Dr Stephen Duckett

This article first appeared in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations and is reproduced with permission.

A new minister in any portfolio has two tasks: fix the past and fix the future.

Cleaning up the past

Unfortunately, outgoing Health Minister Greg Hunt leaves behind a huge mess. He was the most political of ministers: politicising announcements for listing decisions on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and prioritising the political in decisions about vaccine procurement and rollout. He also sidelined the Department of Health and spent millions on expensive consultants.

So one of my early priorities would be to clean the Augean stables. I would make it clear that PBS listing decisions are not made on political whim but follow a rigorous and rational process which involves expert evaluation of the clinical and economic effectiveness of new drugs. Simultaneously, I would empower the Secretary of the Department of Health to do what secretaries and departments are supposed to do – provide frank and fearless advice.

Commission chair, Professor Dan Howard SC

The drug Ice, more formally known as crystal methamphetamine, may trigger a flurry of activity amongst users but it appears to have had the opposite effect on those charged with considering how society should address its widespread use and the harmful impacts on those who consume it.

Former NSW Premier Bob Carr is the latest figure to insist the state government heeds expert recommendations and acts to reduce ice usage, addiction and the criminal activities associated with this damaging drug.

This magazine has run a series of stories on the NSW Government’s attempts to generate some clarity around the issue, beginning with the announcement in 2018 by then-Premier Berejiklian that a Special Commission of Inquiry would examine the issue. A well-informed body was convened and input sought from a range of experts, including addiction counsellors, lawyers, police and Ice (and other drug) users themselves.

Northern NSW SIDC

It is estimated that approximately 1.3% of the population of NSW have an intellectual disability (ID), with an estimated 3900 people with ID living in the Northern NSW Local Health District. It is widely recognised that people with Intellectual Disability experience more complex and chronic health issues, poorer health outcomes and lower life expectancy than the general population.

Northern Sydney Intellectual Disability Health Service (NSIDHS) is part of a statewide initiative to improve health outcomes and support people with intellectual disability. The service includes a number of specialised intellectual disability health teams, supported by a network of specialised ID clinicians (SIDCs) located in Local Health Districts across NSW. The NSIDHS works alongside the SIDCs in the Mid North Coast and Northern NSW regions, to deliver outreach services to these areas. The Northern NSW SIDC is Michelle Gray (Social Worker).

Barry Morris

Tommy - Pinball Wizard - The Who (1969)

The last two and a half years have seen millions of people in many communities around the world “locked in” as a result of the isolation requirements imposed by COVID-19 outbreaks. Australia was no exception. Melbourne holds the world record for the longest lockdown at 267 days.

Thankfully, Australia is coming to the end of its COVID-19 mandates but severe restrictions continue in a few countries, most notably China, which has followed a "zero COVID" approach to the pandemic.

Locked in syndrome is also a neurological condition resulting from damage to the brainstem. In this condition the patient cannot move or speak but may be able to respond to questions through eye movements. Blinking once or twice as the sole way of communicating brings to mind Morse code or the binary processing used in computers. Life may not be much fun when "the outputs" available to you are so severely limited. 

Loss of sight affects 43 million people around the world and deafness nearly twice that number. Sadly many with these conditions do not reach their full potential. The inability to respond to external stimuli has differing effects however. The blind lose contact with the world, the deaf lose contact with people. 

Nevertheless some overcome their handicaps and achieve remarkably success. The most famous is Helen Keller, who lost both her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months of age from infection but went on to become a world famous author and essayist.

Barry Morris lives in Goonellabah. Now in his nineties his sight, hearing and health have all deteriorated in recent years but he retains a positive outlook on life.

At 84 Barry took up music as a hobby. Undaunted by his disabilities and the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 lockdowns he, like others around the world, seized the opportunity to bring a little joy to those in a similar situation. (Hear Barry explain his circumstances and motivation in his own words.)


 His “hit” Youtube single Isolation Blues brings a smile to all who watch it.


He might not be a pinball wizard or even a Roger Daltrey but nobody’s going to keep him down.

Postscript: Barry passed away in August 2022 and will be missed by all who knew him.


Diagnosis Normal

Diagnosis Normal
Emma A. Jane
Ebury Press/Penguin Random House

Of the many entertaining, shocking and insightful words in Dr Emma A. Jane’s remarkable memoir this short sentence aptly summarises the author’s situation: ‘My mind is never quiet.’

Big understatement.

Emma Tom, as she then was, worked as a journalist at The Northern Star in Lismore in what seems a halcyon era before the Murdoch organisation shut down its regional newspapers. Despite trepidations, she learned the trade well before moving to Sydney and into the big league, joining The Sydney Morning Herald and gaining a reputation for fearlessly undertaking quirky, often daring, assignments.