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The young artists behind the Children Hospital’s new collection

Ben and Sally Zinsli, with Nathan Zinsli in the hammock, at home in Berowra Heights. Photo: Janie Barrett Benjamin Zinsli’s Noah’s Ark artwork.
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Nikki Armstrong’s Red Panda. Photo: Supplied

Benjamin Zinsli is hoping his colourful drawing of Noah’s Ark will brighten up the day for other young patients at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

The six-year-old, who was diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus soon after he was born, has taken comfort from the artwork on the hospital’s walls during countless visits, and his own piece will now hang alongside them.

“When his teacher mentioned the Operation Art competition, he said he thought he’d give it a go to try to make other kids happy who also had regular visits,” his mother Sally Zinsli said.

As part of his treatment, Benjamin has undergone scans enabled by nuclear medicine that will be produced in massive quantities in Australia by the end of next year.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation is building a new facility in Lucas Heights that will ramp up production of nuclear medical agents from 550,000 doses to 10 million doses per year, the equivalent to about a quarter of global supply.

Australia’s emergence as a major exporter of the medicine will come at a time when the facilities that produce as much as 70 per cent of the world’s nuclear medicine are due to shut down because of age.

Demand for nuclear imaging agent Technetium 99-mm is currently at about 40 million doses a year, but the general manager of ANSTO Nuclear Medicine Jayne Senior said this will rise in coming years.

“This is increasing as the world population expands and more countries modernise their health system,” Ms Senior said. “So there will be a major deficit of supply, and that’s where Australia comes in.”

ANSTO’s use of low-enriched uranium technology could also drive down demand for medicine based on high-enriched uranium and contribute to non-proliferation and nuclear security goals, she said.

The nuclear medicine department at Westmead Children’s Hospital is the largest in Australia and in the top 10 internationally, and administers treatments to about 4000 children every year.

The head of the department, Professor Robert Howman-Giles, said ANSTO’s facility would be important in advancing the field, including the growing use of PET scans for children with cancer.

“It’s a major growth area worldwide,” Professor Howman-Giles said. “The new facility is going to be looking at a lot more new agents.”

Nuclear medicine treatments are mostly administered intravenously, and he said a welcoming environment is especially important in the hospital’s preparation and injection rooms.

“We’ve got a lot of art in those rooms, the entire rooms have been painted with stories and cartoons, so you can be talking to them about that.

“We have some professional, very expensive art at the department, but the kids identify a lot more with what other children produce.”

Benjamin’s artwork will be on display along with 800 pieces by schoolchildren across NSW from this weekend at the Armory Gallery at Sydney Olympic Park. A selected 50 will be given to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

William Tyrrell: Police work on 600 persons of interest in suspected abduction investigation

William Tyrrell was three years old when he vanished while playing at his grandmother’s house on the NSW Mid North Coast in 2014. Photo: Supplied A poster on a telegraph pole at the start of Benaroon Drive, Kendall asking for information about missing toddler William Tyrrell. Photo: Max Mason Hubers
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Police searching bushland in Bonny Hills, south of Port Macquarie, in 2015, as part of investigation. Photo: Peter Gleeson

William Spedding (centre) with his wife Margaret Spedding (left) at Campbelltown Court. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Police have been given information about 600 persons of interest in the William Tyrrell investigation. Photo: Supplied

The backyard of William’s grandmother’s house on Benaroon Drive at Kendall. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Detectives investigating the suspected abduction of toddler William Tyrrell have been given information about 600 persons of interest in a mammoth case that has engaged police statewide.

As the disappearance of three-year-old William from the Mid North Coast approaches its second anniversary on Monday, the sheer size and complexity of the homicide investigation behind it can be revealed.

It serves as a startling insight into the vast resources dedicated to finding out what happened to the toddler in the Spiderman suit on the morning of September 12, 2014.

Of the 600 persons of interest that Strike Force Rosann detectives have in their sights, 200 have not been completely identified.

Those profiles may include only physical descriptions from suspicious sightings and information gathered by police.

In a bid to rule in or out each name or description on the list, information relating to about 400 persons of interest have been sent out to police local area commands across the state.

Officers in each area have the responsibility of following up on those people and reporting back to the homicide squad, which is running the investigation.

Other teams at NSW Police’s State Crime Command, home to the force’s elite squads, are also helping with the workload and have been assigned people to investigate.

Other targets have been left to the team of 14 detectives that make up Strike Force Rosann, led by Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin.

The overarching strategy, which has absorbed police resources across the state, is believed to be a first for homicide investigations in NSW.

While white goods repairman William “Bill” Spedding has been the investigation’s most high-profile person of interest, Fairfax Media understands there are others police have concentrated on just as intensely.

Mr Spedding has strenuously denied any involvement in the child’s disappearance and police have previously stressed he was only one of many people questioned in the investigation.

He has not been arrested or charged in relation to the disappearance.

Earlier this year the strike force looked closely at another Mid North Coast local after his erratic behaviour drew attention his way.

This included the man walking into a police station, asking to talk to someone on the strike force and asking to be handcuffed.

However, after a detailed look at every aspect of the man’s life, he was ruled out.

Last year a photo came across the desks of NSW detectives showing a young boy and a woman in a McDonald’s in Central Queensland.

The boy looked eerily similar to William, and the woman he was with looked like his grandmother, Natalie Collins.

William’s complicated background prevents reporting of certain aspects of his family life. However Ms Collins is not the grandmother who lived at the Kendall house where William disappeared from.

Fairfax Media reported last year that the hopes of detectives were dashed when police on the ground in Queensland confirmed the mother and boy were not who they hoped.

Ms Collins had already been tagged as a person of interest in the investigation, a suggestion she strenuously disputes.

The Sydney woman said she didn’t know where William was staying at the time he disappeared or that he was going to be in Kendall.

“I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have a clue,” she said.

“Who would have known what day he was going to be there and when he was playing outside?”

Ms Collin’s friend, Kim Loweke, told A Current Affair in August that police visited her and asked if she was hiding William after they found out she intended to move into a three-bedroom house with Ms Collins.

“Why would I do that, seriously? If someone had him, I wouldn’t hide him, I would show the world,” Ms Collins said.

Other persons of interest have included child sex offenders in the Mid North Coast area, with police revealing last year that a paedophile ring in the region might be linked to William’s case.

William’s parents have been previously ruled out of their son’s disappearance as has his grandmother, who moved out of the Kendall area after the unfathomable crime was carried out in her backyard.

Dressed in his Spiderman suit, William was playing on his grandmother’s deck on Benaroon Drive on the morning of September 12 when his mother went inside to make a cup of tea. William would have turned five in late June this year.

William, his sister and parents had travelled up from Sydney the day before for a spontaneous visit to Kendall.

At some point around 10.30am, William wandered around to his grandmother’s sprawling backyard, which slopes onto Benaroon Drive.

A matter of minutes was all it took for the charismatic toddler to vanish from the quiet cul-de-sac.

NSW Police would not comment on the case ahead of the anniversary on Monday.

What’s in a name? “Organic” orange juice claims questioned

Grant Eastwood, the owner of Wild Things Food in Fitzroy North, has put up signs warning customers he does not believe Milla’s juice to be organic. Photo: Jason South Milla’s “organic” orange juice
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When “organic” is in the name, it’s reasonable to think the folksy-looking orange juice you’re paying a premium price for is just that.

But in the case of Milla’s organic orange juice, the farmer who grows the oranges and squeezes the juice says it can’t be organic.

Philip Williamson, from Murray River Farm Kurrnung Citrus, even sells the exact same juice he supplies to Milla’s Farm Direct under his own brand, the Great Australian Squeeze, and he doesn’t label it organic.

That’s because even though he tries to avoid harsh chemicals where possible he does use herbicides on his NSW property. And just last year he had to spray “poison on the trees” when there was a fruit fly outbreak in the region.

Although he opts for biological pest control it would be economically impossible for him to never use chemicals, Mr Williamson said.

“Milla’s would like people to believe it’s organic but I can’t grow certified organic oranges on my farm,” he said.

“I wouldn’t dare to put the word organic on our own brand, which is the same juice as Milla’s. We promote Australian grown product and are proud of our juice.”

The discovery so incensed a health food shop owner in Melbourne’s inner north that he took to the issue with a permanent marker, crossing out the word “organic” on each individual bottle of Milla’s in his shop.

Grant Eastwood, the owner of Wild Things Food in Fitzroy North, later put up a sign to warn customers that although it’s still the “best tasting, pure OJ available” it is not organic.

“They are doing a lot of the right things on the farm but I hope that they just drop the false label and rely on the fact that they have a really good product,” Mr Eastwood said.

Organic Federation Australia chairman Adam Willson said the industry body was lobbying the government to introduce a domestic regulation for the industry, under Standards Australia.

“We’re facing the challenge that the word organic isn’t covered by legislation in the Australian market at this point, but [it] is a huge marketing advantage on a product,” Mr Willson said.

“Under AS6000, the minimum standard we want to introduce to the domestic market, the term organic would be legally enforceable through the ACCC.”

NASAA chair and owner of Karra Organic Farm Jan Denham said people need to look out for a Certified Organic logo to be sure it was the real deal.

“It’s especially important that companies that make organic claims must be able to substantiate those claims,” she said.

An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission spokesman refused to say if it was investigating Milla’s organic claims.

But the spokesman did say that Australian consumer law requires businesses to not engage in conduct that is likely to mislead or deceive; or make false or misleading claims or statements.

“Products labelled as organic generally attract a premium price compared to those produced using artificial fertiliser, chemicals or pesticides and non-essential food additives or processing aids,” he said.

“Businesses that make organic claims must be able to substantiate those claims.”

A Milla’s Farm director declined to comment.

Narendra Modi’s yoga diplomacy, or how India is winning friends and influencing people

Indian Prime Minister Narendra​ Modi​ is a big fan of yoga.
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He calls it “India’s gift to the world” and recommends people make yoga as much a part of daily life as their mobile phone. After sweeping to power in 2014, Modi even appointed India’s first government minister for yoga.

But yoga is also a key asset in Modi’s push to promote and develop India’s soft power – described by Harvard academic Joseph Nye as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments”.

Modi often talks about yoga in speeches and during meetings with world leaders. The day he addressed the Australian Parliament in November 2014 Modi told reporters, “I know yoga is enormously popular here. We need to connect our people more.” It was reported Modi discussed the benefits of yoga with US President Barack Obama over dinner at the White House in 2014.

Modi won support from the United Nations for the first international day of yoga on June 21 this year. He marked it with an early morning yoga session with about 30,000 devotees in the north Indian city of Chandigarh. Millions more participated across the world, including thousands in Australia.

“What Mr Modi has been able to do is put an India brand on it through the international day of yoga,” said India’s High Commissioner to Australia Navdeep​ Suri​. “Hopefully when people think yoga, they will think of India in a positive way.”

But there’s much more than yoga in India’s soft power toolbox. From the glitz and glamour of Bollywood​ to the ancient wisdom of Buddhism, India is flush with cultural attributes that interest and engage people in other parts of the world. It also boasts a 25-million-strong diaspora that is relatively wealthy and increasingly politically engaged. The director of the Australia India Institute, Professor Craig Jeffrey, points out that India has been Australia’s largest source of permanent skilled migrants since 2008. “Australia is a lot more Indian than it was 15 or 20 years ago,” he said.

For years India’s soft power potential remained largely untapped. But Professor Rory Medcalf, a former Australian diplomat to India and head of Australian National University’s National Security College, says that is changing.

“It’s very clear that the Modi government has been working to harness Indian soft power and Indian cultural appeal more effectively that previous Indian governments have,” he says.

Australia will get to sample a little of this cultural charm offensive over the next two months as a program of Indian dance, theatre, music – and of course, yoga – rolls out across seven cities. The Confluence Festival of India in Australia, billed as “the biggest showcase of Indian arts and culture ever to be staged in Australia” is sponsored by the Indian government. Organisers say it will have a “strong and positive impact on the bilateral relationship, fostering mutual cultural connections, promoting tourism and migration and highlighting business opportunities between Australia and India.” Modi himself announced the festival during his historic 2014 visit.

Suri, who took up his post as India’s High Commissioner in April last year, was previously the head of public diplomacy at the Indian foreign ministry and has been involved with festivals sponsored by the Indian government in South Africa and Egypt.

“I’m a great believer in the power of cultural diplomacy, whether you call it soft power or anything else,” he says.

Suri says staging cultural festivals enabled diplomats to “get out of the box” of routine government-to-government interactions.

“What we’ve found is they have allowed us to very significantly broaden the range of contacts that we have from the narrow bureaucratic circles into the arts, the writers, intellectuals and people who are public figures – culture became a great way to connect with them,” he says. “In democracies like India and Australia centres of power are dispersed. It’s a 21st century diplomat’s task to connect with a much broader range of actors as compared to the traditional diplomacy of engaging on a government to government basis.” Buddhism, Bollywood and India’s most potent cultural exports

The rich performance traditions that will feature in the Confluence festival are often overshadowed by Indian cinema. Bollywood has won global recognition and now rates among India’s most potent cultural exports. The film industry has a major following in many parts of Asia and the Middle East. India also boasts a cadre of globally renowned writers and public intellectuals including Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Amartya Sen.

But maybe India’s greatest cultural export is Buddhism, which originated in north India and has gradually gained adherents through much of Asia. The region would be very different if not for that ancient manifestation of Indian soft power.

Modi has appealed to the vast Buddhist populations in east and south-east Asia by emphasising India’s historic connections to this spiritual tradition. In a speech in September last year he said: “India is taking the lead in boosting the Buddhist heritage across Asia.” Indian scholars have dubbed this “Buddhist diplomacy”.

“The prime minister is diligently pursuing India’s ‘Buddhist agenda’ and taking it beyond its borders, emphasising the Indian and Hindu links with Buddhism,” wrote Indian academic Rishika​ Chauhan​ in a recent paper titled Modi and Buddhism: Between Cultural and Faith-Based Diplomacy.

India’s more assertive use of soft power has sparked inevitable comparisons with its giant regional counterpart, China.

Professor Michael Wesley, director of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Studies at ANU, says the key difference is that China starts out with a “significant set” of disadvantages.

“China has an authoritarian regime and people are very aware of that,” he says. “India is far from perfect but it doesn’t have a Tiananmen Square in its recent past. India is a much more benign presence internationally … it is simply less of a threat.”

Wesley says the recent controversies over Chinese influence in Australian politics had underscored a “nasty side” to China’s attempts to wield soft power.

“India starts from a much easier position to create positive attitudes,” he says.

Medcalf says it would be a mistake for India’s “global cultural offensive to look anywhere near as orchestrated” as China’s.

“The good news is India is a long, long way from that,” he says.

Modi’s rhetoric suggests he wants India to exert far more intellectual and cultural influence in future. While addressing a packed audience at Sydney’s Allphones Arena in November 2014 Modi said he dreamed of India being a “vishwa​ guru” or guru of the world.

But some are concerned that India’s more assertive soft power push is too closely linked to the Hindu nationalism popular with Modi’s political power base and a hallmark of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Raja Mohan, one of India’s leading strategic analysts, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper that Modi’s efforts to project soft power “are likely to come to nought if the government continues to allow a free run to groups that seek to anchor India’s rich cultural inheritance on a narrow and religious basis”.

Medcalf agrees. Becoming too focused on cultural expressions linked to Hinduism would “dilute” the soft power strengths that set India apart from China.

“There is a risk for India in its global soft power push being too closely associated with Hindu nationalism, or with Hinduism exclusively,” he says. “India’s great advantage is that it’s diverse and democratic.”

The truth about home ownership and the age pension

The family home is protected in public policy settings.The idea that your home does not count when you are assessed for the pension is political fiction. It does count, and so it should. It ought to count for more than it does.
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More on that later, but first I need to clear up some confusion. A few readers have queried my Sunday Moneycolumn last week, which stated that your home counts for $200,000 in the new pension assets test, which takes effect on January 1, 2017.

I’ll explain.

If you are a single homeowner, you can own $250,000 in assessable assets before you start losing the pension. If you are a single non-homeowner the threshold is $450,000.

A couple who owns a home is allowed $375,000 before they start losing the pension, while a couple without a home can have $575,000.

In other words, whether you’re single or part of a couple, home ownership is valued at $200,000 in the new pension assets test.

These amounts were passed by parliament and incorporated into the Social Security Act in mid-2015.

Note this is not a vast change of policy. Under the old assets test, a single homeowner could own $209,000 in assessable assets, while a single non-homeowner had a higher threshold of $360,500. For couples it was $296,500 and $448,000.

So under the old assets test, home ownership was worth $151,500.

The value of home ownership has increased in the new assets test, but the threshold has also increased.

No one will lose the full pension as a result of the changes and about 50,000 extra people will get it. Another 120,000 part-pensioners are likely to see an increase in payments.

So far, so good.

But as most Money readers would know, there are also hundreds of thousands of Australians who will lose their part pension from January 1 because a much steeper taper rate will apply.

Pensioners will lose $3 a fortnight for every $1000 in assets above the full-pension threshold. That’s the same taper rate that applied a decade ago, before the Howard-Costello government changed it to a more-generous $1.50 in the 2006 budget.

That means that single homeowners will lose their pension if they hold $542,500 in assets, while single non-homeowners are permitted $742,500. For couples the cut-off is $816,000 if they own a home and $1.016 million if they don’t.

Again, home ownership is valued at about $200,000. Income limits also apply.

Depending on your perspective it’s either much harsher or much more targeted than the old threshold, which let couples own $1.175 million in addition to the family home and still claim a part pension.

But those thresholds are subject to the regular indexation of the pension, which occurs every March and September. The exact cut-offs will be known later this month when the Department of Social Security announces the new pension figures.

It’s expected that about 91,000 people will lose their part pension, while another 235,000 will have their payments reduced as a result.

It’s an awful lot more than the very small number of wealthy retirees affected by proposed changes to superannuation.

I have sympathy for people who counted on the part pension in their retirement planning and are simply trying to make ends meet.

But the truth is that pension reform should go further, specifically that home ownership should count for far more than $200,000.

A renter would burn through $200,000 in just over seven years at Sydney’s median rent of $530 a week for a house or $525 for an apartment, and that’s under the unlikely scenario of no rent rises during that time.

Melburnians would have closer to 10 years, with a median rent of $400 a week for a house and $380 for units. The prices are from Domain’s Rental Report for the June quarter.

While retirees who own a home may not have much in liquid assets, retirees without a home deserve more help than they get.

It’s also about intergenerational fairness. The property boom since the late 1980s has made a lot of Baby Boomers very rich, even if they don’t feel rich. It’s all relative.

Quarantining the family home from the pension assets test and other tax measures such as capital gains tax discourages people from downsizing to unlock capital.

Yet Baby Boomers are such a big demographic group that whatever they do – buy, sell or hold – can distort the market. If they’re staying in homes that are bigger than their needs because of tax and pension benefits, then that decreases the natural supply in the housing market.

Building new housing stock can only help around the fringes since most of us buy our houses secondhand.

Grattan Institute analysis from 2013 suggested that 80 per cent of mature-age households with $1 million in net assets receive welfare benefits, on average, more than $200 a week.

Grattan is in favour of counting the true value of owner-occupied housing in the age pension assets test. In order to protect asset-rich but income-poor households, people could choose to remain in their home and receive the pension but the government would accumulate a claim against the property.

There is merit to this idea. The purpose of exempting the family home from the pension test is because pensioners need somewhere to live, not to protect one type of asset for the purposes of inheritance.

Those of us in Generation X and Generation Y are happy to be the tax base for the age pension, because supporting our fellow citizens in old age is part of being in a society. But many of us feel rightly aggrieved that we’re supporting property millionaires to get the pension while we can’t afford homes of our own.

I have a huge mortgage instead, which makes me one of the lucky ones.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is Money editor. You can find her on Facebook or Twitter.This article has been updated with the new indexation figures announced September 14, which provides us with the exact asset test limits effective from January 1.