A living, growing collection of art

They say home is where the heart is.

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That’s certainly true for Sandra Baker and her New Lambton home, where her love of art is distinctively on display.

From the mural-adorned tiled front entrance, right through to a bathroom surrounded with seas shells, every inch of the Mackie Avenue home is elaborately adorned with art.

The entrance alone makes a striking impression, but the eyes only open wider on treading the beautiful black and white tiles of the hallway and rounding the corner.

Known as the “primitive room”, its walls and display stands are covered with tribal masks.A visit to New Guinea while working as a mess girl on a Norwegian freighter sparked Sandra’s interest.

“That’s where I started my collection of primitive work,” she says.

There are a few authentic pieces, but most were made by a friend, suffering illness, who carved to pass the time and gave the pieces to Sandra, knowing she would somehow use them.

“I’d go to work and come back to a couple of boxes of stuff,” she says.

A surprise feature in the room is a nook with a bath, mission brown and surrounded in tiles painted with insects.It’s a space to lie and contemplate, Sandra says.

Another favourite spot is the library, a room Sandra says is “more of a man’s domain”, with its model ships that belonged to her father, as well as glass decanters, a comfy antique chair and rows of books enclosed in a case with lovely leadlight glass that Sandra had made from old windows.

“I quite like sitting in here and reading,” she says.

A textile room has an enviable display of retro garments and sewing gear, while an Egyptian space at the foot of the stairs has boxes, cabinets and walls that Sandra has painted to look like artefacts.

“I can’t afford real Egyptian artefacts, so I’ve hand-painted them,” she says.

“Everything presents as such but in reality it’s not.”

The laundry is undergoing a transformation as a Greco-Roman or Pompeii enclave.

The bathroom (there is another tub in here, this one a large corner suite with antique brass taps picked up at a garage sale) is based on marine life and references the 2000BC to 1400BC city of Knossos in Crete.

There are walls of sea shells displayed behind perspex, a coral collage, jellyfish paintings, turtle shells and sea-life themed glass lamps and murals.

Across in the Oriental room, Japanese-style screens, a gong (bought at auction), parasols, tea pots and cups, dolls and cushioned corner bench seats feature, along with a marble fireplace.

The theme in the kitchen and dining area has some Indian influences (Sandra is working on a totem pole of elephants for this space – “as you do of course”, she says) as well as a great display of retro canisters on shelves under the island bench, cabinets containing pewter items, cast iron pans underneath an antique-looking sink and a walk-in pantry filled with bits and pieces.

“The house was built in 1919,” Sandra says.

“It’s like people have lived here and left pieces of themselves behind.

“So there’s a collection of bits and pieces.”

Sandra sleeps upstairs, in a bedroom off a large landing. The theme is art-deco, with ceramics, 1930s art and a leadlight bay window among the highlights.

Sandra’s love of art started young.

“I’ve always drawn, I suppose,” she says.

“I think Mum encouraged us just to use chalk on the pavement.”

Then came art school and a career as an art teacher.

The home renovations started in 1982.

It followed the tragic death of Sandra’s husband in a motorbike accident, just months after they married.

“I had to create something that would keep me going,” she says.

Walls were ripped out, the brown paint work, lining boards on the walls and lino on the floor removed and replaced with art.

The house is still a work in progress, Sandra says.

The transformation took a back seat when she opened Studio 48 art gallery about 15 years ago in the house next door.

She plans to continue work on her home and renovate the gallery this year, before potentially opening the doors to both in 2017, for exhibitions at Studio 48 and “tea and tours” (a look through with a cup of tea or coffee to follow) of her unique house.

Tony Abbott’s lexical legacy: Captain’s call is 2015 Word of the Year

Tony Abbott’s 2013 decision to install Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker was seen as an early captain’s call. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFor a man whose linguistic bloopers have come to shape much of his political career, Tony Abbott is an unlikely origin of 2015’s Word of the Year.

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But it is the former prime minister’s style of decision-making that has thrust the expression “captain’s call” into the spotlight, beating all other Macquarie Dictionary entrants as the term that most “perfectly encapsulates what happened in Australia over the past year”.

The term, originally limited to cricket argot, has been adopted in the ever-changing world of political patter where it has come to define Mr Abbott’s habit of making important decisions without thorough consultation.

“There has been an interesting change in usage; an infrequent item of the jargon of cricket makes the leap into politics and is now being used generally with an ironic tinge to it that is very Australian,” the Macquarie Dictionary committee said.

The dictionary’s editor, Susan Butler, said that discussion had veered towards “lumbersexual” but eventually settled on “captain’s call” as the year’s stand-out “lexical item”.

“It leapt out as something significant that entered our lives and lexicons in the previous year, people are using it with a slight sense of irony and are taking playful satisfaction in it.”

A close second on the list, earning an honourable mention, was “deso”, an abbreviated version of designated driver and an entry that Butler said was both unexpected and very Australian.

“It’s amazing, really, we seem to find a way of [shortening] all sorts of words, of all sorts of lengths, in all sports of parts of speech.”

Other new entries in the leading dictionary include listicle, snackable, ecocriticism, bae, merman hair, hoverboard, open kimono, manspread and fitspiration.

The editor’s favourites are both words that revolve around the consumption of media and information – and our changing relationships with the ways in which we read, watch, listen and play.

“I like listicle and snackable,” she said.

“Snackable seemed to me to capture something about the way in which we now consume information, we’re now flooded in vast amounts of text, but we’ve figured out a way to deal with it, which is to scan. We’re now presenting information in ways that are possible to scan – everything is in snackable bits.”

Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2015, committee picks:

wombat gate: noun, a swing gate installed in a ditch going underneath a fence, so that wombats, who follow very predictable patterns pass under without destroying the fence.

abandoned porn: noun, a genre of photography which romanticises abandoned buildings and urban areas in a state of decay. Also, ruin porn.

price baiting: noun, the practice adopted by a real estate vendor of advertising a property at a discounted price which would not ultimately be accepted at auction, in an attempt to lure possible buyers to the auction.

deso: noun, colloquial, a designated driver. Also, deso driver.

listicle: noun, a type of article in online journalism and blogging which is presented in the form of a list.

Frankenfruit: noun (also lower case), a fruit produced as a hybrid of other fruits, or infused with the flavour some way.

cool burn: noun, a bushfire mitigation procedure in which small fires are lit in circumstances which do not allow them to develop the kind of intense heat which is destructive to vegetation and wildlife, but which reduce the threat of uncontrolled bushfire.

lumbersexual: noun, an urban male who wishes to associate himself by his appearance with a rugged outdoors way of life, as by wearing outdoor clothes such as check shirts, jeans and typical of a lumberjack.

grolar bear: noun, a hybrid species, the offspring of a grizzly bear and a polar bear; occurring naturally in greater numbers as a result of climate change.

fitspiration: noun, 1. an exhortation, usually online, designed to push the reader or viewer to undertake more strenuous exercise in the pursuit of health and fitness, sometimes associated with the pursuit of an ideal body image. 2. such an exhortative message.

dox: noun, 1. an internet-enabled attack on a person’s privacy, in which their personal details and sometimes those of their family and friends are released online, viewers being invited to use them in whatever way they wish. –verb (t) 2. to publish the private details of (someone) online.

captain’s call: noun, a decision made by a political or business leader without consultation with colleagues.

fur baby: noun, colloquial, a pet animal, child. Also, fur child, furbaby.

slackpacking: noun, an arrangement for a walking trip lasting longer than one day, in which heavy items such as food, wine, etc., are delivered to accommodation points, the walkers being required to carry only a daypack.

selfie drone: noun, a drone equipped with a camera so that it can take photographs and videos from the air of the owner posing or performing various actions.

Man charged after stolen Porsche crashes, overturns in Leichhardt: police

Sparks were flying from the back of the Porsche before it slammed into a tree. Photo: Channel 7 The man fled the wreckage after the car slammed into a tree. Photo: Channel 7

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A man has been charged over a high-speed police pursuit in Sydney’s inner west that ended dramatically when an allegedly stolen Porsche crashed into a tree and flipped onto its roof.

CCTV footage of the crash on Norton Street in Leichhardt early on Wednesday shows sparks flying from the back of the out-of-control luxury coupe as it slams sideways into the tree, spins around and overturns.

Remarkably, a person can be seen climbing out of the wreckage seconds later and staggering away from the vehicle, before a police officer with his gun drawn approaches the crashed vehicle.

Police said an officer from the Motorcycle Response Team began pursuing the grey Porsche on the City West Link at Annandale just after 6am on Wednesday. The Porsche had allegedly been stolen from a home in Vaucluse in Sydney’s east earlier that morning, police said.

The chase continued to Norton Street, where the driver of the vehicle lost control at high speed.

Police say the officer ordered the driver to get onto the ground after he climbed out of the vehicle, but the alleged offender ran away.

More officers arrived on Norton Street and searched for the man, but he could not be found.

Police said a 30-year-old man was arrested at Campsie police station later on Wednesday and charged over the police pursuit, with taking and driving a conveyance, and driving while disqualified.

He was refused police bail and is due to appear in Burwood Local Court on Thursday. */]]>

Australian political wizard Lynton Crosby’s company made handsome money during UK’s 2015 election

Lynton Crosby’s polling and market research company, CTF Partners, billed more than £2.4 million to the Conservatives in the year leading up to the 2015 election. Photo: Janie Barrett A CTF invoice sent to the Conservatives in the run up to the 2015 election. Photo: Supplied

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London: On top of his knighthood, Australian political wizard Lynton Crosby made handsome money from helping the Conservatives to a surprise victory in the UK’s 2015 election.

His polling and market research company, CTF Partners, billed more than £2.4 million ($4.93 million) to the Conservatives in the year leading up to the vote, according to figures released today by Britain’s Electoral Commission.

The biggest bill was £390,200 ($801,561), for “tracking polls, focus groups and ad hoc polls”, billed in late February as the election campaign heated up.

But it was not the only bill that month – the company also charged a £63,600 ($130,649) “consultancy fee”.

The next month saw another bill for £245,200 ($503,697) come through, plus the regular consultancy fee.

Political blogger Guido Fawkes calculated that CTF’s bill made up 15 per cent of the Conservative Party’s total £15.5 million ($31.84 million) election budget.

“Given the against-the-odds result, that surely represents great value for money,” Fawkes wrote.

The party also spent £369,000 ($758,011) on the services of former Obama campaign guru Jim Messina, and £1.2 million  ($2.47 million) on Facebook advertising.

The BBC calculated that the Conservatives spent £1.38 ($2.83) per vote, compared with £1.29 ($2.65) for Labour, £1.46 ($3) for the decimated Liberal Democrats, and just 73p ($1.50) for UKIP.

Sir Lynton was knighted in the New Year honours, in a list that was widely criticised for rewarding undeserving political donors and supporters – of all parties.

Fairfax contacted Sir Lynton for comment, and in reply CTF sent a prepared statement.

A spokesman for CTF Partners said in the statement the company deployed a team of “up to 10” working full-time on the election campaign, which was represented by the consultancy figures released on Wednesday.

“We are proud of the roles they played in the victory,” the spokesman said.

“We are also proud of our extensive research work – represented by the research figures – and how this highly targeted strategy ultimately proved successful in delivering a Conservative government.

“Any claim that these figures represent Lynton Crosby’s salary is wrong and deliberately misleading.”

Newcastle Jets could play Steven Ugarkovic against Perth Glory: VIDEO

HEADING HOME: Jets midfielder Steven Ugarkovic playing against UAE in the Olyroos’ Asian championship opener last week. Picture: Getty ImagesJETS signing Steven Ugarkovic is poised to make his A-League debut off the bench against Perth Glory on Sunday after his Olyroos team were knocked out of the Olympic qualifiers on Thursday morning in Qatar.

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The 21-year-old midfielder is expected to arrive in Newcastle on Friday or Saturday and be named in the Jets’18-man preliminary squad.

Ugarkovic, a former Croatia under-19 representative fromSydney, has been playing in Croatia at second-division club Gorica on loan from top-tier Osijek.

The Jets are missing the suspended Ben Kantarovski on Sunday but have midfield back-up in Cameron Watson and Nick Cowburn.Ugarkovic is unlikely to start, but coach Scott Miller rates the youngster highly.

Steven Ugarkovic playing in CroatiaJets defender Jason Hoffman said on Thursday that he knew a little about Ugarkovic from former Olyroos teammates.

“You hear them talk about him, and they’ve said he’s a good footballer, and he’s in the Olyroos squad, which is a great achievement,” Hoffman said.

“I am sure he’s got the quality and footballing talent we need here at the Jets. Hopefully he can return from that and be fit and ready to make an impact for us.”

Ugarkovicstarted the Olyroos’ first game at the Asian under-23 championship, a 1-0 loss tothe UAEin which he was substituted in the 64thminute for Mustafa Amini.

He did not feature in the following game, a 2-0 win over Vietnam, nor in the goalless draw against Group D runners-up Jordan on Thursdaymorning, which left Australia in third place.

Hoffman was involved in the Olyroos’unsuccessful qualifying campaign for London 2012 and knows what his new teammate will be going through.

“To miss out on the Olympics was shattering,” Hoffman said.“That’s your one chance to go to the Olympics, really, unless you go as an over-age player.

“It’s extremely disappointing, but as long as Steven has learnt while he’s had his time in the national team and come back a better player for the Jets, then hopefully he can hit theground running here.”

Hoffman expects influential Serbian midfielder Nebojsa Marinkovic to return from a hamstring injury for Perth, joining returned striker Andy Keogh in a revitalised attacking line-up for the visitors.

The Jets are throwing open the gates to children for free on Sunday.

Sam Smith criticised for being ‘surprised racism exists in the UK’

Crooner Sam Smith. Photo: SuppliedSam Smith has been criticised for a series of tweets in which he described witnessing a friend being racially abused.

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In one of the tweets, posted in the early hours of Wednesday morning, he wrote: “I feel like I have to say something. I’m just so upset. So UPSET.” Just experienced my friend getting verbally abused racially in London. I am absolutely SPEECHLESS.— Sam Smith (@samsmithworld) January 20, 2016I never ever ever ever thought that would happen here. Absolutely speechless and hurt.— Sam Smith (@samsmithworld) January 20, 2016I feel like I have to shine some sort of light on it. The police were so unhelpful in the situation and its deeply shocked me.— Sam Smith (@samsmithworld) January 20, 2016

After he tweeted the comments ‘Sam Smith’ became a trending topic as critics slammed his seemingly cloistered outlook on racial attitudes in Britain: Why are people surprised that Sam Smith is only discovering racism exists? He’s white. He wouldn’t even know what racism feels like.— En Sabah Nur (@RakimIllest) January 20, 2016I hope Sam Smith’s train isn’t late tomorrow. Not sure if he can handle another surprise at this time.— Genuine Eel (@genuine_eel) January 20, 2016Sam Smith is surprised racism exists in the UK. Unrelated: he won best male, R&B act, song and album at 2014 MOBOs. https://t.co/JfzNVJTygI— Thomas Seal (@TW_Seal) January 20, 2016Sam smith is living in the blindness world of white privilege. He’s “speechless” that racism still exists. Does he watch the news?— Fat-ley Gilbert (@Just_Ashley13) January 20, 2016Sam Smith makes big deal of him being shocked and hurt cause his friend experienced racism. White privilege level: Maximum— Jon Deep (@charlielunn182) January 20, 2016

However, some fans came to his defence: Don’t think Sam Smith genuinely thought racism didn’t exist. He was live tweeting after witnessing something that shocked him. You’re petty— Becky (@Little_Lilsx) January 20, 2016Well let’s hope Sam Smith has learnt his lesson and will now keep his mouth shut about how bad racism is. Good job, everyone!— BiggerBoat Film Quiz (@film_quiz) January 20, 2016Harsh write up of Sam Smith tweets. Surely just saying he wants to ‘shine light’ on incident, as friend doesn’t have 4m twitter followers.— Tom Thorogood (@TomThorogood) January 20, 2016

Smith, born Samuel Frederick, grew up in Great Chishill, Cambridgeshire, first hit the music scene in 2012, appearing on Disclosure’s single, Latch.

He’s since been described as Britain’s biggest musical export since Adele Adkins.

In 2015 he won four Grammys and set a record with his debut album In The Lonely Hour, which was in the UK top 10 for 67 consecutive weeks.

In October he made chart history as the first artist to top the charts with a James Bond theme song.

Writing’s on the Wall, the title track for the Bond film Spectre, went straight to number one with combined chart sales and streams of 70,000. The song was Smith’s fifth number one.

He said at the time: “It was such an honour to be asked to write and record Writing’s on the Wall and it’s incredible that it’s become the first number one Bond theme song. It’s been an unforgettable experience working with Barbara [Broccoli] and Sam [Mendes] to become part of this British legacy. I couldn’t have done this without my fans – this is a special moment I’ll never forget.”

The Telegraph

Dugong recovered: Sickly but good chances of survival | photos, video

Dugong recovered: Sickly but good chances of survival | photos, video The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

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The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong that has been living in Merimbula Lake has been captured and will be flown to Sea World for rehabilitation before it is released into the wild.

The dugong had a police escort to the airport.

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Paris climate limit will see some parts of world warm by 6 degrees: Nature paper

The Mediterranean, central Brazil and the lower 48 states of the US are among the areas likely to warm by 2 degrees by about 2030. Photo: Leigh Henningham Some of the warmest temperature gains in a 2-degree warmer world will be in the Arctic. Photo: Nature

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The Paris pact to limit global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees will still result in some parts of the planet warming by as much as 6 degrees due to regional variations, researchers in Switzerland and Australia said.

While the world will likely pass two degrees of warming by the 2040s on the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, some parts of the Arctic had already passed the 2-degree mark by 2000 compared with pre-industrial times, the scientists at ETH Zurich and the University of New South Wales found.

The Mediterranean, central Brazil and the lower 48 states of the US are among the areas likely to warm by 2 degrees by about 2030, according to the research published on Thursday in Nature journal.

The paper noted that purported impacts of drought in Syria and the regional unrest may be an indication of what is to come if worsening regional extreme undermine fragile socieities.

“Given current political tensions around the Mediterranean basin, implications of locally more rapid climate change could extend to regional impacts, adding to wider political instability,” the paper said.

Globally, most land regions will warm faster than oceans in part because the loss of soil moisture and ice or snow amplifies the heating trend.

Sea circulation can also transport additional heat to ocean depths in a manner not possible on land, said Markus Donat, a research fellow at UNSW’s ARC Centre for Excellence for Climate System Science and one of the paper’s authors.

Interestingly, Australia generally avoids the biggest changes in land temperatures, roughly rising at the same pace as the global average, according to the modelling based on work done for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“There are two possible reasons [for the Australian result],” Andy Pitman, a co-author and director of the ARC Centre, said. “There is something peculiar about the nature of the feedbacks that link average and extreme warming,” which leads to land areas in the southern hemisphere warming at a slower pace than in the north.

“Or, it could be that the models are biased to the areas where the modellers are based” in the northern Hemisphere, he said. “Perhaps there are systematic errors so we don’t see the amplification.”

At the Paris climate summit late last year, almost 200 nations agreed to keep average global warming to less than 2 degrees. On the pledges made so far, temperatures are on track to rise at least 2.7 degrees from pre-industrial times – assuming countries keep their promises to cut back greenhouse gas emissions towards zero net pollution by the second half of the century.

The global budget to keep within 2 degrees mean warming level is cumulative emissions of about 850 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon, the paper said.

To prevent the Mediterranean region warming by that amount, however, the  budget is about 600 GT. Since emissions have totalled about 500 GT, rising at about 10 GT, the world has 10 years or less on current trends to avoid that mark, Professor Pitman said.

“It was an urgent problem 25 years ago,” he said. “Now it’s way past urgent to look at deep and meaningful emission reductions.”

One reason for the urgency is that the pattern of warming is unlikely to be a smooth one, with unexpected “tipping points” accelerating the process.

“We have no way of knowing when our climate may change abruptly from one state to another, meaning we could potentially see even greater regional variation than these findings show,” Dr Donat said.

The Arctic, as it warms, will likely see more melting of the permafrost, which will release more methane. Methane is about 25 times more potent in trapping heat than C02 over a century.

“Whilst Paris did put us on a better path, it’s not a path that is consistent with the science,” Professor Pitman said.

NSW Health confirms seven babies given to wrong mothers in mix-up

Stefanie Phillips said she was overwhelmed after Gosford Hospital staff told her that her baby had been breastfed by another mother. Photo: Seven NewsSeven newborn babies have been handed to the wrong mothers in shocking mix-ups in the NSW health system.

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The number of babies given to the wrong mothers for breastfeeding in cases of mistaken identification has reached seven in the past four years, according to a statement by the NSW Health Minister, confirming News Limited reports.

Jillian Skinner, the NSW Minister for Health, said that the occurrence was extremely rare.

“Almost 100,000 babies are born in NSW public hospitals each year and over the past five years there were seven occasions where this error occurred,” she said in a statement. “The error was soon discovered.”

All incidents occurred in public hospitals, according to documents released under freedom-of-information laws; the Health ministry said it had no records of mixups in private hospitals.

Walt Secord, the NSW Labor Health spokesman, obtained the figures from the department.

“As a dad, I know about the importance of the first contact between a mum and their newborn,” he said. “Mixing up a baby is devastating.”

A mother’s breast milk contains natural antibodies that protect their newborns from disease, meaning any mix-up could deprive a child of the natural immunity if it leads to a later failure to breastfeed. Mix-ups also carry a small risk of transmission of illness and the much greater threat of psychological damage.

Mrs Skinner said strict protocols were in place to cross-check infants’ identities with their mothers.

“In the rare cases where an error occurs, immediate serological tests and breast milk screening are undertaken,” Mrs Skinner said. “The affected mothers are offered counselling and support.”

One mother, Stefanie Phillips, was devastated after one such mix-up at Gosford Hospital late last year and said it left her unable to breastfeed her daughter.

Ms Phillips’ baby daughter, Ellie, was returned to the wrong mother for breastfeeding after a period in the hospital’s nursery.

“[I was told] the other mother has breastfed your daughter for two hours and got photos with her … skin-on-skin, did everything I wanted to do with her,” Ms Phillips said at the time. “I was very overwhelmed, I had just become a new mum. I didn’t know what to say in that situation”.

That incident came just days after a similar mix-up at Royal North Shore Private Hospital. In that instance the hospital confirmed a mix-up but said it had been identified before the baby was breastfed.

Mr Secord called on the government to release details about which hospitals were involved in the mixups, something Mrs Skinner has so far refused to do.

South China Sea: Vietnam accuses China of dragging oil rig into its waters

The Haiyang Shiyou oil rig. Photo: Jin LiangkuaiAnti-Chinese rioting in Vietnam turns deadlyChina withdraws oil rig early from contested waters

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Bangkok: Vietnam has accused China of towing a $1 billion oil rig into disputed waters of the South China Sea in a potential re-run of a stand-off that sparked violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam in 2014.

But China insists the giant state-owned rig called Haiyang Shiyou 981 is still in its territorial waters and called on Vietnam to remain calm over the dispute.

China’s decision to again tow the same rig from its shores as it did in 2014 comes at a highly sensitive time in Vietnam as the country’s communist leaders gather for their five-yearly congress.

Carlyle Thayer, an expert on Vietnam and the South China Sea from Australia’s Defence Force Academy, said China’s move appeared ill-timed and counter-productive, possibly boosting support for the country’s reforming communist leaders who have been locked in a bitter factional struggle with traditional old guard leaders, who are closer to Beijing.

In 2014 China’s deployment of the rig about 120 nautical miles off Vietnam’s coast led to the worst breakdown in relations between the neighbouring communist countries in decades.

Five people were killed and hundreds of Vietnamese factories owned by Chinese and other countries were looted and burned.

Chinese and Vietnamese vessels faced each other down near the rig the size of a football oval for months before it was removed.

Analysts said that dispute accelerated Vietnam’s efforts to improve relations with the United States and other global powers.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry claims the deep-water rig was towed into disputed waters last Saturday and demanded that it be withdrawn.

But China’s Foreign Ministry hit back, saying the rig is operating in “Chinese controlled waters that are completely undisputed.”

“We hope the Vietnamese side can view this calmly, meet China half-way and jointly work hard to appropriately handle relevant maritime issues,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

The rig owned by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation is China’s first domestically-built mobile drilling platform.

China’s Maritime Safety Administration said it would be drilling 150 kilometres west of the Paracel Islands that China occupies and Vietnam claims until March 10.

The agency warned ships to stay clear of the area. .

Earlier in January Vietnam accused China of jeopardising the safety of civilian flights over the South China Sea by landing aircraft on an artificial island that China had constructed in a contested area.

China rejected the complaint, saying the planes landed within China’s sovereign territory.

Also earlier in January the United States obtained final approval to expand its military presence in the Philippines in a move seen as countering China’s claims in the flashpoint waters where there are overlapping territorial claims by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The US has also begun making spy flights over the region in Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft based in Singapore, and Vietnam’s new advanced Kilo-class submarines have begun patrols to reinforce that country’s territorial claims.

The South China Sea is believed to be resource rich and goods worth more than US$5 trillion transit its strategic waterways each year.

-With agencies

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