Medicine and art combine at Melbourne’s first Indigenous birthing room

Hundreds gathered at Melbourne’s Northern Hospital to mark the opening of the city’s first Indigenous birthing room – appropriately named ‘Ngay Nga-Ango’, meaning “first breath”.


Unlike conventional “birthing suites” gum leaves are scattered across the room and a vibrant mural covers a feature wall. When commissioned to create the piece, local artist Kahli Luttrell says she drew on her own experience as a mother-of-four – and added a series of culturally “appropriate” references.

“There was a selected tree and it was known as the ‘birthing tree’ and that was hollowed out by fire burnt out in the middle and they’d go at that time and give birth in the tree,” she said.

Birthing is a significant aspect of Indigenous culture and for the past  four years a specialist Koori Maternity Service Program has operated from Melbourne’s Northern Hospital.

Aboriginal health worker Jo Quinn said the program employs predominantly Indigenous health workers and focuses on cultural aspects including family and continuity of support which is of particular appeal to mothers-to-be.

“They’re seeing us right from the start – right from the beginning when they’re first finding out they’re pregnant, we’re following through with them right through their pregnancy to the first breath of the baby,” she said.

The Ngay Nga-Ango sign hanging at Melbourne’s first Indigenous birthing room.Luke Waters

Ms Quinn says it’s a striking piece of artwork which provides both a soothing outlet and welcome distraction

“In the painting there’s an actual journey described through the mural and the women, they’ve all told us they’re focusing their breathing, they’re watching this mural [and] they’re getting in touch with family – it’s a really positive experience for them,” Ms Quinn said.

Tammy Watts spent several hours in labour in the room on Australia Day before little Calliopi arrived and she said being surrounded by culture and family made for a positive experience.

“It makes all the difference – it’s very calming, it makes you feel very connected.

“I believe it helps you form the bond as you’re going through the labour itself as well which is awesome it’s an excellent feeling,” she said.

And according to proud artist Kahli Luttrell, it’s an increasingly common story.

“One lady, she had her baby and she said, ‘I just wanted to thank the artist because it was great. I had something to focus on – it took my mind off the pain which is nice.'”

“It’s nice to get feedback like that and then everyone can enjoy it,” she said.

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Australian hospitals in constant state of emergency, AMA says

The Australian Medical Association said its 2017 report card, released on Friday, painted a bleak picture of public hospitals choking under the weight of demand.


“It paints a picture of a system that is, at best, plateauing and, according to many metrics, going backwards,” AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said.

“What we’re dealing with are doctors, nurses, [and] other health professionals that are being asked to do more with less. They can’t do that, and that’s reflected in this data,” he said.

“Patients must be at risk if they are waiting longer to be seen.”

Among the findings was that just two-thirds of emergency patients classed as urgent were being seen within the recommended 30 minutes time period, well below the 80 per cent target.

As well, the average waiting time for elective surgery rose dramatically from 27 days in 2001-2002 to 37 days in 2015-2016.

The ratio of available beds for people aged over 65 also dropped by nearly half in the past two decades.

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said the states were under enormous pressure due to a lack of Commonwealth funding.

“It’s time Malcolm Turnbull funded our public hospitals,” Ms King said.

“Patients are suffering across the country and today is very much a wake-up call for the government.”

But a spokesperson for new Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Commonwealth funding had been increasing by approximately $1 billion per year.


“Public hospital funding is forecast to grow from $13.8 billion in 2013-2014 to $21.2 billion in 2019-2020,” the spokesperson said.

“This represents an increase of $7.4 billion since the Coalition came into government – or more than 50 per cent.

“One of the most significant factors in waiting times for public hospitals is the practice by some states of increasing the number of private patients in public hospitals.

“Minister Hunt will be taking this up with each of the states.”

The AMA also called for a better approach to sorting out funding arrangements.

“We need to work out a way of having this conversation,” Dr Gannon said.

“We cannot have an annual bunfight at COAG (Council of Australian Governments) with the states and the Commonwealth saying that it’s your fault, no it’s your fault – that is unedifying and unproductive.

“Spending in the health system is a cost, but it’s an investment in the productivity of our country.”

IS-claimed bomb kills 70, injures 150 at Pakistani shrine

The Islamic State group claimed the attack in a statement carried by the Amaq propaganda agency linked to the Sunni Muslim jihadist group.


Pakistan’s leaders vowed revenge for the attack on the shrine in the town of Sehwan in Sindh province, some 200 kilometres (124 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Karachi, which came after a bloody week of extremist assaults shook the country’s growing sense of security.

A police source said a suicide bomber had entered the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th century Muslim saint, and blown himself up among the devotees.

The shrine had been crowded on a Thursday, considered a sacred day for prayers.

“So far 70 people have been killed and more than 150 wounded,” Inspector General of Police for Sindh province A.D. Khawaja told AFP.

“Many wounded people are in critical condition and they will be shifted to Karachi as soon as Navy helicopters and C-130 plane reach nearest airport.”

Emergency services are basic in Sehwan, with the nearest main hospital some 130 kilometres away. Provincial health minister doctor Sikandar Maindro said an emergency had been declared in Karachi hospitals.

Pakistani students light candles to condemn the recent attack on a shrine in interior Sind province, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 in Karachi, Pakistan (AAP)AAP

Revenge vow

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif swiftly issued a statement saying an attack on Sufis was considered a “direct threat”.

Military chief General Qamer Javed Bajwa warned: “Each drop of (the) nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone.”

Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in the past two years, but a series of attacks this week — most claimed by the Pakistani Taliban — has shaken the growing sense of optimism.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban said it had carried out a suicide bombing in Lahore which killed 13 people and wounded dozens more Monday, days after the group had vowed to launch a fresh offensive.

Four suicide bombers struck northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six people and unnerving civilians further.

“The past few days have been hard, and my heart is with the victims. But we can’t let these events divide us, or scare us,” Sharif said in his statement.

“We have faced tougher circumstances, and still persevered.”

The attacks underscore Pakistan’s struggle to stamp out extremism, which was stepped up after the country’s deadliest ever attack, a Pakistani Taliban assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 which left more than 150 people dead — mostly children.

The army intensified a long-awaited operation in the semi-autonomous tribal areas, where militants had previously operated with impunity, and the government launched a vaunted National Action Plan against extremism.

Emboldened Pakistanis are once again attending public gatherings and the growing confidence is palpable after more than a decade of militant attacks.

But critics have repeatedly warned that the crackdown does not address the root causes of extremism, and groups like the Pakistani Taliban — and, increasingly, Islamic State — can still carry out spectacular assaults.

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Trump pans ‘out of control’ press during first solo news conference

From there, the president’s criticism of the media went from barbed to personal in a cutting assessment of what he viewed as unfair coverage of his first few weeks in office – a period that has seen a succession of crises.


On a day when he ceded a loss over a signature policy in a federal appeals court, had to replace his labor secretary pick and faced questions over the resignation of his national security adviser, Trump chose to make the media a central focus of an unusually long and combative presidential news conference.

When asked by journalists of contacts between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives, he deflected the questions and put the focus instead on what he described as “illegal” government leaks and “dishonest” media coverage.

“The press is out of control,” he said. “The level of dishonesty is out of control”

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After weeks of disclosures in newspapers over turmoil in his administration, he told one reporter to “sit down” for a rambling question.

“Tomorrow, they will say: ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,'” Trump said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time

doing it.”

Trump’s message in the 77-minute session appeared aimed at the same voters who elected him president last November, a large number of whom feel Washington has left them behind and who like his image as an outsider trying to shake up the establishment.

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He sought to cast problems buffeting the White House as “the mess” he inherited from former Democratic President Barack Obama, and boasted about the “fine-tuned administration” he is running.

In one unusual exchange near the end of the news conference, Trump called on a questioner, asking if he was “a friendly reporter.”

When the journalist asked about recent threats to 48 Jewish centers across the country and signs of rising anti-Semitism, Trump appeared to take the question personally, replying: “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

He added he was also the “least racist person,” told the reporter to be “quiet,” accused him of lying and then dismissed the question as “insulting.”

Related reading’How does press get this information?’

Most opinion polls show Trump struggling with low approval numbers less than a month into his presidency. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Feb. 10 to 14 gave Trump a 46 percent approval rating.

While many presidencies have started off on rocky ground, Trump’s administration has been particularly marked by controversies, fights with the media and a legal battle over an executive order to ban people temporarily from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“I turn on the TV and open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos, chaos. And yet, it is the exact opposite,” Trump said.

Trump waved away questions about a New York Times report that members of his campaign team had frequent contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials last year.

His main complaint was that the news media had uncovered leaks about intercepted communications between Michael Flynn, ousted this week as national security adviser and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kisylak, and leaks about his own conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

“The first thing I thought of, how does the press get this information?” he asked.

Virgin hurting from soft market conditions

Virgin Australia’s financial performance has been whacked by leisure and corporate travellers tightening their belts.


Australia’s second biggest airline has swung to a net loss of $36.1 million for the six months to December 31, hurt by weak passenger demand and restructuring charges relating mainly to fleet changes.

That compares to a net profit of $45.7 million over the same period a year earlier.

Chief executive John Borghetti blamed concerns about the economy, rising house prices and a mixed jobs market for the soft demand.

“There is a sense of uncertainty, there is a sense of conservatism.”

“I think people, generally, whether it’s corporates or leisure, are just a little bit more cautious with their spending in travel,” Mr Borghetti told journalists on the group’s earnings call on Friday.

Australia’s unemployment rate fell to 5.7 per cent in January from 5.8 per cent in December, but full-time work fell and income growth slowed, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday.

Mr Borghetti doesn’t expect industry conditions to improve any time soon.

“I hope they turn around tomorrow, but you know I think its hard to see a turnaround tomorrow. I think we’re in an environment that may take a little while,” he said.

Virgin did not provide any outlook guidance due to “uncertainty in external market conditions”.

First-half underlying profit before tax dropped sharply to $42.3 million, from $81.5 million a year ago, with revenue down 0.9 per cent at $2.63 billion.

As part of its previously announced restructuring plans, Virgin has cut jobs and the number of aircraft types it operates.

Virgin on Friday disclosed that it has agreed to sell six of its remaining Embraer 190 aircraft for an undisclosed sum, and that delivery of its first Boeing 737MAX aircraft has been delayed by about 12 months until the fourth quarter of 2019.

Virgin also announced that it plans to start flying to Hong Kong from mid-2017 as part of its alliance agreement with HNA Aviation, Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express, subject to approval by HK’s competition watchdog.


*Airline swings to net loss of $36.1m, from $45.7m profit

*Revenue fell 0.9pct to $2.63b

*Virgin didn’t declare an interim dividend

‘Like a fine-tuned machine’: Trump denies chaos reigns in White House

The 70-year-old US president vented frustrations, insisted he is “not a bad person” and wondered out loud about a “nuclear holocaust,” in a remarkable one hour, 16 minute ask-me-anything appearance.


Standing in the East Room of the White House — beneath the painted gaze of George Washington and where Abraham Lincoln’s body once lay in repose — the 45th commander-in-chief jettisoned any semblance of presidential decorum.

“I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess,” Trump said in an 23 minute opening monologue that bore little resemblance to presidential press conferences past.

Watch the entire Trump conference

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Claiming his administration “is running like a fine-tuned machine” Trump accused the “dishonest” media of stirring-up crises that have sent his approval rating plummeting.

“The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way,” he said. “I do get good ratings, you have to admit that.” 

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A recent Pew poll showed only 39 percent of Americans believe Trump is doing a good job, a lower number than any modern administration at the end of its first month.

In four tumultuous weeks, Trump has seen his national security advisor ousted, a cabinet nominee withdraw, a centerpiece immigration policy fail in the courts and a tidal wave of damaging leaks.

“There is zero chaos,” Trump insisted, as he aired a litany of grievances. 

“We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.”

“This is a fine-tuned machine,” he said.

Related reading’The real opposition’ 

Again and again Trump came back to his own portrayal in the media. 

“The press honestly is out of control,” he said, while vowing to hunt down the culprits of “criminal leaks” that have exposed questionable ties between key aides and the Russian government.

“The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people,” he said, while variously telling reporters to “sit down” and be “quiet.”

“The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake,” he said.

A lot to unpack from POTUS’ news conference. Most impt: Continued dodging direct questions about contact w/Russia.

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 16, 2017

Between questions about Russia, inaccurate statements and his wife, Trump pondered how future media coverage of such an event would look.

“Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”

WATCH: Trump slams FBI, NSA over intelligence leaks

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Trump also defended his executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, which caused chaos at airports across the United States and has been suspended by a circuit court.

“I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result,” he said.

“That circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further,” he said. In fact, the Justice Department announced it is dropping the appeal.

“We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country.”

February disapproval ratings in first term

Reagan 18%

Bush 13%

Clinton 25%

Bush 21%

Obama 17%

Trump 56%苏州美甲培训学校,长沙SPA,/VD4uQ9wUxh pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/81VHRcPjfo

— Conrad Hackett (@conradhackett) February 16, 2017

Trump also signaled a new approach to how America talks about its defense and foreign policy.

“I don’t have to tell you. I don’t want to be one of these guys that say, ‘Yes, here’s what we’re going to do.’ I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea.”

“I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do.”

When asked about Russian military maneuvers and the passage of a spy boat off the coast of Connecticut, Trump was candid about his thinking. 

“The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’ That’s not great. That’s not great.”

“Look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal,” he said. 

“Don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he added.

“Nuclear holocaust would be like no other.”

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More controversy in aftermath of Trump’s Israel comments

A former bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman has been a controversial choice by the Trump administration for the sensitive role of ambassador to Israel.


And it did not take long into his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for those tensions to rise to the surface.

(Friedman:) “If confirmed, I will also faithfully observe …”

(Protesters:) “(We are) American Jews Against the Occupation. David Friedman, you promote racism, you fund illegal settlements, we will not be silent.” … Israeli occupation is an injustice against Palestinians and a moral crisis for American Jews… Senators, if you send this man to Israel, you endanger millions of Palestinians and Israelis. American Jews stand against this man. We stand for freedom and dignity for all.”

The protesters were escorted from the hearing room.

Mr Friedman, son of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, then offered an apology for inflammatory comments he made during the presidential election campaign.

“While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language. I want to assure you that I understand the critical difference between the partisan rhetoric of a political contest and a diplomatic mission. Partisan rhetoric is not appropriate in achieving diplomatic progress, especially in a sensitive and strife-torn region like the Middle East.”

Mr Friedman was referring to his description of a liberal Jewish advocacy group named J Street as worse than kapos, Jews who helped the Nazis imprison fellow Jews in the Holocaust.

A Democratic senator from the state of Maryland, Ben Cardin, questioned Mr Friedman’s capacity to carry out the ambassador’s role, given his fervent views.

(Cardin:) “You, of course, have been involved in supporting settlements and in conversations that seem to imply that the two-state solution is no longer a viable option. What do you mean by that?”

(Friedman:) “Senator, if the Israelis and the Palestinians, through direct negotiations, were able to achieve a two-state solution along parameters agreeable to them, I would be delighted. I have expressed my scepticism about the two-state solution solely on the basis of what I’ve perceived as an unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”

The exchange follows Donald Trump’s suggestion that a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel is optional.

With visiting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side at the White House, Mr Trump withheld clear support for an independent Palestinian state.

He declared he could support a one-state solution that produces peace.

But speaking in the United Nations, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has moved to clarify the US position.

“I think, first of all, the administration and the United States supports a two-state solution. But what we support more is peace and stability. And, by bringing the two to the table to have them talk through this in a fresh way, to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to go back to the drawing board, what can we agree on?’ What the President has said, and that we agree on, is expanding settlements at this point is not helpful.”

The new ambassador says she will be standing up on behalf on behalf of the United States to what she refers to as the United Nations’ anti-Israel bias.

“We will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel. Instead, we will push for actions on the real threats we face.”

Her comments appear to be aimed at soothing tensions in the Middle East caused by the President’s remarks.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Israeli concept of a single state is unsustainable.

“What Netanyahu is thinking about, the ‘one state-two systems’ the military government imposed on Palestinians, is apartheid. This is not doable in the 21st century. This is not sustainable in the 21st century. So undermining the two-state solution will spell disaster for Palestinians and Israelis, and that’s the truth.”

Mr Netanyahu is due to visit Australia next week, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is sticking by his support for a two-state solution.

“Well, our position has not changed. Our position is that there should be a two-state solution negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and that there should be a two-state solution and that will best secure the interests and, indeed, the security of both peoples.”




Nicholls slams Labor over infrastructure

Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls has hit out at the state government’s infrastructure plans, saying less than one per cent of private sector-proposed projects have been approved.


Treasurer Curtis Pitt in December said the government had received more than 100 preliminary market-led proposals, though only one had progressed to contractual close.

Mr Nicholls claims that isn’t good enough and announced the LNP would cut the assessment period for projects to four months if elected.

“Queensland is suffering an infrastructure deficit under Labor and we need to be encouraging the private sector to step up and plug the gap – not dissuading them with just one of 100 MLP projects approved,” he said in a statement.

He said a Liberal National Party government would also alter the MLP framework to focus on value for money and the company behind the project’s ability to deliver.

The first project to be approved under the government’s market-led proposals framework, introduced in 2015, is a $512 million upgrade to the Logan Motorway.

The government in December said 37 stage 1 proposals had been submitted to the government, six of which were currently being considered by the government, while another two had progressed to stage 2.

A government spokesman on Friday hit back at Mr Nicholls, suggesting he was more interested in privatising assets than infrastructure projects when he was treasurer in the Newman government.

“The only market led proposal Tim Nicholls was interested in when he was treasurer was the mass privatisation of our income generating assets, including our entire power generation and supply network,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Virgin Aust to start flying to Hong Kong

Virgin Australia plans to take on Qantas and Cathay Pacific on the Australia to Hong Kong route from mid-2017, in a bid to tap the lucrative Chinese travel market.


It needs approval from Australia’s competition regulator for a tie-up with China’s biggest private airline operator and Virgin shareholder, HNA Group, before starting direct and code sharing flights to Hong Kong and mainland China.

But chief executive John Borghetti expects to secure interim approval in four or so weeks, citing limited competition on the route.

“We’re hopeful it will be very quick,” Mr Borghetti said on the airline’s first-half earnings call on Friday.

“Hong Kong is really just the route that’s covered by two carriers. I mean Cathay and Qantas have got it by the throat, and we intend to break that duopoloy and bring real competition on the route.”

China has become the fastest-growing tourist market for Australia over the past 40 years and has almost eclipsed New Zealand as the biggest source country for visitors, according to recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

About 1.2 million Chinese tourists and 1.3 million Kiwis came to Australia for stays of less than three months in 2016, according to the ABS.

Virgin, Australia’s second biggest airline behind Qantas, will compete on pricing and product, with the route serviced by one of its Airbus A330 aircraft, Mr Borghetti said.

As well as flying directly to Hong Kong, Virgin will also codeshare with HNA Aviation, Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express as part of the strategic alliance.

Mr Borghetti said the alliance would be a “game changer” for travel between Australia and China, providing more competition and choice for travellers.

“The alliance will accelerate and support our access to the Chinese market, which is Australia’s fastest growing and most valuable inbound travel market,” he said.

Mr Borghetti declined to comment on market chatter that the flights will be based out of Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city, or on their frequency.

Trio die in ‘tragic’ water tank accident at NSW farm

Two brothers and one of their wives died in an empty water tank on a NSW property in a”tragic accident” after being overcome by fumes.


Andrew Basnett, 69, his wife Anne, 63, and brother 68-year-old Richard, have been remembered by friends as “upstanding” locals who “added a lot to the community”. 

The three family members bodies were found in a ground cement water tank on their property near Gunning, on the state’s Southern Tablelands on Thursday evening, after being overcome by fumes. 

It’s understood Andrew collapsed while cleaning the inside of the empty in-ground cement water tank on property just out of Gunning on Thursday.

Anne and Richard went into the tank to help him, but also collapsed.

“Everyone is very affected by it because it’s just one of those tragedies that touches everybody,” friend Craig Southwell told SBS. 

Andrew was using a petrol pump to clean the tank, which may have been the cause of the build-up of fumes at the bottom of the water tank, police believe.

“It appears that it was lowered into the tank and that’s caused the gases to be at the bottom of the tank,” said NSW Police Superintendent Koutsoufis, from the Hume LAC.

It’s believed the trio may have succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.

A neighbour contacted emergency services just after 6pm on Thursday but all three were found dead.

“It appears that it was lowered into the tank and that’s caused the gases to be at the bottom of the tank,” Superintendent Koutsoufis said on Friday.

“It’s an absolute tragic set of circumstances. A tragic accident,” he said.  

“It’s devastated a family… it’s also a devastating outcome for a small town like Gunning. So a lot of people are hurting at the moment.”

The town of Gunning, with only a population of about 450, is mourning the loss of the three locals.

Rescue specialists were waiting for the gases to die down before retrieving the bodies, Superintendent Koutsoufis said.

The farm is at Oolong, about 10 kilometres from Gunning, which is on the Hume Highway.

Police said autopsies would be carried out in coming days.

With AAP