A bigger Australian news roundup today:

Drug companies refuse to import abortion pill: "Abortion pill RU486 will not be freely available to Australian women, despite this month's emotional Federal Parliament debate. Major pharmaceutical companies have informally advised their peak industry group, Medicines Australia, they have no intention of importing the drug. They have decided the move would be too costly and controversial. This month's rare conscience vote, releasing MPs from the constraints of voting along party lines, stripped Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott of his veto over the pill. More than 150 members and senators spoke on the Bill during the five sitting days it took to pass through both houses of Parliament. It was hailed by supporters as a breakthrough giving all women access to the drug - particularly rural women who might not be able to easily obtain a surgical abortion. But given the unwillingness of Australian-based drug companies to get involved, the dream of Federal MPs who voted for RU486 - that it be readily available across the pharmacy counter - is unlikely to be realised. Well-placed sources said the decision not to import RU486 was based on two factors. The first is that the market is limited and the elaborate approval process would not make commercial sense. But the second reason is more important. Pharmaceutical companies understand that their industry is not particularly well regarded by the community and they believe it is not worth stirring up a high-profile campaign against them by the pro-life movement".

Christians singled out, says senator: "Christians are seen as fair game when it comes to poking fun at religious icons, while Jews and Muslims are seemingly off-limits, Family First senator Steve Fielding said on Sunday. The Victorian senator has called for the Federal Government to ban an episode of US cartoon South Park titled "Bloody Mary" for its depiction of the Virgin Mary menstruating. SBS Television has decided to "defer" the airing of the controversial episode, because of the "current worldwide controversy over cartoons of religious figures". Overseas riots in reaction to newspapers publishing satirical cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed led to the death of nearly 30 people. "How come Christians are such easy targets? How come it's okay to make fun of symbols at the heart of Christianity, such as the Crucifix or the Virgin Mary, but people seem to think twice before having a go at the Star of David or the Koran?" Senator Fielding said.

Australia: Gun ownership explodes: "Gun ownership is on the rise in Queensland with evidence the tough restrictions introduced after the Port Arthur massacre nearly a decade ago are losing their effectiveness. Despite bans on certain types of weapons and a successful buyback and amnesty, police figures show there are more firearms in the community now than three years ago. Police Minister Judy Spence yesterday foreshadowed possible changes to the Weapons Act, to be reviewed this year, saying she was 'aware of some operational suggestions from police and these will be considered as part of this review.' Queensland police Weapons Licensing Branch manager, Inspector Mike Crowley, said gun ownership applications had increased 30 per cent since 2002. Up to 11,000 of last year's 26,000 applicants were first-timers. 'There has not been a decrease in the number of firearms, but an increase. It shows they do not really depreciate and are a resilient commodity,' Insp Crowley said."

Health insurance price rises not as bad this year: "Private health fund premiums will climb an average of 5.7 per cent from April 1, adding $3 a week on a typical family policy. But the increases - which will fall to an average weekly slug of $2 after the federal Government's 30 per cent rebate - are the lowest annual price hikes for five years. Health funds say increased payouts to members, which rose 8.1 per cent to almost $5.9billion for hospital benefits alone in 2004-05, are one factor behind the rises. Other drivers were said to be a 20 per cent rise in payouts for prostheses and the popularity and spread of "gap cover" products that in some cases paid the doctor's entire fee. Private health fund membership is increasing. There are now about 8.8 million Australians with hospital cover - 43.1 per cent of the population - and 8.6 million with ancillary cover. Almost all the increase is among people aged more than 60, who place the greatest pressure on health funds."

Another failure of government medical services in Queensland: "A paramedic shortage has forced the Queensland government to search interstate and overseas for ambulance staff. The Department of Emergency Services today launched a major advertising campaign in newspapers throughout Australia and New Zealand to fill 144 paramedic positions. However, Queensland Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell said he was not concerned by the staff shortage and the need to search beyond the state. "Paramedics are not coming here at the moment so that is why we are going elsewhere with the advertising," Mr Purcell said. "I don't know why they wouldn't want to come and work here as it's the most professional (paramedic) service in Australia." [Pay?] The positions needed to be filled throughout Queensland by September next year, he said.


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