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Simply the best

Outstanding professional achievements, inspirational leadership and exceptional human qualities characterise recipients of Monash University's Distinguished Alumni Awards - and this year's winners are no exception, writes JOHN CLARK.

Beth WilsonBeth Wilson

Since becoming the Victorian Health Services Commissioner in 1997, Beth Wilson has been on a crusade to publicise the work of her office.

Recent events at Royal Melbourne Hospital, however, have put her firmly in the spotlight.

In the wake of the deaths of two elderly patients allegedly after being given inappropriate drugs Ms Wilson (BA 1975, LLB 1977) has been reviewing a range of procedures at the hospital.

It's all in a day's work for the Commission, whose role is to handle complaints about the health system and then use the information to improve the quality of traditional and complementary health services throughout the state.

The office receives about 9000 inquiries a year from dissatisfied patients. Most are resolved in one telephone call and about 3750 are accepted for further investigation and conciliation.

"More than 75 per cent of patients do not seek compensation," Ms Wilson said.

"They want to hear what went wrong and why; they want their complaints to make a difference. We're not an advocacy service we don't go in to bat for one side or the other."

Many grievances are minor, Ms Wilson says. "Many of the complaints don't come within a bull's roar of the courts. In one case, a doctor went home and forgot that his patient, who had acupuncture needles in her, was still lying on a bed in his surgery.

"After attending conciliation, the patient could see the funny side and the doctor was happy to apologise. She is still his patient."

Since October, Ms Wilson has made about 100 speeches, mainly to service providers. There's no such thing as a risk-free society, she tells their members.

"I say you are all professionals and we expect high standards. From time to time, however, you'll make mistakes. You can handle it in two ways: you can either end up in court, or with the help of the Commission you can resolve it quickly through conciliation."

Ms Wilson's journey to the Commission since leaving Monash has been enormously varied. Along the way she completed a Graduate Diploma in Information Science at RMIT and worked at Telecom, the Victorian Law Foundation and the Law Reform Commission. She has also been a legal member of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, sat on the WorkCare Appeals Board and was president of both the Mental Health Review Board and Psychosurgery Review Board.

 

Stephen WhiteStephen White

When Stephen White was told he'd won a Distinguished Alumni Award, he thought someone was playing a joke.

"I work in the Department of Defence. There's no reason for anyone to have heard of me, and I don't think I've really done anything that unusual," Mr White said.

A moot point. Mr White (BComp 1995) set up South Australia's first internet service and designed and built computer installations to support the new $1.8 billion Jindalee Operational Radar Network. The sophisticated radar network, now undergoing final trials, can detect stealth bombers from at least 3000 kilometres away. During the recent emergency in East Timor, it was used to track aircraft taking off and landing at Dili airport.

But Mr White claims his major achievement is a website he established to help people seeking medical advice.

"Probably my biggest claim to fame is a website I set up and run for people with rheumatic diseases my sister has scleroderma (a disease of the connective tissue)," Mr White said.

Each year, more than a million doctors and rheumatic patients visit the site (http://rheumatic.org/), which provides information on how inflammatory rheumatic disease and associated diseases can be treated with low-dose antibiotic therapy.

His voluntary work doesn't end there. "I've donated a couple of computers to deaf schools, and I run a mailing list for deaf people who speak and lip-read."

Mr White's skills, however, are not confined to the keyboard. In his spare time, he flies ultra-light aircraft and has designed and had built his own electric guitar. (He is also profoundly deaf he did his degree by correspondence and is not even sure that Monash knew about his hearing problem.)

After introducing many South Australians to the internet and helping establish the 'trip-wire' in Australia's northern surveillance system, Mr White is now looking to establish his own consulting business.

 

Tony PagoneTony Pagone

For someone who claims he didn't spend much time studying law, Tony Pagone has done supremely well.

A graduate of Monash University's fledgling Faculty of Law, Justice Pagone was last year appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria not bad for a man whose mother held grave fears for her son's future when he began studying at Monash in 1973.

"My mother was very distressed. The campus at the time was a hotbed of student radicalism," he said.

"But I loved Monash, although I didn't spend a great deal of time studying law. It was a young faculty, and it was vibrant and exciting."

Before joining the judiciary, Justice Pagone (BA 1976, DipEd 1977, LLB Hons 1979) was involved in a series of legal cases that spanned tax litigation, freedom to organise and freedom of speech.

He was counsel for Peter Reith during the waterfront dispute in 1998, appeared for the Mexican Government in the trial of fugitive banker Carlos Cabal, and fought a free speech case involving the editors of La Trobe University's student newspaper and the then Federal Labor Government. ("We lost the free speech case, but the government was persuaded to drop the charges," Justice Pagone said.)

In one of his last cases as a QC before his appointment to the bench, Justice Pagone was involved in the Tampa case in the Federal Court for the London-based Amnesty International organisation.

In addition to his work as a barrister, he has served on several organisations. He has been secretary of the Victorian Council of Civil Liberties, counsel for the Victorian division of Amnesty International, honorary secretary of the Italian welfare and cultural group CO.AS.IT, and vice-president, and later chairman, of the Victorian Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists. (The Commission ensures that the rule of law is maintained internationally Justice Michael Kirby was once its world-wide president.)

Since moving to the Supreme Court bench in October, Justice Pagone has been in an almost constant state of conversion.

"It's quite a learning curve," he said. "It's hard to adjust from being the person putting forward a case to the one who is sitting dispassionately and having to decide on two perfectly valid points of view.

"Deciding upon people's lives is a big responsibility. There's no training for such a position."

Want to stay connected and informed? The Alumni Relations office at Monash distributes an e-newsletter on the first Monday of every month, covering alumni events, networks and news from the Monash campuses. Visit www.alumni.monash.edu and follow the 'At Monash' link to subscribe.

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