senior manager complained he had flagged similar issues to those at 7-Eleven to another senior manager in June 2011.

Another former Caltex franchisee, Kevin Crossey, who operated a number of sites between 1998 and 2014, has previously told Fairfax that he repeatedly told head office there was a problem with wage fraud.

“I was on the NSW state franchise council and national franchise council representing franchises over a number of years,” he said in an interview last year.

One email written by a worker to a Caltex manager in 2014 flagged issues including staff sacked without payment. “Many time local people come to apply for the job but [the franchisee] keep the money… I have been treated okay because I always spend two hours etc without pay… they have kept copies of our passports.”

Caltex says it has responded to every allegation made about wage underpayment, including allegations made in 2014 about wage underpayment at businesses to which Caltex was a fuel supplier only, not the employer and not the operator.

But Caltex has a problem. It has created a toxic relationship with franchisees and workers alike.

“They are trying to hide under the banner of doing the right thing but their actions prove they are not doing the right the thing,” Saad Rafique says.

“The scheme should be open for everyone, for all years and for all entitlements.”

But it’s not.

Chinan Wallabies beat Argentina Pumas in Canberra: Pictures

Wallabies record comeback win over Argentina TweetFacebook 2017 Rugby Championship: Wallabies v PumasPictures: Sitthixay Ditthavong and AAPA lack of first-half urgency had n coach Michael Cheika seeing red and questioning the effort of his players but the Wallabies managed to get their Rugby Championship campaign off the ground with a convincing 45-20 win over Argentina in Canberra.

With his side trailing 13-10 at half-time, many thought Cheika would have put a rocket up his players given he could hardly hide his displeasure when speaking to Fox Sports while the game was still in the balance.

“There’s no urgency, I’m not sure if we realise we’re playing in a Test match,” Cheika said. “Urgency, speed, aggression [were] all missing in the first half. We’re lucky to only be 13-10 behind.”

From there the Wallabies got their act together, with Sekope Kepu and Israel Folau scoring tries to establish dominance and prevent what would have been ‘s first defeat to Argentina on home soil since 1983.

RELATED: Wallabies secure big victory

The six-tries–two victory was ‘s biggest over Argentina since the Mendoza fixture in 2015 and largest overall since their 62-point win against Uruguay at the 2015 World Cup.

Cheika revealed afterwards he didn’t have to say a thing because his players knew they weren’t up to scratch.

“There’s no point me going down there and giving them a rev up, even though I really wanted to,” Cheika said. “I didn’t need to because they said it themselves. That’s a step forward for our leadership team, they told it as it was at half-time, didn’t try to hide from the lack or intensity and urgency that was there.

“We know we should be on, we know we let ourselves down in the first half. We stayed in the fight at least

“From the first whistle in the second half they owned that and they wanted to get better.”

Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu makes a bustling run during the Rugby Championship’s fourth round clash between and Argentina at Canberra Stadium. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

failed to learn their lesson from last week and at times were ineffective at cleaning out Argentina’s back-rowers, notably Pablo Matera and Tomas Lezana, who hovered over the ball like angry magpies.

Argentina captain Agustin Creevy carried the ball a total of 17 times with real purpose and his turnover in the 42nd minute, after the Wallabies had built up 14 phases, epitomised ‘s struggles at the breakdown.

Sean McMahon was ‘s most potent forward of the evening while Michael Hooper was instrumental in the second half when his team needed their leader to stand up.

“It’s not a sense of relief, it’s a sense of finally getting a reward for some of the hard work that not only a lot of the players have put in but staff,” Hooper said. “It’s a good feeling for everyone.”

The 25-point defeat was Argentina’s ninth loss from their last 10 games and leaves them still on zero points in the Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies will have a week off before travelling to Johannesburg on Saturday to prepare for a Test against the Springboks, who came crashing back down to earth after they were thumped 57-0 by the All Blacks.

“What I do know is that when we get to the high veld, it’s going to be on,” Cheika said. “They’re going to be looking for some retribution on someone and that’s most likely going to be us and we’ve got to be ready for that.”

Earlier, man of the match Bernard Foley opened the scoring with a penalty from in front and while looked to at attack at every opportunity, a number of careless knock-ons thwarting their ability to strike from counters in their own half.

Argentina hit back with a three-pointer of their own in the 15th minute in what was a largely uneventful opening first quarter of an hour.

The visitors dominated early territory – they had 76 per cent at half-time – and threatened the Wallabies, whose defensive line spacing has improved leaps and bounds since the Sydney disaster four weeks ago.

Bernard Foley of the Wallabies (centre) is tackled by Pablo Matera of Argentina (right). Picture: AAP

It took 23 minutes for cold fans to see a try but it was the visitors who dived over first, courtesy of halfback Martin Landajo from close range.

Shortly after, however, the Wallabies levelled the scores, with Folau crossing for his ninth try from seven games this year.

A no-look Adam Coleman pass went to ground but the Wallabies scooped it up and four passes later seized their chance as Folau continued his hot streak to the delight of a Canberra crowd of 14,229.

The Pumas took a 13-10 lead into half-time and interestingly, some local fans booed Foley when the Wallabies five-eighth kicked the ball out, from his own end, to put an end to a half of rugby that lacked vitality.

To ‘s credit, they could have taken a penalty to draw level but decided to chance their arm and it payed off.

Sekope Kepu equalled the most tries scored by an prop (four) in the 49th minute before Folau bagged his second of the evening four minutes later.

Recalled second-rower Rob Simmons orchestrated a terrific offload out the back before Will Genia’s long cut-out pass landed in Folau’s bread basket to gift him try No.10 for 2017 and put the Wallabies ahead 24-13 after a conversion.

“He’s a natural footballer,” said Cheika of Folau. “I think that he handled everything pretty well during the week, he didn’t look to lose any focus at all. He’s quality.”

Rugby league convert Marika Koroibete came on in the 50th minute and almost scored a try on debut from a Foley grubber out the back of the Pumas defensive line.

“He looked pretty good,” Cheika said. “He didn’t look out of place. He’s nicked Sean’s [McMahon] phone or done something to him down in Melbourne because he could have had his first Test try but Seany went back inside to Nick with a brilliant pass.

“He made a nice entrée for his first game no doubt about it.”

A yellow card to Pumas Enrique Pieretto in 71st minute was a just reward for the ns, who turned out their best scrum performance of the Rugby Championship.

“I’d like to see that consistency every week,” Cheika said. “I know we can do it.”

A minute later Genia scored his 13th Test try and by then had completely found their groove. Reserve halfback Nick Phipps and youngster Jordan Uelese then snared their own five-pointers to put Cheika in a far better mood than he was in the sheds at the break.

Davis Cup 2017: Nick Kyrgios leads the Chinan fightback against Belgium

‘s Nick Kyrgios during his five-set thriller with Belgium’s Steve Darcis. Photo: APBrussels:Nick Kyrgios has fought back to keep ‘s Davis Cup hopes alive after seeing off a determined Steve Darcis in a five-set thriller in Brussels.

Kyrgios won 6-3 4-6 6-7 (7-5) 6-1 6-2 against the wily world No.70 who had looked set to inflict more misery on –seven years after relegating the 28-time champions from the World Group.

he crucial victory levelled the tie at 1-1 ahead of Saturday’s doubles rubber after David Goffin earlier beat a spirited John Millman.

Kyrgios stormed imperiously through the opening set, sending down eight aces without losing a point in five service games.

The controversial Canberran stirred up the home fans by cupping his ear to them after taking the lead, a move that only seemed to inspire Darcis, who was playing in his 21st tie for his country.

Belgium haddrawn first bloodwhen Goffin prevailedover Millman6-7 (7-4) 6-4 6-3 7-5 in a three-and-a-half hour marathonto give the hosts a 1-0 lead at the Palais 12 arena.

John Millman fell short in an epic three-and-a-half hour duel with Belgian David Goffin in Brussels. Photo: AP

The world No.12 has now won 14 of his last 15 Davis Cup singles matches, but he was made to work hard for his victory by the 185th-ranked Queenslander, who was only called into the team by captain Lleyton Hewitt on Thursday.

Millman grabbed the opening set in a tiebreak after battling back from a break down to stun the noisy home crowd.

However, the 28-year-old Millman demonstrated tremendous fighting spirit to break back immediately only to surrender his serve in the next game, before once again levelling the scores at 3-3.

Belgium’s David Goffin after beating ‘s John Millman during the first rubber of the Davis Cup semi-final in Brussels on Friday. Photo: AP

Millman had another break point at 4-3 but was unable to convert. Goffin broke Millman for a 6-5 lead and ultimately served out the match.

However, the 28-year-old Millman demonstrated tremendous fighting spirit to break back immediately only to surrender his serve in the next game, before once again levelling the scores at 3-3.

Millman had another break point at 4-3 but was unable to convert. Goffin broke Millman for a 6-5 lead and ultimately served out the match.

NRL semi-final: Cowboys secure shock victory over Parramatta

Try scoring machine: Semi Radradra. Photo: AAPThe North Queensland Cowboys have produced a stunning comeback to beat the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night.

The Cowboys secured a 24-16 win at ANZ Stadium to progress to next weekend’s NRL preliminary final against the Sydney Roosters.

After trailing 10-6 at half time, North Queensland dominated play in the second half to record an upset win.

John Asiata started the run by scoring a try in the 44thminute for the Cowboys.

Ethan Lowe nailed the conversion to help his side take a 12-10 lead.

Cowboys forward Coen Hess then crossed over to score in the 51stminute and Lowe converted as the side led 18-10.

Star five-eighth Michael Morgan all-but sealed victory in the 74thminute when he dived over to score.

Lowe nailed the conversion to help the Cowboys take a 24-10 advantage.

Parramatta centre Michael Jennings scored a consolation try on the siren for the home team.

Mitchell Moses’ conversion rounded out the 24-16 result.

Full match blog here.

Vision of the @nthqldcowboys Try Decision in the 74th minute of #NRLEelsCowboys.#NRLpic.twitter苏州夜网/9qXvKO2bm8

— NRL Bunker (@NRLBunker) September 16, 2017Half time report:Parramatta Eels have edged one step closer to booking a spot in the NRL preliminary finals.

The Eels have taken a 10-6 lead into half time in their semi-final against the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.

Parramatta scored the first try after six minutes via winger Semi Radradra.

The Semi-Trailer lights up the #NRLFinals!#NRLpic.twitter苏州夜网/mImbXH3PcS

— NRL (@NRL) September 16, 2017Game on!#NRLFinals#NRLpic.twitter苏州夜网/H1v8TND2zP

— NRL (@NRL) September 16, 2017

A Sydney Senate inquiry told devices were ‘decommercialised’

Johnson & Johnson cancels two mesh devices Evidence: Former Newcastle basketballer Paul Zadow will give evidence on Monday to a Senate inquiry about his company’s pelvic mesh device.

Scandal: Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch who made the case for a Senate inquiry into pelvic mesh devices.

Scrutiny: A range of pelvic mesh devices now withdrawn from the n market.

TweetFacebookJohnson & Johnson Medical continues to have confidence in the safety and efficacy of these products.

Johnson & Johnson after withdrawal of two pelvic mesh devices

Johnson & Johnson and a second American mesh device manufacturer, Boston Scientific, will give evidence at a Senate pelvic mesh inquiry on Monday, along with the director of n companyTFS Manufacturing, Paul Zadow. Mr Zadow is a former n champion basketballer and Newcastle Falcons player.

In its statement Johnson & Johnson said the two Gynemesh products were cancelled from the n therapeutic goods registry on August 22. Two of its Prolift mesh devices, and a Prosima device, were “decommercialised” in August, 2012.

“Like any company, the decision to introduce or discontinue a product is a matter we deal with regularly and this was a considered commercial decision,” Johnson & Johnson said.

In August there were just nine mesh device company entries on ’s therapeutic goods register, covering 22 individual mesh devices. In 2013, before the TGA requested evidence from manufacturers of mesh device safety and efficacy,there were 42 company entries on the register, covering 100 individual mesh devices.

In evidence at a Melbourne hearing of the Senate inquiry TGA deputy secretary Professor John Skerritt said a doctor’s evidence that the TGA had not cancelled any devices was “simply not true”.

He also rejected Dr Caroline Dowling’s evidence that companies made “commercial decisions” to withdraw devices “so there was no fault with those products, they were good products”.

Professor Skerritt told the inquiry: “Those cancellations were not for commercial reasons.”

Companies initiated cancellations because “they did not have the evidence to answer the questions we had asked”.

The public hearing on Monday will be held at Parliament House in Sydney, followed by a Canberra Parliament House public hearing on Tuesday.

The inquiry was launched after Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch described the marketing of pelvic mesh devices in as “one of the greatest medical scandals and abuses of mothers in ‘s history”.

Baby Blake Darragh diagnosed with rare cancer of the muscle

Amanda Darragh with her son Blake, aged 21 months. Photo: Kate GeraghtyBlake Darragh was eight weeks old when he developed nappy rash “almost like a chemical burn”, said his mother Amanda Darragh of Holsworthy.

It took five months of pain and discomfort before experts at The Children’s Hospital Westmead diagnosed a very rare, fast growing and highly malignant childhood cancer. It was also growing in an even more unusual location: Blake’s bladder and prostate.

“You hear that kids have cancer, but you never think it is going to be your child,” said Mrs Darragh. “I never saw it as bad luck, I saw it as a piece of crap. It is just something that happened to our family.”

Of the 14 to 20 children like Blake who are diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (cancer of the muscle) every year in , four to five have it in the bladder. By the time Blake’s was found, it had spread from the bladder into his prostate.

His chance of survival over a five-year period is two in three, said his paediatric oncologist, Dr Geoff McCowage.

Blake, though, is one of six children who have been treated at Westmead with paediatric brachytherapy performed by Dr Jennifer Chard, a pioneering paediatric radiation oncologist in this field.

Treating Blake’s cancer involved putting him in an induced coma, because children of his age wiggle too much, and surrounding him with a perspex box to remind everyone that he was fragile.

To deliver strong doses of radiation for intensive treatment from a short distance, allowing more accuracy and less damage to surrounding tissues still growing in a baby, tiny hollow rods were inserted in Blake’s groin using equally tiny medical equipment. The radiation was delivered via the rods to the tumour for 10 minutes, twice a day.

Amanda Darragh

Until recently, the federal government sent children to the French hospital Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris for this treatment. Researchers reported in July on a study ofa 100 children between five months and 14 years of agewho had been treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation delivered using brachytherapy. There was a five-year, disease-free rate of 84 per cent, with overall survival rate of 91 per cent.

“If it had been an 18-year-old , we would have given radiotherapy from outside the body for six weeks, but that would destroy a one-year-old’s tissues and the hips, the bones, the intestines,” said Dr McCowage.

Until recently, the federal government sent children to the French hospital Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris for this treatment. Researchers reported in July on a study ofa 100 children between five months and 14 years of agewho had been treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation delivered using brachytherapy. There was a five-year, disease-free rate of 84 per cent, with overall survival rate of 91 per cent.

“If it had been an 18-year-old , we would have given radiotherapy from outside the body for six weeks, but that would destroy a one-year-old’s tissues and the hips, the bones, the intestines,” said Dr McCowage.

Amanda plays with Blake in the hospital garden. Photo: Kate Geraghty

But the path to diagnosis was painful for Blake, and awful for his family to watch.

Because many children suffer from nappy rash, Blake’s doctor thought it was a urinary tract infection, which wouldn’t clear with medication.

“He would scream and [the urine] would drizzle out, which was unusual,” said Mrs Darragh who also has two older sons, four and six.

“He was extremely uncomfortable, at six months he wasn’t sitting up, because he would try to sit up and he would scream and throw himself backwards.”

His bladder had nearly four times as much urine than is usual in a baby of his age.

Except for the darkest times, his mother said most people wouldn’t have known Blake was sick.

“He smiled through it, this really helped me. He’s just a happy little baby,” said Mrs Darragh. To get through the toughest year of her life and her marriage, Mrs Darragh relied on her family, her faith and an endless supply of pasta bakes from friends and family.

It is early days yet but Dr Chard said the tumours had shrunk in every child.

Blake is now 21 months old with no sign of recurrence. Doctors say it will take five years before they are sure he is permanently cancer free.

In the meantime, his mother pays more attention to his nappies than she did to her other sons’.

“We have very full nappies,” said Mrs Darragh. “I think I’m probably more obsessed with his than I was with his brothers.”

Parsons Green terror attack: Dozens injured in explosion on London Tube

An injured woman is assisted by a police officer close to Parsons Green station. Photo: PABritish Prime Minister Theresa May has raised the national terror threat level to critical, meaning another attack may be imminent, following an explosion on a packed commuter train in London on Friday morning.

At least 29 people were injured after the improvised bomb exploded on the rush-hour train in what police say was the fifth terrorist attack in Britain this year.

May said in a televised statement that armed police and members of the military would be seen on the streets in the coming days.


Parsons Green terror attack: At least 22 people injured by London Tube ‘bucket bomb'”For this period, military personnel will replace police officers on guard duties at certain protected sites that are not accessible to the public,” she said.

Passengers on board the train heading into the capital fled as fire spread through a carriage at Parsons Green underground station in West London after the explosion at 8.20am local time (5.20pm AEST).

Some suffered burns while others were injured in a stampede to escape.

An injured woman is comforted outside the Parsons Green tube station in London after the explosion. Photo: Reuters

The National Health Service said the injured had been taken to various London hospitals. None were thought to be in a serious condition, the ambulance service said.

“We now assess that this was a detonation of an improvised explosive device,” Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters.

He said most of the injuries were thought to be flash burns.

Assistant Commissioner Rowley declined to answer whether the authorities knew who was responsible or if the suspected bomber had been on the train.

The container which reportedly exploded on board a packer London train during peak hour on Friday morning.

An earlier tweet by US President Donald Trump appeared to suggest those responsible were known to London’s Metropolitan Police Service. However Scotland Yard issued a statement saying the President’s comments were “pure speculation, given we don’t know who’s involved. Any speculation is unhelpful”.

The Islamic State group asserted responsibility for the incident hours later in a message on its propaganda site that said a “detachment” of its disciples had carried out the attack – language that perhaps suggested more than one assailant.

Experts cautioned that the group often seeks credit for attacks it may have inspired, as well as ones it had nothing to do with.

Pictures taken at the scene showed a white bucket with a supermarket freezer bag on the floor of one train carriage.

The bucket was in flames and there appeared to be wires coming out of the top.

Mrs May confirmed the explosion was being treated as a terrorist attack.

Some people suffered head and facial burns as a container “blew up” towards the rear of the train during rush hour about 8.20am local time (5.20pm AEST). Photo: Twitter/@cupide5tunt

“Clearly this was a device which was intended to cause significant harm,” she said.

“My thoughts are with those injured at Parsons Green and emergency services who are responding bravely to this terrorist incident.”

The threat level in the UK was last raised to ‘critical’ following the Manchester Arena bombing in May, when 23 people, including the attacker, were killed as they exited a concert by US popstar Ariana Grande.

“The public should go about their daily lives but remain vigilant,” Mrs May said. “The threat of terrorism we face is severe but by working together we will defeat them.”

Asked about Mr Trump’s comment that the attack was committed by “people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard”, Mrs May repeated the official line from the Metropolitan Police: “I never think it’s helpful for anyone to speculate on an ongoing situation,” she said.

The Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee on Friday afternoon.

n Hayden Locke was on board the “packed” train at the time of the explosion.

n man Hayden Locke was on board the train. Photo: Supplied

The 35-year-old father-of-two who has been living in London for the past three years was heading into London for meetings when people started stampeding from the back of the train as it pulled into Parsons Green station.

“People kept yelling there was a bomb. People are really on edge here,” he told Fairfax Media.

“All I could see was a little smoke, I just thought it was an electrical fire but people just started running. More people have been hurt by the rush.”

Locke, who works in the mining industry, said many people were injured trying to flee the train and the underground station.

“I saw one woman whose hair was all burnt and another woman had hurt her back after being caught up trying to get out of the station.”

I’m safe – just had to run for my life at #ParsonsGreen station – huge stamped, lots injured. Not sure why – fire/explosion mentioned. pic.twitter苏州夜网/zRvRPWOuzA

— Emma (@EmmaStevie1) September 15, 2017#parsonsgreenpic.twitter苏州夜网/0OUV819EtE

— Sylvain Pennec (@sylvainpennec) September 15, 2017- With AAP

The story,Brits warned another UK terrorattack is ‘imminent’, first appeared on the Brisbane Times.

UFOs spotted in the sky above Cessnock and Singleton

UFO sighting in Hunter Valley sky | VIDEO, PHOTOS, POLL UFO: A strange triangular-shaped craft spotted in the sky, south-west of Cessnock.

TweetFacebookThe man, who did not want to be named,first saw the lights while out on his deck, calling his dog in.

He lives in an area surrounded by bush and state forest nearthe Watagan Mountains, not far from the Laguna area.

Strange lights in the sky spotted south-west of Cessnock.

“Looking to the north, I noticed three flashing lights coming towards me,” he said.

“All of a sudden one went to the left, the other to the right, and the third one kept coming our way.”

Soon several dozen came over the horizon.

“Before we knew it, there would have been 40 to 50 of them, flying towards us. They were spread apart. I noticed most of them did a U-turn and went back again.

“I thought ‘this is strange, am I in a movie, like one of those attacks from Mars.

“There were so many out there, it was such a spectacle. It was overwhelming. My heart was pumping really fast.”

The man said thathelicopters andaeroplanes occasionally flyover, but“this seemed quite odd”because the craftwere“flying together”.

“There was no sound whatsoever. Normally when an aeroplane or helicopter goes by, wecan hear it –even in the house,” the man said.

“These were quiet.”

A second video of strange lights in the sky spotted south-west of Cessnock. In any case, they did not seem like conventional aircraft because“theirmovements were too flexible”.

“Their movements were quite erratic in that they moved towards us and then fairly quickly turned around and went back,” he said.

The Singleton Military Area is to the north of the man’s property, which was the direction from which the lights seemed to be coming.

A Department of Defence spokesman saidSingleton barracks“didn’t have anything going on which they think could have been responsible”.

Strange lights in the sky spotted south-west of Cessnock.

The man said the craft first appeared in the sky about 8pm on Thursday.

“Most had three or four flashing lights on them,” he said.

“They turned around and went back north. By 8.30pm, they were all gone andthe sky was clear of these flashing lights.

“We came back inside because they kind of vanished.”

About 15 to 20 minutes later, he went back outsideto have another look. The craft had returned.

He could see the craft for another half hour or so.

“Some went back and a few more came out and towards us,” he said.

Some time between 9pm to 9.30pm, the last of them had gone.

“At the very end, there was only one or two I could see doing this strange kind of loop,” he said.

“They were coming out from north to south, then they turned around and went back north again.”

Did he think they wereUFOs?

“The first thing my wife said was‘they’re UFOs’, but I don’t really believe in UFOs,” he said.

He thought they could possibly bemilitarydrones.

He wondered if someone could help identify the craft.

“I’m curious because it’s an odd thing and I don’t have an explanation,” theman said.

“I’m one of those people that likes to have an answer to these things.Maybe somebody else saw it. If a number of people saw it, there could be different perspectives on it.

“Someone inthe aeronautics industry might recognise the lights and know what kind of craft it is.”

The story,UFO sightingin Hunter Valley sky, first appeared on the Newcastle Herald.

NRL finals 2017: Brisbane Broncos defeat Penrith Panthers in elimination final

Penrith end season on a frustrating night as Brisbane prepare to meet Melbourne Storm TweetFacebookPictures: AAPBrisbane live to fight another day, Penrith depart season 2017 with another late flourish and ultimately, frustration. And Melbourne will start as prohibitive favourites to progress to another decider after a costly elimination final at Suncorp Stadium.

The young Panthers arrived in Brisbane full of hope and wonder. They left after a tough night where they simply couldn’t create enough to find a way past a rejuvenated home side, who defended their line with the kind of vigour you need to win finals.

The Broncos defence, disconnected last week, scrambled, then scrambled some more, as they took care of business 13-6in front of 38,623 fans, setting up a trip to AAMI Park next Friday night.

​But there would be some casualties, with key winger CoreyOates topping the list. Oates was knocked out cold in a horrible collision with team-mate Anthony Milford after 20 minutes and will almost certainly miss the preliminary final.

The pair made contact at full pace, with the shoulder of Milford making direct contact with Oates’ head. Penrith looked as if they had a chance to pounce on the loose ball and score but with Oates looking in serious trouble, officials were right to call a halt to play. Later, he was awake and moving about the dressing rooms.

Penrith had some issues of their own with head knocks, although with a slightly more comedic aspect. Hooker Peter Wallace had to leave the field for a HIA in the first half after Ben Hunt slammed a kick squarely into his face.

They needed his experience and were grateful for his return. He helped them cling to life and eventually, the Panthers threatened one of their customary comebacks when they finally cracked the Broncos line after 54 minutes thanks to Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

But Brisbane weren’t going to let this slip. Jordan Kahu delivered a field goal in the 70th minute, then the Broncos repelled set after set on their own line. All night, Penrith tried to send edge forwards at Anthony Milford. When that didn’t work, they looked short of options.

It was the kind of night Penrith may eventually look back on as one that helped them take the next step in their premiership hunt, similar to Cronulla’s semi-final loss to the Cowboys the year before their breakthrough.

Wayne Bennett’s poor record against Anthony Griffin has been well publicised but he was able to win the one that mattered. Now he has to conjure a miracle against the Storm next week.

Melbourne shouldn’t have feared what either team delivered on Friday night. It was scrappy and tough but lacked the kind of execution and discipline needed to compete against the Storm.

The Broncos are likely to get fullback and captain Darius Boyd back for the match but their record against Melbourne over the past decade has been nothing short of diabolical. Since 2007, they have won just four from 23 against the men in purple.

Brisbane had just one man on their bench at the end of the night and have further injury worries during the week. Jai Arrow was another that left the field with a concussion, while Kodi Nikorima, who was valiant again at fullback, looked to be carrying a knee injury at the end of the match.

But he was able to come up with one of the key moments, leaping high to spoil a Panthers raid late in the match just when it looked as if the Panthers were going to press for extra time.

Instead, they return to the foot of the mountains after a season that must be declared a success. Young half Nathan Cleary would have learned valuable lessons from the defeat – perhaps to be more flexible when Plan A wasn’t working – and can take them one step further in 2018.

Winx prepares for next challenge on September 16

The greatest: Winx surges past Red Excitement in the Chelmsford Stakes. Photo: AAPYes the marvel Winx is striving to recapture her former dazzle, but consider this?

Had she started in the Melbourne Cup this year the mare would have humped 64.5 kilograms, completely overwhelming the assessment of champion Makybe Diva when she notched the Big One for the third time in 2005.

In her two races this campaign, particularly the Chelmsford at Royal Randwick last start, Winx didn’t produce the dominance of recent campaigns.

Thus Saturday’s George Main Stakes, a more fitting traditional title than the sponsor’s toothpaste tag today, heightens the anticipation even more than last start which couldn’t draw more than 10,000 to headquarters, miserable compared to the 40,000-plus for the Swans at the SCG last Saturday.

With recent heart-stoppers Winx has added more theatre to performances: missed the kick by four lengths in the Warwick Stakes followed by being off the bit near the turn, in peril until the last 50 metres, and without the assistance of Hugh Bowman’s dropped whip, did what champions do – win, alas not in the manner of putting rivals to the sword as she did mostly in previous campaigns.

Trainer Chris Waller maintains Winx is at least as good as ever. Perhaps her last two performances were indications she is older, bigger and needs more racing to reach her peak.

But her Melbourne Cup rating by Greg Carpenter, Racing Victoria’s executive general manager – racing, a major player in the handicapping, opined on ABC News Radio’sHoof On The Till, emphasised the weight factor.

Regarded as vastly superior to Irish stayer Order Of St George, top weight this year with 58 kilograms due to being a strong European credentials, Winx (57 kilograms) was receiving two kilos from Red Excitement, who made hackles rise with catch-me-if-you can tactics, in the Chelmsford.

Under handicap conditions Winx would be conceding Red Excitement half the Randwick grandstand. Waller counters stressing the vagaries of weight-for-age racing, sectional times and sprints that can bring the outstanding undone.

Remember, he highlighted how Grand Armee downed Lonhro ($1.26) in the 2004 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick.

Lonhro was great but not in the Winx class, while Grand Armee was considerably better than Red Excitement. And Darren Beadman, on Lonhro, had a bad day at the office.

However,Makybe Diva was a champion. After winning two Melbourne Cups and a Cox Plate, the mare was given 58 kilograms to dull her bid for the remarkable treble but to no avail.

Carpenter spouts weight is the equaliser in the metric two miles, with Comic Court (59.5 kilograms) in 1950 being the last top of the handicap to triumph, supporting the calculation of only 58 kilograms to Order Of St George, trained by Aidan O’Brien with strong links to Lloyd Williams, the Melbourne Cup mastermind.

Carpenter recalled that a “crusty Sydney journalist” was aghast when the handicappers gave Irish stayer Admire Rakti only a half-kilo penalty in the 2014 Melbourne Cup (58.5 kilograms) after his dominance in the Caulfield Cup.

Weight had little to do with the Admire Rakti failure in the Melbourne Cup.

The Japanese stayer returned to the dressing down sheds following the race and dropped dead.

Racing Victoria is attempting to “help to link” the cups by announcing any horse allocated 56 kilograms or above in the Melbourne Cup would not be penalised should they win the Caulfield Cup.

Lack of consultation has peeved VRC chairman Amanda Elliott, but on a more positive note Flemington has an outstanding program on Saturday, an example why betting turnover on Victorian races topped the $6 billion mark last season.

Even without Order Of St George, Williams will be hard to beat in the Melbourne Cup and punters should get some indication at Flemington on Saturday from his six acceptors in the 2500 metre Japan Racing Association Trophy, headed by Melbourne Cup winner Almandin (Damian Oliver), who is upped 4.5 kilograms to 56.5 kilogramsfor the Big One this year.

Williams has switched Kerrin McEvoy, the best two mile jockey in at present, to stablemate Crocodile Rock.

But the presence of Winx, bolstered by the promo for her60 Minutes role this Sunday, beats anything Flemington has to offer.

Get into the company of a champion. Go to Royal Randwick.

The story,The weight and expectation on Winx, first appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald.