MP ‘Stink lines’ remain after resignation

The “stink lines” around embattled Victorian MP Cesar Melhem remain, but the state Labor government is breathing a little easier.

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The upper house MP has resigned as government whip after allegations he dudded cleaners out of $2 million a year in penalty rates in his time as Australian Workers Union state secretary were raised at a recent unions royal commission hearing.

“I have made this decision as I believe that the continuing press speculation about my role in the government has the potential to distract the Andrews government from the important task it undertakes on behalf of the people of Victoria,” he said in statement.

The unions inquiry, which is still to hand down its final report into the AWU matter, has heard Mr Melhem allegedly did a deal with a cleaning company to dud workers out of $2 million a year in return for $25,000 a year in donations.

Mr Melhem denies this but his evidence to the commission has been contradicted by former AWU organiser John-Paul Blandthorn, who’s now an adviser to Premier Daniel Andrews.

“There’s no doubt that these are very serious issues and the royal commission will deal with them,” the premier said.

“We’ll deal with whatever findings of fact they make at that time.”

Mr Melhem resigned as upper house whip during a phone call to Mr Andrews on Monday night ahead of his public announcement on Tuesday.

Shaun Leane, an upper house Labor colleague of Mr Melhem’s, said stepping down was the right thing to do.

“There’s some bad stink lines around him, whether right or wrong, fair or unfair,” Mr Leane said.

“It distracts from what the government’s trying to achieve.”

During a morning government caucus meeting, MPs chose Jaclyn Symes to replace Mr Melhem as upper house whip. She defeated another contender – new MP Philip Dalidakis.

Mr Andrews said he expected Mr Melhem would continue to focus on being a “hardworking” local MP.

Meanwhile, another upper house MP, Adem Somyurek, was expected to attend this week’s sitting of state Parliament after being stood down over bullying allegations.

Mr Andrews said he didn’t know if the former small business minister would turn up.

Parliamentary question time was suspended on Tuesday to allowance a condolence motion for late Labor premier Joan Kirner to continue.

CESAR MELHEM – HIS POLITICAL CAREER

* Replaces Bill Shorten as AWU state secretary in 2006.

* Appointed MLC for Western Metropolitan May 2013.

* Elected MLC for Western Metro November 2014.

* Government Whip since December 2014.

* Royal commission into trade union corruption identifies Mr Melham in slush fund investigation in 2014.

* Mr Melhem says the fund was set up in 2008 for election purposes, including his own.

* He rejects claims it was marketed to make it appear funds were for the union.

* Mr Melhem tells the commission cash cheques from the fund were often made to support political allies.

* Resigns as government whip on June 9, 2015 due to “continuing press speculation about his role in the government”.

* Speculation resumed in April after the royal commission was told he negotiated a deal that slashed $2 million off Clean Event’s annual wage bill, dudding workers.

MERS: What is it, what are the symptoms and how do you catch it?

South Korea confirmed two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) last week after 25 cases were reported since May 20.

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More than 680 people have been put into quarantine in South Korea in a bid to stop the virus from spreading.

Experts presume the virus originated from camels, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to warn against contact with the animals and to avoid raw and undercooked camel milk and meat.

China quarantined 64 people after the son of a South Korean MERS patient ignored doctors’ orders and flew from Seoul to Hong Kong, then travelled by bus to the southern city of Huizhou.

With more than 1,000 cases of MERS reported worldwide, SBS spoke to Gary Crameri, a research scientist at CSIRO, to find out more about the virus.

What is MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome?

It is actually a coronavirus so it’s a virus similar to SARS that emerged out of China in 2003 and caused a huge global outbreak. This virus is similar to SARS but unlike SARS it’s not as transmissible between people so it hasn’t caused the same global outbreak that SARS did at that time.

What are the symptoms of the virus?

It’s a respiratory disease so it’s not unlike severe flu, but it does cause mortality in over 40 per cent of the people who are infected, so it’s a very severe disease.

How do you catch the MERS virus and is it contagious?

It’s certainly contagious. It’s not as contagious as SARS was, thankfully, so that’s meant that we haven’t had the rapid spread. But it certainly will spread from person to person, probably via contact with respiratory secretions, so it requires very close contact, whereas SARS was spread quite easily so this is not quite as contagious as SARS was.

What can people do to prevent catching MERS?

It’s very much still a disease out of the Middle East, mainly out of Saudi Arabia. So for people who are not there it certainly doesn’t pose any threat at all. People who go to those countries, there’s a lot of warnings about the potential areas where it could come from. Camels appear to be a source of the virus. Really, just taking general health precautions in those countries will protect people.

Australia has an estimated feral camel population of about 300,000. Does that make Australia at risk of the virus?

We’re actually doing work at the moment to determine whether Australian camels are infected with the virus. They certainly have the potential to be – they’re the same species of camels that are through the Middle East. But look, any of the countries that have camels need to take precautions.

The MERS virus has been found in the Middle East and South Korea. Do Australians have to be wary of travelling to these places?

Look, certainly to the Middle East. It’s an ongoing outbreak and has been for a long time now. And certainly countries through the Middle East are taking strong actions to try and contain the virus and they’ve been quite successful at that. But there still are sporadic outbreaks going on, it’s still an ongoing problem there. Outside of the Middle East it is incredibly unlikely that anybody would come into contact with anybody who’s infected and this small cluster in Korea is not unlike the other minor events that have occurred in other countries outside the Middle East over the last year and a half.

Govt sidelines Palmer party on budget

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has given up talks with the Palmer United Party over passing budget measures.

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The government needs six of the eight crossbench senators – or the Greens or Labor – on side to pass its budget legislation, some of which requires passage before July 1.

Mr Morrison told 2GB radio on Tuesday he had written off the possibility of PUP senator Dio Wang supporting the government.

“There is no point because their position is well known and I am not going to waste their time and I presume they don’t want to waste ours,” Mr Morrison said.

“But the other senators have been very engaging on all these issues.”

The minister said there is no “crisis” around passing the bills, many of which are not urgent.

“We are following the normal process and we are working through the issues,” Mr Morrison said.

PUP has voted with the government on 54 per cent of occasions since September last year.

Thirty per cent of substantive votes have been won by the coalition with crossbench support, compared with 42 per cent with Labor backing.

The government may need to rely more heavily on the Labor opposition to deliver on its 2015 budget.

It was revealed on Tuesday the opposition will back the abolition of the dependent spouse tax offset, saving the budget about $600 million over a decade.

Labor will also support stopping a legislated increase to the tax-free threshold from $18,200 to $19,400, which was due to start on July 1.

That will save almost $3 billion over four years and $7.7 billion over a decade.

Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the opposition was willing to talk to the government on any measure that did not contravene ALP values or breach election promises.

“This (dependent spouse tax offset) is an anachronistic provision and we’re happy to support the government in finding savings because they definitely need it,” Mr O’Connor told Sky News.

He said the coalition had doubled the budget deficit since 2013.

Proteomics develops kidney disease test

Diabetics could soon be able to discover their chances of developing kidney disease thanks to a unique test developed by an Australian biotech.

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Proteomics International Laboratories has developed the predictive blood test for the potentially life-threatening disease, which it describes as a “global breakthrough”.

Following the simple test, appropriate treatment can be provided to people to prevent the onset of the illness, potentially saving billions of dollars in health care costs.

Proteomics says that until now there has been no predictive test for diabetic kidney disease.

Diabetes is largest cause of kidney disease.

More than 380 million people worldwide have diabetes, and 35 per cent of adults with diabetes in the US have chronic kidney disease.

“The commercial benefits, medical benefits and cost savings in commercialising the test are enormous,” Proteomics said on Tuesday.

“In Australia alone, the total cost to the health system and in productivity loss from diabetes is estimated at $10.3 billion annually.”

Shares in Proteomics more than tripled in value in the wake of the news on Tuesday.

The stock was 49 cents higher at 69.5 cents at 1516 AEST.

Proteomics will discuss the test with major pharmaceutical companies at the world’s largest biotechnology conference, BIO 2015, in Philadelphia in the US next week.

The company believes the test could enable drug companies to identify at-risk patient groups and then provide drugs to treat those patients.

This could provide Proteomics with substantial returns from licensing fees and royalties.

The Proteomics test measures biological signatures in the blood of patients with diabetes to determine the likelihood of those patients contracting diabetic kidney disease.

In an ongoing clinical study of 576 patients with diabetes, where one in 10 participants had a significant and rapid decline in kidney function, the Proteomics test correctly predicted 67 per cent of those patients so affected.