Dealing with the unexpected is part of a principal’s job


How long have you been doing this job and what first sparked your interest in this area?

Since graduating from The University of Wollongong in 1996, I have taught in a variety of schools on the South Coast of NSW and on the Northern Beaches. I have been the principal at Allambie Heights Public School for the past eight years. My interest in the role came from the leadership opportunities I was provided as an assistant principal at my previous school. It was not something I necessarily went looking for. The opportunity was there so I stepped out of my comfort zone and embraced the challenge.

What do you like most about the job?

The most important, enjoyable and rewarding part of my role is the children. In any role in a school, you need to have the connection with children. If you don’t have this connection, a school is not the best place for you.

Although I don’t have a class, I still visit classrooms as much as possible so I can see the work we do as a leadership team and a staff in action. Seeing the children reach their own personal learning goals and the difference we can make for our community is priceless.

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What was the most unexpected thing you have had to do in your job?

No two days are the same and something unexpected pops up all the time. This year has been our most unexpected year yet due to COVID-19. I draw upon previous experience to help solve the unexpected and if I am stuck, I know I have colleagues who I can phone for support.

How transferable are your skills?

While studying, I worked in hospitality and the people skills I developed in this industry have been hugely beneficial throughout my teaching career. Teaching develops so many skills and my current role has extended these skills. As a principal you do it all and I could use these skills to go into a variety of corporate or public sector roles.

How have you coped during the COVID-19 crisis?

I am extremely proud of the way our students, staff and parents have embraced this unexpected challenge and the way our community has been integral to making the year as successful as possible for all. We all pulled together with the focus being on our students and the supportive way in which staff worked together, supported by parents and our community, was admirable.

What advice do you have for people wanting to get into this career?

Teaching is a vocation and way of life. It is challenging, rewarding and purposeful all rolled into one. Teaching is great as a career straight out of school or if you choose to go into it later in life. There is no greater experience needed than a genuine care, concern and connection with children as teaching really is all about relationships.

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Why a Biden victory may turn out to be an unexpected boon for the Canadian oilpatch


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“To the degree that there are these centrist politicians going to the Senate Energy Committee, he’s going to be put in a position where he will have to provide votes for not just green energy projects, but all-of-the-above energy projects,” Morse said.

The same considerations would limit the potential of an outright fracking ban, which would require legislation, he said.

As a result, Biden in the White House would be able to limit the issuance of new licences on federal lands, but would need Congress to pass an outright ban on fracking, limiting the potential that such a ban would come to pass.

Morse is more confident that a Biden administration would engage with Iran to renegotiate a nuclear agreement, potentially paving the way for that country’s production to come back to the market in stages in 2021 or later.

Currently, two million barrels of Iranian oil production are sitting out of the market as a result of U.S. sanctions on the country. Should those barrels come back into the market, even in stages, it would have a bearish effect on global oil prices at a time of anemic consumption.

Global oil demand is currently about eight million bpd lower than it was at the beginning of the year, so adding production from either Iran or Venezuela would be “disruptive,” said Ian Nieboer, managing director of Enverus, an energy analytics provider.

“A disruptive amount of volume could be re-entering the market at a time when we probably least need it,” he said. “It’s not only the magnitude of the volumes that can come back, we’re in this COVID-19 period and the sensitivity to supply in the market is big.”

Nieboer said various policy factors in the U.S. are in flux, so what effect a Biden presidency would have on global oil markets is extremely uncertain.

“It’s an important moment in the energy industry, full stop,” he said. “It’s an important moment in U.S. history, full stop.”

• Email: gmorgan@nationalpost.com | Twitter:





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Free Webinar | Nov. 23: Adapting to the Unexpected – Preparing your Business and Pivoting in Real-Time


Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena discusses what it takes to pivot in real-time and make fast decisions that can mean the difference between standing strong or shutting down.


2 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


When the pandemic hit and the world went into lockdown, businesses had to act fast and pivot to keep the lights on. 

Innovations like contactless deliveries helped e-commerce and the restaurant industry continue to operate and even thrive, but what do you do if your business relies on thousands of people gathering together to run, climb and push their bodies to their physical limits within inches of one another?

That’s the situation that Joe De Sena and his company Spartan Race faced and continues to face during these unprecedented times. But rather than call it quits in the face of a seemingly impossible situation, Joe and his team went to work to find solutions to keep customers engaged, revenue coming in and the company alive.

In this lively, no-holds-barred discussion with the fearless CEO, learn what it takes to pivot in real-time and make fast decisions that can mean the difference between standing strong or shutting down.

Key Takeaways:

  • Critical cash-saving strategies
  • Being productive during forced downtime  
  • Keeping your staff motivated and engaged
  • Expanding your digital offering
  • E-commerce strategies
  • Finding new revenue streams

Register Now

Joe De Sena is the founder and CEO of Spartan Race, Inc. De Sena has been an entrepreneur since his pre-teens. From selling fireworks at age 8, to starting a t-shirt business in high school, to building a multimillion-dollar pool business in college, to creating a Wall Street trading firm, De Sena is a living definition of “entrepreneur.” De Sena is the New York Times bestselling author of SPARTAN UP! A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life and SPARTAN FIT! 30 Days. Transform Your Mind. Transform Your Body. Commit to Grit.



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CNA explores Singapore on foot (Day 5): An unexpected guide and finally, the big finish


SINGAPORE: My eyes had just about adjusted to the sunlight filtering through the curtains at my resort room in Lim Chu Kang when the phone started buzzing. 

“No Caller ID” read the screen – surely this was too early in the morning for a scammer pretending to be an official from China.

“Hi Matthew, this is Zoe Tay. Have you guys started your walk today yet?” came a familiar voice. “I’m here outside. Hope I haven’t missed you guys yet!”

It was the morning of the fifth and final day of our expedition and actress Zoe Tay was surprising us with bread and the offer to be our walking companion to start the day.

She had already spent a morning with us earlier in the walk, after reaching out on Instagram. That was strange enough. 

But just as we had started to become addicted to our long exploration of Singapore, so it seemed that Zoe also wanted more of this experience. Hence, the unexpected early morning call.

I had to pinch myself to make sure this was real.

FUN IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

We had mixed feelings before the start of the last day of our marathon walk around Singapore.

Walking through Bollywood Veggies with Zoe Tay. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

On the one hand, we were looking forward to completing the journey and enjoying a long rest. On the other, the route for the day would take us through Lim Chu Kang road and Jalan Bahar, areas which my colleague Gaya Chandrmohan and I only knew to contain cemeteries and army camps.

There would be hardly any pedestrianised walkways, and with trucks hurtling up and down along the two-lane road weaving through the Kranji countryside, we would have to keep our eyes wide open.

So Zoe’s arrival gave us a welcome boost. Having grown up in Lim Chu Kang, this was an area she was more than familiar with. She proved to be the perfect guide.

And so, what would have probably seemed like overgrown jungle to us took on so much more significance as she patiently pointed to areas she was familiar with from her childhood and how they used to look.

Singapore On Foot Day 5 (8)

Zoe Tay pointing out where the coffee shops and market used to be when she lived along Lim Chu Kang Road as a teenager. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

There was the shop in which she permed her hair for the first time and then regretted how it turned out. There was the community centre where she was given her BCG injection and the nurse was so rough that it led to her fear of needles. There was one of the first HDB blocks in the area, where she played on the playground slide and got too tanned.

The countryside had come alive. 

Instead of long stretches of anonymous undergrowth and bland roads, Gaya and I were now seeing into Singapore’s past. For sure, this area has changed – like so much of the country – and learning a little of its history was a joy.

En route to the area of Zoe’s old home, we visited Bollywood Veggies, a sprawling farm nestled in the Kranji countryside. We had the pleasure of a short guided tour in the one of the compound’s gardens and I even had a go at harvesting rice – thoroughly enjoyable.

Despite the farm’s far-flung location, it was already seeing excited guests come through its gates as early as 9am in the morning, eager to explore the compound or enjoy breakfast at the farm’s bistro.

Singapore on Foot Day 5 journey completed map

Leaving the farm with a belly full of banana bread, I made a mental note to return. Now if only there were a public bus service plying this route rather than the sole shuttle service!

With Zoe bidding farewell to us after about three hours on the road, it was left for us to conquer the remaining kilometres – ending our journey just as we started off.

Singapore On Foot Day 5 (3)

Walking towards Jurong under the unforgiving midday sun. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

This proved to be easier said than done under the fierce heat of the midday sun. We’d foolishly neglected to purchase water when we’d set off and the back of our throats were beginning to dry up.

When a petrol station finally materialised in the distance, we couldn’t get there fast enough.

A FINAL FLOURISH

After some resting, drinking and stretching, we were once again back on the road, with all eyes on the finish line.

This was the moment that we had been thinking of for some time now, and as the signboard for Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre came into view, we couldn’t help but break into smiles under our sweat soaked face masks.

Singapore On Foot Day 5 (1)

As unglamorous as it seems, we made sure to stretch at every opportunity we got. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

It had been a journey that had seen us clock a distance we wouldn’t otherwise have walked (140km instead of the originally planned 110km), seen us explore parts of Singapore that we’d otherwise never had chanced upon and meet people that we’d never otherwise have met.

The island had proven to offer so much and then some more. From the swaying lalang fields of Jurong Lake Gardens to the waterlogged mangroves of Sungei Buloh, we’d had an adventure that we and our aching bodies wouldn’t be forgetting any time soon.

We’d done it. But there was one more task left unfinished. 

I trudged up the escalator with my backpack in search of that elusive bowl of lor mee that I had wanted for breakfast on the first day. And just as I had made my way to the stall in question, I noticed the hawkers packing up for the day.

My lor mee would have to wait – perhaps until the next round island trek.



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The U.S. Election takes an unexpected turn


According to White House statements, President Trump has contracted COVID-19, but Dr Martin Hirst says there are reasons to be sceptical.

THE SO-CALLED “October surprise” is more folklore than fact, but it is a long-standing myth that something spectacular will happen in the last month of a presidential campaign season that upsets the pundits and throws the election outcome into doubt. President Donald Trump being infected with COVID-19 – after calling it a “Democrat hoax”, saying it would go away like a miracle and mocking presidential candidate Joe Biden for wearing a mask – is certainly one of the biggest surprises.

Since the weekend, Trump has been sequestered in the Truman suite at the Walter Reed Medical Centre after reportedly receiving a cocktail of expensive and largely untested treatments. But the messaging about Trump’s condition from a stunned and confused White House has been confusing.

The election campaign is not on hold, but the tempo has certainly shifted and the scheduled presidential debates are now likely to be cancelled. It’s hard to tell who might benefit the most from this shift, but Trump entered October a long way behind in the polls and seemingly losing even more support as a result of his blustering and bullying performance in the first debate.

This is a big and continuing story, so this is an attempt to put what we know so far into context. There’s surely more to come, including the election itself. If Trump is sidelined for the next two weeks, it will make it hard for him to energise his base and continue his flagrant attacks on postal and absentee ballots which, to be frank, appears to be his entire re-election strategy.

Does Trump have COVID-19?

It seems odd that we have to ask this question given that Trump is in hospital and the official White House position is that he, Melania and a growing number of his close advisors have all tested positive in the past week. We also are probably not surprised that the President has become infected because his increasingly unhinged public rallies have been dubbed the “superspreader tour” because of the lax precautions in place.

However, ask it we must.

Trump’s whole public persona is built on a Horcrux of lies. He has lied with impunity (it seems) his entire adult life — from avoiding military service because of alleged “bone spurs” to his constant (and hollow) boasts about his wealth, his IQ, his golf handicap, his achievements as President and his prowess with women. Trump’s Presidency began with a ludicrous lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration nearly four years ago. Since then, according to fact-checkers at The Washington Post, Trump has amassed a total in excess of 20,000 lies (as of three months ago).

In his debate debacle with Joe Biden just over a week ago, Trump lied incessantly, loudly and rudely. CNN reporter Daniel Dale, who specialises in cataloguing and debunking Trump’s mistruths, described the debate as an avalanche of deliberate lies. We simply cannot take anything Trump says at face value, which is why there’s been a cynical response on Twitter.

Then there’s the timing. The tweet from Trump alerting the world to his condition was sent from the White House a little after 1 A.M. Washington time. This was only hours after new recordings of Melania whining about Christmas decorations and refugee children on the border – replete with the “f-bomb” – were released to CNN. It was only two days after Trump’s disastrous performance in the first debate which everybody except Trump gave to Joe Biden. Trump has plenty of reasons to hide out at a hospice for a couple of weeks.

Donald Trump doing it tough down in Dixie

Can we believe Trump?

People are reluctant to believe Trump – or his doctors, staff and media surrogates – and perhaps rightly so. There are elements of the #TrumpHasCovid narrative that are dodgy.

According to his doctors, Trump is continuing to carry out his duties as President from the hospital. So how sick can he really be? Well, we know that, so far, he’s not on a ventilator or taking oxygen.

There’s also been some conflicting reporting about his treatment. The first reported White House statement said he was being given a blood serum containing antibodies and a cocktail of drugs (funnily enough, not hydroxychloroquine or bleach enemas). The antibody therapy is an unproven treatment from the Regeneron company which spends big on political candidates and lobbying. It’s unclear if the company and affiliated bodies are donating to Trump’s campaign.

Within hours of the first statement, there was an update which said the President was being given Remdesivir which is still in trials and only classed as “experimental”.

Then, over the weekend the story changed again. Doctors and White House officials seemed to contradict themselves and briefed journalists with differing accounts of just how serious Trump’s condition is.

If this sounds a little confusing, it is. You might think that there would be some pretty strict treatment protocols around what drugs can be given to the President and throwing one unproven treatment on top of another doesn’t sound like something competent doctors would do. We’ll see. I’m sure this isn’t going unnoticed elsewhere.

U.S. military leaders line up to condemn Commander-in-Chief Trump

What happens now?

Well, in order to clear our heads, let’s assume that Trump has COVID-19 and that he is likely to be in hospital for a bit longer and in some form of isolation for several weeks. This gives us a chance to look at the various scenarios that could emerge.

  1. The Pelosi option:

According to the 25th Amendment, there is a protocol for power to be handed down through a pre-ordained chain of command if the President is incapacitated. The first-in-line is Vice President Mike Pence, but given his proximity to Trump, it is not beyond possibility that he, too, will be infected with COVID-19. Second-in-line is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

The catch is that, while ever Trump is conscious, he is not going to give up power. He’d hate to give it to Pence and he’d explode with rage if Pelosi became President in his absence. So, my guess is that, short of Trump being in a coma, this scenario is unlikely to eventuate.

  1. The new Republican candidate option:

If Trump is too sick to continue and is effectively pushed into medical retirement (he won’t go quietly), then theoretically a hole opens up on the Republican presidential ticket. It’s too late to withdraw his nomination and millions of voters have already cast their ballots. However, it is apparently still on the table that Trump could be replaced. The question is, which Republican would be stupid or venal enough to drink from that poisoned chalice?

  1. The miraculous recovery option:

A long shot in my view. I think Trump is genuinely ill (I could be wrong). I also don’t see how this scenario plays out in his favour. If he does suddenly bounce back as if nothing happened, the explosion of cynicism and anger is likely to increase and, if anything, tip even more waiverers into the Biden camp.

  1. The sympathy vote option:

This scenario doesn’t require the COVID-19 narrative to be true or false (likely false, in my opinion, if this plays out). Trump stays in Walter Reed and there’s a carefully crafted “wag the dog” plot developed that allows him to make strategic pronouncements and maintain a level of illness that keeps him out of the public gaze but generates a wave of sympathy that pushes voters in his direction.

I’m not saying that would work, but I also don’t think it can be entirely ruled out. Remember who we’re dealing with here — Trump’s inner circle will do almost anything to prop him up.

Let’s also not forget that the Trump strategy of voter suppression, particularly of Black and working-class White voters, is still in play. This campaign of knee-capping campaigns in largely Democrat-held urban electorates has been outsourced to sympathetic governors like Greg Abbott in Texas (who is being sued) and freelancers like the notorious and disgraced Right-wing troll Jacob Wohl and his bagman buddy, Jack Burkman.

The curvaceous chanteuse is not even in the dressing room. Watch this space.

Dr Martin Hirst is an Independent Australia columnist, a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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Unexpected symptoms in some COVID-19 patients


People with COVID-19 are developing lesser-known symptoms than the more recognisable red flags of a cough, fever and sore throat, doctors say.

Hospital rooms are increasingly seeing virus-infected patients presenting with unexpected symptoms such as headache and even conjunctivitis.

And the danger is that because people don’t associate conjunctivitis or a headache alone to COVID-19, they’re unlikely to be tested.

“Although fever, cough and shortness of breath may be the most common symptoms, if 10 per cent or 15 per cent of patients present with COVID – and we have several thousand cases in Melbourne – there will be presentations with headache and with conjunctivitis,” Dr Carmel Crock, the head of emergency at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, told the ABC’s 7.30.

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7.30 reported the hospital’s emergency department recently treated two patients with ear and headaches who gave them a “nasty surprise” when they later tested positive for COVID-19.

“They were seen by our ear, nose and throat doctor, who ruled out an ear cause of the pain and they were then referred to see the eye doctor as well, who tried to rule out eye causes for the headache,” Dr Crocks said.

“One of the patients had a preoperative COVID test, which was positive. Then we saw another case about 48 hours later and again that patient, we actually referred for COVID testing and that COVID testing was positive.”

ABC medical expert Dr Norman Swan said the danger of the scenario was because the patients didn’t meet the testing criteria for COVID-19, “at least one of these patients hung around the emergency department for some time, rather than being isolated”.

The eye infection conjunctivitis was also emerging as a more surprising symptom experienced by people with COVID-19.

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The World Health Organisation has added it to its list of less common symptoms, along with headache, aches and pains, diarrhoea and skin rash, among others.

“In the international literature, COVID can present with conjunctivitis,” Dr Crocks said.

“We have been really particular with our PPE around patients with conjunctivitis in case that’s the first presentation of COVID,” she said.

Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services identifies fever, chills or sweats, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose and loss of sense of smell or taste as key COVID-19 symptoms that may prompt testing.

NSW Health also notes the possibility of muscle and joint pain, headache and fatigue.

Dr Swan said relying mainly on respiratory symptoms as possible signals of COVID-19 was “probably a mistake”.

He said while experiences varied, a recent study found symptoms typically appeared in the following order: fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and headaches, and then sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Loss of smell and taste, red eyes and rashes may also develop.

The study by researchers from the University of South California was based on symptoms of more than 55,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“The point from the evidence is that linking COVID too strongly to respiratory symptoms is probably a mistake,” Dr Swan said.

‘WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW SHE HAD COVID’

It comes as parents share their concerns about the troubling impact of COVID on their children and worries about future implications.

Medical experts have accepted for some time children experience milder COVID-19 symptoms compared to adults but doctors are now seeing that many children have no symptoms, Dr Shidan Tosif, a paediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, told 7.30.

What we’re also seeing is that many children are asymptomatic as well,” Dr Tosif said.

“What we’re seeing is that children who are asymptomatic have lower viral loads, which fits with them being less likely to transmit the virus as well.”

Melbourne mum Jessica Foggie told the program she and her husband caught COVID-19 earlier this month, along with her four-year-old daughter.

But while Ms Foggie and her husband were bedridden with a nasty dose of the virus, their daughter showed no sign of being ill.

“We were religiously checking temps every day,” Ms Foggie said. “No temperature, not even a cough or a sniffle. She’s been running around, her usual self.

“She’s been asymptomatic the whole time — you wouldn’t even know she had COVID if I didn’t tell you.”

But in some cases, children who do show obvious signs of the virus are suffering from symptoms much later.

New Jersey mum Jennifer Culligan told 7.30 she became sick with COVID-19 along with her two daughters, aged seven and three, in early March.

While the girls appeared to recover in about a week, one of her daughters still suffers recurring nosebleeds and nasal congestion, about five months after she was initially diagnosed.

Ms Culligan said she was deeply worried about any lasting psychological and physical impacts on her children, especially as her older daughter prepares to return to school.

“It definitely caused major anxiety for myself,” she said. “I think a bit for her sister as well, they share a room. And you’re hearing her coughing throughout the night.

“Do (the girls) have antibodies? I haven’t had them tested yet. I have them but apparently they only last for so long. Do I want to go through all this again because what if we can get it again?”

Ms Foggie said she was also concerned about any long-term impact of the virus on her daughter.

“As we’re learning more about COVID and people are discovering more about how it affects us long term, my main hope is that there’s no lasting impacts for her,” she said.

“I understand she’s had no symptoms now but we don’t really know how it works inside the bodies.”



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Emergency call leads to unexpected friendship between two young brothers and a Toronto police officer


TORONTO —
A Toronto Police officer and his canine partners made a couple of young friends while responding to an emergency call last weekend.

Nine-year-old Steven and seven-year-old Liam are two very typical brothers, with not so typical stories.

Steven lives with an incurable brain condition known as Chiari malformation. He’s already undergone two brain surgeries, and faces several other medical challenges. Liam has Asperger syndrome. Ask what they have in common, and they’ll tell you—nothing.

But according to their mother, both boys have always been fascinated by policing, and both boys have wanted to be police officers for as long as she can remember.

She says that trips to SickKids Hospital aren’t complete without a stop at the Toronto Police Museum, where they’re on a first name basis with the curator. And both boys have had the opportunity to ride-along with officers, and meet former Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders.

For the past several months, they’ve mainly been stuck indoors. Compromised immune systems mean that COVID-19 presents a greater threat to them than most children, so their parents have kept them inside.

“We’re very scared as parents,” the boys’ mother, Crystal Spice told CTV News Toronto. “Steven and Liam both cannot wear masks, so it’s been a very scary time. We keep them indoors away from everybody. They only come out occasionally when there’s not a lot of people around.”

Last Saturday, there were a lot of people around their Lawrence Avenue apartment building, many of them police in uniform. An emergency call had brought officers to the high-rise, including tactical and K-9 officers. The boys, from their ground floor apartment, opened a window to see a police officer standing right outside.

“I was actually taking cover underneath a balcony on the ground floor,” Const. Scott Aikman told CTV News Toronto. “And I hear a rap, rap, rap on the window behind me. And I looked and there are two kids and their eyes are like saucers.”

Aikman, and his police dogs Baron and Karma, were among the officers dispatched to the call which was happening on an upper floor. After the situation had been safely and peacefully resolved, Aikman returned to the window and this time he did the knocking. The boys came immediately to see what was happening.

Spice described the scene from inside the apartment as the officer ” tapped our window ledge for Baron to jump up and fist pump the boys through the window.”

“And he said ‘if you don’t mind, go get them, come have them meet my other dog Karma,’” Spice said.

Photos taken by their mom show the boys talking with Aikman, and getting the chance to meet and ask questions about his dogs. Spice says the officer and his dogs spent about 20 minutes hanging out with the boys, a welcome change from the isolation of the past months.

“It brought excitement to the boys,” she said. “COVID has been very hard for all families, but especially when you have kids who are immunocompromised and they’ve had to give up their friends, and their teachers, and their routines and everything. It’s very scary. It brought them back to a moment where they could just be kid, and they could wonder and they could hope.”

Speaking to CTV News Toronto on Wednesday at the Toronto Police Dog Services headquarters, Aikman explained that he was drawn to the boys’ excitement over seeing him and his fellow officers at work.

“I’m getting chills just thinking about it,” Aikman said. “It really does warm the heart and it makes you feel like I am doing something good out here, I am helping people, I am making a difference and it’s showing.”

Const. Aikman said after he learned about the boys medical conditions, and heard stories of how they’ve gone out of their way to help others in need, he decided to ask their parents for permission to post a photo to his Facebook account. That photo has now been seen by thousands of people, and he’s received comments from around the world. A testament, he says, to the brothers.

“What a wonderful set of kids these are, like just the genuine love they want to give to the community and to the police it just blew my mind away.”

Spice says her boys consider Aikman, Baron, and Karma their new friends and says plans are already in the works for the five to meet again soon.

“To know that our boys touched him just as much as he touched them, it really meant the world to me.” 



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Calls for private health sector to hand back ‘very substantial unexpected profit’ during coronavirus crisis


A former private health insurance regulator is calling on federal authorities to ensure private health insurers return windfall profits made during the coronavirus crisis to their members.

It comes as Australians attempt to negotiate reductions in premiums or free cover with their health insurers until they are able to visit their practitioners again.

Those with private health cover have continued to pay their insurance premiums, but claims for hospital or extras have been limited, particularly since the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgeries in late March.

Shaun Gath, a health sector consultant and former industry regulator, said even as some elective surgeries resume this week, the month-long freeze had enabled insurers to make huge profits.

“A month’s worth of premium revenue [for the entire sector] is worth about $2 billion, and you would be not too far off the mark to say [the sector] probably would have pocketed a billion of that that they otherwise wouldn’t have expected to have got,” Mr Gath said.

Shaun Gath wears a jacket over a t-shirt.
Shaun Gath says private health insurers have made huge profits during the coronavirus crisis.(Supplied: Shaun Gath)

Industry regulator APRA is due to release its quarterly private health insurance statistics on May 19.

NIB managing director Mark Fitzgibbon admitted insurers would have extra funds for now, but said insurers did not yet know exactly how much and therefore talk of rebates was “premature”.

“We won’t really be in a position to calculate the extent of the savings, although we expect them, until a few months away,” he said.

“Once the dust has settled and the savings associated with COVID-19 are clearer, only then can we make those final judgments.

“It would be irresponsible and prudentially unsound for us to start compensating people with cash rebates, or any other form of financial remedy, until we are clearer about the financial impact on the business.”

Customers feeling ‘outraged, ripped off and short-changed’

Andrew Wynd sits at his desk.
Melbourne physiotherapist Andrew Wynd said he is reconsidering his need for extras cover.(ABC News: Martin McCarthy)

Andrew Wynd, owner of Melbourne-based Balwyn Sports and Physiotherapy, said many of his clients had cancelled appointments in recent weeks but still had to pay their private health premiums, leaving many feeling “outraged … ripped off and short-changed”.

“Personally I think insurers should either refund the last month or at least offer a discount to members,” he said.

Mr Wynd said business at his sports physio practice was down 60 per cent — a costly situation that has forced him to reconsider his own private health insurance cover.

“As soon as the business started suffering and we lost a dramatic amount of income so quickly, we started cancelling everything that we could that we deemed non-essential, and private health insurance, where previously I would look at as essential, we absolutely looked at dropping that,” he said.

Mr Wynd’s business benefits from Australians having insurance — about 60 per cent of his clients have private health with extras cover.

However as he questions his own need for it, he is now taking an unusual step by encouraging his clients to do the same, despite admitting people cancelling their extras cover would be “a risk” to his business.

“I do wonder what impact that would have on the business, but all we can do is continue to offer value to our clients and I think we can continue to do that without the private health industry rebate.”

‘You have to fight and be persistent’

Erin Siqueira next to her child and her husband.
Erin Siqueira negotiated a freeze on her private insurance premium.(Supplied: Erin Siqueira)

Brisbane mother Erin Siqueira relies on her health cover for remedial massage to treat a leg injury, however she has been unable to visit her practitioner since the outbreak of coronavirus.

She negotiated six weeks of free cover with her insurer, Bupa, after sending emails, spending countless hours on the phone and eventually leaving comments on the company’s Facebook page threatening to cancel her membership if Bupa did not respond.

“I guess it’s just frustrating that you have to fight and be persistent before you can get Bupa to offer you something that’s appropriate in these circumstances.”

In a statement Bupa said it “did not seek to benefit from this unprecedented situation” and had set aside $50 million to be used for customers experiencing financial hardship.

The insurer said it had taken “longer than it would have liked” to respond to everyone needing help, given it had received more than 22,000 applications for assistance so far.

It said it was prioritising people who had lost their jobs.

Call for independent oversight 

Mr Gath wants the Federal Government or the Private Health Industry Ombudsman to oversee the return of any profits to customers, to ensure it actually happens and is done equitably.

“The industry is being a bit coy about disclosing what is going on with membership at the moment,” he said.

“There should be some level of independent scrutiny.”

Mark Fitzgibbon wears a suit and tie
NIB’s Mark Fitzgibbon says his company will “do the right thing by our consumers”.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

However NIB’s Mark Fitzgibbon does not see the need for such oversight.

“There is no need for regulatory intervention here. We will do the right thing by our consumers as any other company should do,” he said.

Mr Gath said he expected the insurers to continue to make huge profits in the coming weeks and months.

“The Government has decided to reactivate elective procedures but at about 25 per cent of the normal flow, so for that period of time while we are ramping up [to normal service], the industry will continue to make a very substantial unexpected profit,” he said.

‘They should be returning that money’

Alan Kirkland, chief executive of consumer group Choice, echoed those concerns.

“The private health insurers were already very profitable businesses and they should not be using this time to make even more profits, they should be returning that money to consumers,” he said.

Alan Kirkland wears a collared shirt and suit jacket.
Alan Kirkland from Choice says private health insurers should be giving money back to consumers “right now”.(Supplied)

Mr Kirkland acknowledged the industry delayed a 2.9 per cent premium price rise on April 1 for six months, but said it should be for longer.

“I think it is already early enough to say they don’t need that premium increase at all this year, but even more so we’re reaching the stage where they should be able to tell they can start giving money back,” he said.

Choice said the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgeries and the inability for many private health customers to make extras claims, like physiotherapy and dental, had helped prop up an industry that only months ago was being warned it could collapse if it did not reform.

In February the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) warned the sector it was in a “death spiral” and that smaller private health funds would not survive if insurers did not rein in rising premium costs and provide better benefits.

“The industry’s current trajectory is unsustainable,” APRA executive board member Geoff Summerhayes warned on February 4.

Mr Kirkland said coronavirus has extended a lifeline to the industry.

“[The coronavirus outbreak] has highlighted that there needs to be a much bigger review of private health insurance system,” he said.

“We can’t go back to normal after this, there needs to be a root-and-branch review of private health insurance to see whether we’re getting value for money as a community.”

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