Public Accounts Committee sheds members in surprise Northern Territory government motion

The Northern Territory opposition has accused Labor of further “eroding” parliamentary scrutiny after it downsized the committee tasked with examining government spending.

The NT government yesterday voted to shrink the Public Accounts Committee from seven members to five.

Leader of Government Business Natasha Fyles introduced the motion without notice on a day in which the government came under sustained questioning over its standards of transparency and staff behaviour.

She also removed Blain MLA Mark Turner from several parliamentary committees following his expulsion from the Labor caucus last week.

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the government was making another attempt to avoid accountability after it last year scrapped the Legislation Scrutiny Committee — a mechanism it introduced after winning government on a platform of openness and transparency in 2016.

“This is an absolute disgrace,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

“Not only have we not been notified by the government of their intention to further cut scrutiny and erode the ability of opposition and independent members to engage in the scrutiny of government, but we see us ambushed by stealth.”

It means the Public Accounts Committee — which was comprised of four government MLAs, two opposition MLAs and one independent — will now have three government MLAs and two non-government MLAs.

Ms Fyles defended the move as a “straightforward and procedural” motion.

“It is tradition for the government to have majority on the Public Accounts Committee, that is all this motion is about,” Ms Fyles said.

“All we have is a government desperate at every single turn to do anything it can to stop anyone from shining a light on what it is they’re doing,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

“This government will turn a blind eye to anything and everything it can that gets in the way of it ruling with impunity.”

The Public Accounts Committee was recently asked to investigate a government deal that saw a Darwin business walk away with money and land in an attempt to solve a “particularly tricky” zoning issue.

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Victorian holidaymakers asked to check Inverloch sheds with Patricia Backhurst missing from Gippsland

Victorian holidaymakers have been urged to check their homes, sheds and yards as the search for a missing 81-year-old reaches its ninth day.

Patricia Backhurst who was last seen around Screw Creek, east of the seaside town of Inverloch, about 5.23pm on Wednesday March 17.

There are serious concerns for her welfare as she has dementia and has not been seen since.

Police are expecting a large number of Victorians to travel to their holiday houses this weekend and they have been asked to check their property for Patricia.

They have also been urged to keep an eye out on bush walking and beach tracks.

The search for Patricia has been focused in the Inverloch township, the creek where she was last seen and rural properties.

Police Air Wing, the mounted branch, Search and Rescue, the CFA and Parks Victoria have all been involved in the search.

“Patricia, who is physically fit for her age, is familiar with the area and it is not unusual for her to do extended local bush walks,” police said in a statement.

“She was possibly wearing blue jeans and runners.”

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‘Twelve thousand were detained, including 761 minors’. Internal FSB report sheds new light on the number of protesters and detentions at January’s pro-Navalny demonstrations 

There were far fewer people who went to the protests than people who voted for Putin in the elections — this was the Kremlin’s assessment of the pro-Navalny demonstrations that took place across Russia on January 23 and 31. Police officials also supported this statement, reporting less than 10,000 people on the streets of Moscow during the rallies. However, Meduza has uncovered that all this time, the FSB had been collecting its own statistics on the protests — and its findings are at odds with official statements. As evidenced by an internal report, the number of people detained amid the protests was even higher than estimates from human rights groups. And according to the FSB, a total of 90,000 people took part in the countrywide demonstrations. Now, the security service is seriously studying the protest potential of Russian citizens. Meduza special correspondent Liliya Yapparova breaks down the conclusions the FSB has reached so far.

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V-Day: Powerful protest sheds light on a grim statistic

It’s a day that signifies love for so many.

But on Valentine’s Day, one group is continuing to call out the tragically high proportion of girls and women who experience abuse or violence throughout their life.

Gabrielle Griffin is one of organisers of the V Day flashmob protest, to be held at Byron Bay’s Main Beach from 6.30am on Sunday, February 14.

Ms Griffin said the annual event was first organised by Byron Shire’s citizen of the year, Zenith Virago, nine years ago.

“It all was started by Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues,” Ms Griffin said.

“She decided to start this movement, One Billion Rising.”

This came from the United Nations statistic that one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetime.

“All around the world on Valentine’s Day, women all around the world come together and do this dance (and) protest against violence against women and children,” she said.

“Men are totally welcome but come to the sidelines or come with a woman, come with a friend.

“It’s about empowering women to stand up, be visible, be heard.”

She said the group will dance to a song, then take a swim in the ocean if conditions are safe.

“It’s just about coming together as a community,” she said.

“I think generally there’s a greater awareness in the community of not needing to be ashamed and (speaking out) the whole Me Too movement is a great example of that.”

But with tensions high as communities deal with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, she said it was still as important as ever to speak out.

“We’re trying to make the world a better place,” she said.

“It’s a great empowering day.

“For some women it’s very moving to be seen as a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“It can be very validating, to say ‘yes that happened to me too but here I am, I survived’.”

V-Day Byron Bay will held from 6.30am Sunday, with the dance from 7am. All welcome.

Ms Griffin said the Vagina Conversations sessions, at Byron Theatre from 7.30pm on Monday and Tuesday, had almost sold out. Proceeds go to the Women’s Resource Service – Byron Escape Fund.

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Study Sheds New Light on Russia’s Dyatlov Pass Mountain Mystery

The mysterious deaths of nine young hikers in the winter of 1959 at a remote pass in the Ural mountains has fascinated Russia for decades and spawned countless theories from aliens to a botched nuclear test.

Now research published Thursday in the journal Communications Earth and Environment has added weight to a natural explanation for the deaths of the experienced mountaineers, whose frozen bodies were found scattered across the snowy landscape, some with terrible injuries. 

With no survivors and several questions left unanswered, doubts over the “Dyatlov Pass Mystery” have lingered despite an official inquiry that last year ruled the students had died in an avalanche.

The new research suggests that a combination of factors — including a cut made into the snow when the trekkers pitched their tent and a build-up of snow by strong, icy winds — triggered a delayed avalanche that drove the students outside into temperatures of  minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit).

“Several parts of the Dyatlov Pass Mystery will never be explained, because no one survived to tell the story,” said co-author Johan Gaume, who heads the Snow Avalanche Simulation Laboratory at EPFL in Switzerland.

Conspiracy theories

On the night of February 1, 1959, hikers led by Igor Dyatlov set up camp on the slope of the Kholat Saykhl, “Dead Mountain.”

At some point after midnight something unexpected caused expedition members to cut their way out of the tent and escape towards a forest, more than a kilometer downslope, without appropriate clothes.

Some of the bodies were found strangely discolored or had missing eyeballs. Others had internal injuries but no outer signs of trauma. One man’s body registered a high level of radiation, while one woman’s tongue was missing. 

A criminal case was opened and closed soon after. It remained classified until the 1970s.

The Dyatlov Pass incident became one of Russia’s greatest mysteries, inspiring numerous books, documentaries and feature films dedicated to the tragedy.

Among the different theories circulated over the decades were an attack by a yeti-like creature, an explosion caused by a secret weapons test, falling rocket debris, or even some unknown psychological force that drove the hikers to kill each other.

Gaume said he was first made aware of the story in 2019, when he was contacted by a journalist about the decision to reopen the case.

“I got truly fascinated,” he told AFP.

He teamed up with Alexander Puzrin, a professor at ETH Zurich, who had experience in forensic geotechnical investigations.

‘Brutal force’

Prosecutors last year concluded that the group was killed by an avalanche and found that most had died of hypothermia.

But questions remained.

These included how an avalanche could have happened on such a slight slope; how it could have been triggered hours after the tent was pitched; and why several of the group had traumatic injuries not normally seen in avalanches.  

The researchers created an analytical model to look at slab avalanche release under the environmental conditions in which the mountaineers set up their tent.

Their analysis suggests the hikers could have unknowingly set up camp — hacking a ledge into the frozen ground for shelter — on a weak layer of snow.

During the night, winds may have deposited more snow in a slab above the tent and researchers estimate the avalanche could have been triggered between 9.5 and 13.5 hours after the hikers set up camp.

The study also used simulations of the injuries — taking into account that the hikers would have been lying down when the incident happened — and found they fitted with the autopsy reports.

Gaume said the study was “the most exciting case I ever worked on.”

“We felt like detectives!”

He stressed however that the researchers do not claim to have solved the mystery.

“I think it is also a great story of courage and friendship in the face of a brutal force of nature,” he said.

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Working from home – How the spread of sheds threatens cities | Britain

ACROSS THE gardens of Britain, in cities and suburbs, people are building sheds. “We have never seen such an increase in orders,” says Paul Deary of the Garden Shed Company, whose family has been in the business for 35 years. “People have gone shed crazy.” The Timber Trade Federation reports that in October, the last month for which statistics are available, imports of softwood were 34% higher than a year earlier. With stocks running low, what wood is available is quickly snapped up.

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A garden shed used to be mostly a place to store a lawnmower, or, if it was on an allotment, a place to discuss brassica problems and “dole out the tea and Hobnobs whilst the rain falls outside,” in the words of Michael Rand, an expert allotment gardener. But the odd brain-worker (especially the irascible type) has long put it to more productive use. Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas wrote in sheds. George Bernard Shaw had one in his Hertfordshire garden that rotated to face the sun.

The structures now being built are also often intended for work, although they are grander than the ones those pioneer shed-writers used. Green Retreats, which mostly builds garden offices but also garden gyms and the like, says that overall sales grew by 113% between 2019 and 2020. Larger, fancier structures with things like plastered walls are especially popular.

This has important implications for cities. Urban scholars like Richard Florida and Edward Glaeser (who spoke about the future of cities at Policy Exchange, a British think-tank, this week) are busy trying to work out whether the rise in home-working that has occurred during the covid-19 pandemic will endure when the virus ebbs. If it does, many service jobs in cities, from baristas to taxi drivers, will disappear. Public-transport systems will struggle. The value of city-centre property will tank.

The shed boom makes that outcome more likely. A white-collar worker who has tried to work from the kitchen table for the past nine months might be keen to return to the office. A worker who has an insulated garden shed with Wi-Fi will be less so. Joel Bird, who builds bespoke sheds, is certain that his clients envisage a long-term change in their working habits. “They don’t consider it to be temporary,” he says. “They’re spending too much money.”

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Spread of the shed”

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NIMH » NIH-funded Study Sheds Light on Abnormal Neural Function in Rare Genetic Disorder

Findings show deficits in the electrical activity of cortical cells; possible targets for treatment for 22q11.2 deletion syndrome

A genetic study has identified neuronal abnormalities in the electrical activity of cortical cells derived from people with a rare genetic disorder called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. The overexpression of a specific gene and exposure to several antipsychotic drugs helped restore normal cellular functioning. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in Nature Medicine, sheds light on factors that may contribute to the development of mental illnesses in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and may help identify possible targets for treatment development.

22q11.2 deletion syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the deletion of a piece of genetic material at location q11.2 on chromosome 22. People with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome can experience heart abnormalities, poor immune functioning, abnormal palate development, skeletal differences, and developmental delays. In addition, this deletion confers a 20-30% risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an up to 30-fold increase in risk for psychosis. 22q11.2 deletion syndrome is the most common genetic copy number variant found in those with ASD, and up to a quarter of people with this genetic syndrome develop a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

“This is the largest study of its type in terms of the number of patients who donated cells, and it is significant for its focus on a key genetic risk factor for mental illnesses,” said David Panchision, Ph.D., chief of the Developmental Neurobiology Program at the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. “Importantly, this study shows consistent, specific patient-control differences in neuronal function and a potential mechanistic target for developing new therapies for treating this disorder.”

While some effects of this genetic syndrome, such as cardiovascular and immune concerns, can be successfully managed, the associated psychiatric effects have been more challenging to address. This is partly because the underlying cellular deficits in the central nervous system that contribute to mental illnesses in this syndrome are not well understood. While recent studies of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome in rodent models have provided some important insights into possible brain circuit-level abnormalities associated with the syndrome, more needs to be understood about the neuronal pathways in humans.

To investigate the neural pathways associated with mental illnesses in those with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Sergiu Pasca, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, Stanford, California, along with a team of researchers from several other universities and institutes, created induced pluripotent stems cells — cells derived from adult skin cells reprogramed into an immature stem-cell-like state — from 15 people with 22q11.2 deletion and 15 people without the syndrome. The researchers used these cells to create, in a dish, three-dimensional brain organoids that recapitulate key features of the developing human cerebral cortex.

“What is exciting is that these 3D cellular models of the brain self-organize and, if guided to resemble the cerebral cortex, for instance, contain functional glutamatergic neurons of deep and superficial layers and non-reactive astrocytes and can be maintained for years in culture. So, there is a lot of excitement about the potential of these patient-derived models to study neuropsychiatric disease,” said Dr. Pasca.

The researchers analyzed gene expression in the organoids across 100 days of development. They found changes in the expression of genes linked to neuronal excitability in the organoids that were created using cells from individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. These changes prompted the researchers to take a closer look at the properties associated with electrical signaling and communication in these neurons. One way neurons communicate is electrically, through controlled changes in the positive or negative charge of the cell membrane. This electrical charge is created when ions, such as calcium, move into or out of the cell through small channels in the cell’s membrane. The researchers imaged thousands of cells and recorded the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons derived from individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and found abnormalities in the way calcium was moved into and out of the cells that were related to a defect in the resting electrical potential of the cell membrane.

A gene called DGCR8 is part of the genetic material deleted in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, and it has been previously associated with neuronal abnormalities in rodent models of this syndrome. The researchers found that heterozygous loss of this gene was sufficient to induce the changes in excitability they had observed in 22q11.2-derived neurons and that overexpression of DGCR8 led to partial restoration of normal cellular functioning. In addition, treating 22q11.2 deletion syndrome neurons with one of three antipsychotic drugs (raclopride, sulpiride, or olanzapine) restored the observed deficits in resting membrane potential of the neurons within minutes.  

“We were surprised to see that loss in control neurons and restoration in patient neurons of the DGCR8 gene can induce and, respectively, restore the excitability, membrane potential, and calcium defects,” said Pasca. “Moving forward, this gene or the downstream microRNA(s) or the ion channel/transporter they regulate may represent novel therapeutic avenues in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.”


Khan, T. A., Revah, O., Gordon, A., Yoon, S., Krawisz, A. K., Goold, C., Sun, Y., Kim, C., Tian, Y., Li, M., Schaepe, J. M., Ikeda, K., Amin, N. D., Sakai, N., Yazawa, M., Kushan, L., Nishino, S., Porteus, M. H., Rapoport, J. L. … Paşca, S. (2020). Neuronal defects in a human cellular model of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Nature Medicine. doi: 10.1038/s41591-020-1043-9


MH107800; MH100900; MH085953; MH060233; MH094714


About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

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Research sheds new light on hay fever symptoms and treatments for young Australians

Young Australians with hay fever are suffering through seasonal sneezes and nose irritations unnecessarily, according to new research from Sydney’s Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.

The study of 800 children with hay fever, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, found while 90 percent of children take medication to manage their symptoms, 50 per cent still didn’t have the condition under control.

Those children were also more likely to have poorer physical and mental health and fewer happy days compared to their peers.

The study of 800 children with hay fever, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, found while 90 percent of children take medication to manage their symptoms, 50 per cent still didn’t have the condition under control. (9News)

“There is a lot of children out there who are suffering as a result of their hay fever,” said lead researcher, Professor Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich.

“Parents have reported that their children have disruption of sleep, they’re more irritable, that they find they are more distractible and they’ve also reported that they have difficulty doing school work and other activities that are part of their day to day life.”

Hay fever, also known as Allergic Rhinitis, affects one in five or 4.6 million Australians. It’s triggered by house dust, animal fur, pollens, fungal spores and air pollutants that irritate the nose, causing sniffles, nasal congestion, sneezing, and watery or itchy eyes.

Chloe Oliver, 11, has had hay fever for as long as she can remember.

The Year 6 student carries over-the-counter medicines in her backpack to take when her symptoms flare.

“When it’s windy and dusty, sometimes in the classroom, there will be heaps of dust and I can feel a sneeze coming on,” Chloe told 9News.

“It’s difficult because in class I have to go and get tissues every day.”

Hay fever research
While over-the-counter antihistamines are a popular choice, Professor Bosnic-Anticevich says nasal sprays are the gold standard overseas. (9News)
Hay fever research
Chloe Oliver, 11 (R), has had hay fever for as long as she can remember. (9News)

While over-the-counter antihistamines are a popular choice, Professor Bosnic-Anticevich says nasal sprays are the gold standard overseas.

She says parents should be on the lookout for symptoms of a runny and itchy nose and if their child seems more tired and irritable than usual and if they suspect hay fever, rather than reaching for over the counter options, speak to a pharmacist or doctor first to make sure they’re getting the right treatment.

“It’s really just knowing what’s best for your child,” Professor Bosnic-Anticevich said.

“We’ve had parents talk to us and tell us they’ve noticed really significant changes in their children, in how happy they are and just their ability to do day-to-day activities.”

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Geelong CEO sheds light on “messy” Jeremy Cameron deal and Jack Steven’s struggles before retirement

Geelong CEO Brian Cook has shed further light on the “messy” trade negotiations with GWS for Jeremy Cameron.

Cameron eventually signed for the Cats on a reported five-year deal in the dying stages of the trade period and Cook says it was a nerve-wracking time for all concerned.

“The best word to describe it was messy, really messy,” Cook told SEN’s Dwayne’s World.

“We had seven emails ready to go and we only had to press one so to speak, but there were some renegotiations in the last 90 seconds around the deal.

“I can’t imagine how Jeremy was feeling. It was a really tight, tough and challenging last two minutes to say the least.”

Geelong handed over three first-round picks – 13, 15 and 20 – and a future fourth-round selection to the Giants while the Cats landed Cameron and got two future second-round picks back.

Cook also explained how Jack Steven’s decision to retire came about after just one season at Geelong.

“That was a joint decision,” he said.

“In the hubs you see firsthand how people live and what their challenges are and in a really human and caring way, it was obvious to us that Jack was struggling to meet the full commitments of high-performance AFL athletes and what was required.

“We met with both him and his player manager and we agreed that Jack should look at other things in life, particularly around his physical and mental health.

“It happened at the end of the hub after the Grand Final and all parties admitted and accepted that there was probably a better alternative than another year of AFL football for Jack.”

Steven, 30, decided to hang up the boots with another year to run on his Cats

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Melbourne sheds more light on what the Ben Brown deal will look like

Melbourne GM of Football Josh Mahoney has confirmed the club won’t give up a first-round pick in the Ben Brown deal.

The 27-year-old nominated the Dees in recent days, after North Melbourne publicly put him on the trade table in September.

Mahoney said that due to the uncertainty of list sizes and the number of conversations the club is having with several players, they wouldn’t be parting with a first-round pick in exchange for the key forward.

“I don’t think it’ll be a first rounder (we’ll be giving up) for Ben Brown,” he said on AFL Trade Radio’s Late Trade.

“We’re finding this year that so many things are happening with different clubs, I think that (the deal) play out over the next couple of days.”

Mahoney said it was a significant coup that Brown, who has kicked over 60 goals in three of the last four seasons, had chosen Melbourne as his club of choice.

He said that after being made aware he was available, the Demons made it a priority to secure his services.

“It is really good that Ben Brown was able to nominate us,” he said.

“It was probably late in the year that it was known that he could be available, we think it’s a really important role for us.

“We’ve only just started conversations with North Melbourne, but hopefully we get that done in the next week and a half.”

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