Brave captain returns for first game

CBR Brave captain Mark Rummukainen (right) with Jordie Gavin and Maxime Suzzarini. Photo: Melissa AdamsHe was a leading force behind the birth of the CBR Brave, and captain Mark Rummukainen has returned from the world championships to lead the side for the first time.

The Brave hosts defending Australian Ice Hockey League champions the Sydney Ice Dogs at the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre on Saturday night.

It will be Rummukainen’s inaugural game for the Brave after he missed its 2-0 season-opening loss to Newcastle a fortnight ago while representing Australia at the division two world championships in Serbia.

“I was pretty bummed to miss out on the first game with a big crowd and a bit of hype around it, but obviously you’re not going to turn down representing your country,” Rummukainen said.

“To see tangible evidence of what we wanted to get done is being done, I’ll be very proud and excited to see a huge crowd and play as part of the Brave.

“Hopefully we can put out a huge effort and come away with some points.”

Rummukainen was the former captain of the Canberra Knights before the team folded just six weeks before the start of the season.

He played a major role in getting the Brave off the ground and ensuring there remained an ice hockey team in Canberra.

Rummukainen is hoping for better luck than what Australia had in winning just one of its five games at the world championships.

”You go to a tournament like that to win, so it’s disappointing,” he said.

“We had two overtime losses and the last game against Serbia, they scored in the last three minutes to win 1-0, so there’s three games that could have gone either way.

“A lot of positives came out of it for our program going forward, but we would’ve liked to have at least won a medal.”

The Brave takes on an Ice Dogs team in turmoil after the shock resignation of head coach Ron Kuprowsky on Thursday.

Assistant coaches Colin Downie and Brad Andrlon have also stepped down, but the Brave is wary of taking them lightly.

“They won the whole thing last year and they’ve changed their style of play the last couple of years,” Rummukainen said.

“You’ve got to beat every team and you’ve got to win games to win the league, so we’re new and want to prove something, so it’s time we stick it to them.”

SATURDAY: Australian Ice Hockey League: CBR Brave v Sydney Ice Dogs at the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre, 5.30pm.

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Lost world of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig: ‘a connoisseur of coursing blood and throbbing temple’.Like a literary version of the Kevin Bacon Game, it’s a challenge to find an important cultural figure from the early 1900s through the 1940s who didn’t connect with Stefan Zweig. Zionist founder Theodor Herzl gave him his start with front-page articles as a 19-year-old. Einstein became a fan. Zweig introduced Dali to Freud and served in the War Archive with Rilke before working with Joyce to translate A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into Italian. He watched Rodin sculpt and Richard Strauss compose.

Today some of his exile-friends have joined him in receiving popular revivals: Joseph Roth (who abused Zweig despite – or because of – his unfailing financial support), Jakob Wassermann and the daring Irmgard Keun, who sued the Gestapo for lost income after the ban of her ”degenerate” books.

Before Wes Anderson ”discovered” the world’s most popular writer of the 1920s and ’30s, more recent fans such as Colin Firth, Kazuo Ishiguro, Belinda Carlisle, Carla Bruni, Salman Rushdie and Antony Beevor lauded the Austrian writer, whose massive body of work includes a cache of novellas, biographies of figures as diverse as Marie Antoinette, Magellan and Freud, a memoir of Europe’s interwar years, a novel, plays, libretti, and hundreds of poems and essays. In the decades after his death in Brazil in 1942, Zweig’s works faded from popular consciousness. In France, though, he has remained among the top three foreign-language bestsellers, behind only Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.

Those who become acquainted with Zweig through the coda that ends The Grand Budapest Hotel, ”Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig”, may find themselves perplexed when they crack open the author’s greatest fiction. While Zweig peaked during the glitzy but uncertain era that embraced Hemingway and Fitzgerald, his characters don’t muster the manic levity of flapper girls or the bravado of post-war wanderers. Likewise absent are the zany characters who populate Anderson’s jolly romp.

While often daring in its descriptions of sexual obsession and psychological undoing, Zweig’s work retains the feel of a lost world as its passions remain keenly topical. His writing teeters between the old and the new, the cream-puff facade of decadent Viennese splendour alongside dirty secrets, with nods towards Freud, that proliferate in the tightly constrained.

Zweig’s characters allow their misunderstood but unchecked emotions – and their straining bodies – to betray their assumed selves and tempt death. There are murders, illicit affairs, suicides and devilish psychological manipulation, but – unlike in The Grand Budapest Hotel – no madcap chases from evil henchmen. Zweig and his work are comfortable on film. In the 1930s, Hollywood offered him $US3000 (circa $40,000 today) a week to write for the screen; he declined. But he occasionally penned scripts, and more than 40 film versions of his work have appeared, including Max Ophuls’ 1948 Letter from an Unknown Woman and, most recently, A Promise (based on Journey into the Past).

Pushkin Press, leader in the Zweig resurgence, has ensured the availability of much of his work, often in the inestimable Anthea Bell’s crisp new translations. To coincide with the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Pushkin has issued a Wes Anderson-curated best-of sampler. Inexplicably sporting the title of one of the film’s sections, The Society of the Crossed Keys includes a French Riviera-based novella about obsession and the beginnings of Zweig’s memoir and his only full-length novel, alongside an interview between Anderson and George Prochnik, whose new book on Zweig, The Impossible Exile, appears next month.

Anderson admits to stealing his film’s structure from Zweig’s most common and affecting trope: the amazing ”true” story of an individual as relayed to an unsuspecting author, who remains a mere receptacle. The film’s introduction lifts nearly verbatim the first passages of Beware of Pity: ”There is nothing more erroneous than the idea, which is only too common, that a writer’s imagination is always at work … In reality he does not have to invent his stories; he need only let characters and events find their own way to him …”

When an artist names his inspiration, it’s tempting to hunt point by point for what he has captured and twisted from the original. But an inspiration remains by its nature unviewable and often mingles with too many other unidentifiable strands. The appropriation of a work, though, can be tinged through this kind of use. Woody Allen’s Love and Death spoofs the great Russian novels, just as his Midnight in Paris caricatures the Lost Generation, but the viewer is complicit with the jokes through shared knowledge. For a writer who has fallen into relative obscurity, this type of reinvention and subversion becomes more problematic.

A primer for Anderson fans arriving at Zweig with only The Grand Budapest Hotel for guidance: forget the film’s gorgeous Technicolor lobbies and deadpan delivery, physical comedy and whimsical characters. Most importantly, forget the raucous laughter.

Zweig’s writing is more subtle, but at the same time overflows with over-the-top, emotionally draining yet exhilarating melodrama. His work does not remove the viewer from their situation the way the best comedy can; his dramas amplify and, at their most successful, elucidate it. If Anderson is all about laughs, Zweig is a connoisseur of coursing blood and throbbing temple.

This marriage might seem more fitting when viewing Anderson’s film as a pleasure for those seeking reprieve into an imaginary place where the surroundings are more beautiful and the worst scenarios (dismemberment, incarceration) become the stuff of hilarity. Zweig, too, was a crowd pleaser of a different sort. Thomas Mann and Robert Musil disregarded him as a populiser for the masses, and his work helped overthrow the belief that German-language writers must be difficult.

There are writers we love to resuscitate over and over. Some finally stick, their hearts strong enough to sustain the repeated alternating throttles and neglect. Aside from his masterful stomach-churning plots that make the most ordinary life appear precious and precarious, Zweig provides a back-story that becomes ever more tantalising. With his life’s glittering distractions, his precisely groomed moustache, fussy manners and naive pacifism, it is tempting to settle on the figure of a man who appeared to have everything even as the world self-destructed – and who is now resigned to history as the driving-force behind the double-suicide that cut short his life and that of his 33-year-old wife.

Most important about Zweig is the cache of gems he left behind. The World of Yesterday, his memoir of Europe from the turn of the century through to the rise of Hitler, remains a touchstone with its overview of shifting culture, morals and politics. The culmination of his fiction, Beware of Pity, first published in 1939, alternately condemns war and muses on how an insignificant remark can reshape a life if unbridled emotions rule actions.

Alongside The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov, Zweig’s final work, The Royal Game (or A Chess Story), remains one of the finest fictions about the game. In it, a man imprisoned by the Gestapo steals a book in hopes of maintaining his sanity. To his horror, he discovers that the book is a compilation of famous chess matches. For those looking for a more complete education in Zweig, Pushkin offers a 720-page Collected Stories.

There’s hope, still, that the new wave Anderson has added to the ever-flowing Zweig resurgence will keep the writer where he belongs: in the hands of readers who will wonder, as did Anderson, ”How is it that I don’t already know about this?”

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Dunemann defends controversial call

Adamant … Andrew Dunemann has defended his ‘no-try’ ruling during the Parramatta-Wests Tigers match on Monday. Photo: Melissa AdamsNRL video referee Andrew Dunemann has staunchly defended his decision to disallow a try to Parramatta due to obstruction in its 21-18 loss to Wests Tigers on Monday, adamant the call was a ”no-brainer” despite criticism from the Eels.

Dunemann and fellow video referee Steve Clark overruled on-field referee Matt Cecchin after he approved a try to centre Will Hopoate, ruling Eels forward David Gower impeded Tigers youngster Luke Brooks, who fell to the ground.

An angry Eels coach Brad Arthur accused the halfback of taking a dive, while Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne branded the obstruction rule a “lottery”.

As the former player in the box, it is Dunemann’s responsibility to make the final call.

The former Canberra Raiders assistant and interim coach used his blog on the website for his company Boom Sports Management and Media to stand by his decision.

“The try in which Luke Brooks was interfered with, in my opinion, was a no-brainer,” he wrote.

“In my opinion there is no way he took a dive, and there was no way I was going to be the person who questioned his character with the evidence I had in front of me.

“It doesn’t take much when you are [sliding in defence] to be brought down, particularly when it’s big man against little.

”The other things to note are Brooks was basically in front of the sweep runner, and had no reason to play Russian roulette as it would have been a three-on-three situation, and possibility four-on-three to the defence.

“The last damning piece is the sweep runner runs into the immediate space Brooks would have been defending in.”

The obstruction interpretation has been a constant source of frustration for players and fans this year. It intensified when the NRL admitted the referees were wrong in awarding Manly’s Kieran Foran a crucial try in the team’s win over North Queensland last Friday night.

Video referee Paul Mellor, who made the decision, was dropped for this weekend.

“To all intents and purposes it [Hopoate’s no try] is what happened in the Cowboys game, except instead of being able to make some play, Brooks was on the ground,” former halfback Dunemann wrote.

“The inside defender is denied a chance to fill his immediate space, in which the attacker continues to run to create an advantage.

“The tolerance of contact will always be different depending on what then unfolds with the play, what type of play it is, where the space is created, and where the try is scored.”

Arthur vented his frustration after the game, accusing Brooks of gamesmanship and said clubs are now confused about what constitutes obstruction.

“I don’t know what an obstruction is any more,” Arthur said.

“As coaches, we’ll start to encourage our players to take a dive.

“The rule is you’ve got to get back on the inside shoulder and that’s what Dave Gower did.”

Hayne also insisted it should have been a try.

“In the past, that’s a try,” he said.

“Let’s just keep consistent and on the same page and not change it a week, two weeks after.

“That’s what’s frustrating the most.”

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Drownings feared after Wybung Head cliff mishap

Rescue: One of the survivors is helped to an ambulance last night after the accident at Frazer Park. Photo: Dan IrwinTwo people who jumped into water to rescue their struggling mate are missing, feared drowned at an isolated and treacherous spot off the coast of southern Lake Macquarie.

In a tragic twist, the man who initially fell into water at Wybung Head about 6.30pm was washed back onto the rocks by a wave, while his two friends were left struggling in the surf.

At least two rescue helicopters, a police marine area command vessel, a team of special casualty access team ambulance paramedics and a large contingent of Fire and Rescue NSW officers and police spent more than three hours last night scouring the cliffs and water in the Wybung National Park.

Tuggerah Lakes police Chief Inspector Tim Winmill said a call for help at 6.35pm indicated a man had fallen into the water at Wybung Head, south of Frazer Park.

As emergency services were being dispatched, police received another call that a number of friends had gone in to the water to help him, but had got into trouble themselves.

‘‘Upon arrival police located four persons who were out of the water and at this stage they are looking for two people who remain unaccounted for,’’ a police spokesman said at the scene last night. ‘‘We believe they went in to rescue a person who was washed off the rocks, the person who was washed off the rocks has then been washed back onto the rocks by a wave and the two people who went in originally to rescue the first person are now outstanding and the subject of the search.’’

He said the rescue was made difficult by the rough terrain and onset of the high-tide, which covered several walking trails into the area.

One female was located as far as 76 metres down the cliff.

Police believe the group were from Sydney and were visiting the picturesque but treacherous spot over the long weekend.

The NSW Ambulance helicopter and Hunter Westpac rescue helicopter were called off about 9pm but the search continued on the ground and from the water well into the night.

Inspector Winmill said the Frazer Park coastline provided breathtaking views but had brought many people unstuck over the years.

The area is known as the Frazer Park blowhole and is known as a treacherous spot for rock fishermen and swimmers.

As many as 11 people have been washed to their deaths from rocks at Flat Rock, Snapper Point and Frazer Park since 2005.

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Will Shakespeare’s dictionary prove to be, or not to be, authentic – that is the question

On April 6, the final day of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Daniel Wechsler, an exhibitor, asked me if I was free for dinner on Friday night. When I said I was, he replied, ”Dinner’s on me, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it and you have to bring a blank cheque.”

Five days later, sitting at the head of a table of nine, he had one more caveat. ”I’m asking you to hold onto this for nine more days. I’ve been sitting on this for six years and my life is about to change forever.”

Wechsler is 46 and tall, he has a gentle smile and real smarts. He studied history and English at Emory University, is married and has two boys. There are other strings to his bow: his documentary on the street photographer Matt Weber More than the Rainbow, will open shortly in theatres in Manhattan and his firm, Sanctuary Books, has a publishing arm.

Wechsler and fellow book dealer George Koppelman believe they have found the holy grail of English Literature: a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or a Quadruple Dictionarie, published in London by Henry Denham in 1580.

What distinguishes this copy are the thousands of annotations throughout in a contemporary hand. They believe these annotations are by William Shakespeare. If they are right, they have found the source of some of the greatest ever plays and poems. It’s not just there are no recorded copies of books from Shakespeare’s library, there are only six accepted signatures by him and, possibly, one manuscript.

The book was acquired in late April 2008. Koppelman, the owner of Cultured Oyster Books, invited Wechsler to bid jointly on a book he’d spotted on eBay. ”George said, ‘hey, do you want to buy Shakespeare’s dictionary?’ ”

They agreed on a final bid of $US4300 and, on April 28, they got the book for $US4050. Wechsler is unequivocal: ”Only $US250 separated us from never having had this experience.

”We bought the book with the possibility that it was [Shakespeare’s], but more seriously as an annotated Elizabethan dictionary.” He smiles, ”I mean, if we really thought it was his, we would have bid more than $US4300!”

Finds of this magnitude are always tainted with suspicion. However, it’s generally believed forging an entire book is simply too much trouble and will never realise the sort of return that forging a Matisse would, for example. That changed recently with the revelations of a forged copy of Galileo’s 1610 Sidereus Nuncius, the book that launched his career.

Unlike the Galileo, it doesn’t purport to be a book by Shakespeare. This isn’t a copy of the First Folio, it’s not a manuscript draft of Hamlet. It’s only through the perseverance of Wechsler and Koppelman in following the trail and patterns of the annotations themselves that it seems even possible the annotator was Shakespeare. As the story unfolded over dinner, we learnt the blank cheques in our pockets were to buy a copy of Shakespeare’s Beehive, the 300-page book Wechsler and Koppelman have just published supporting their claim.

Wechsler and Koppelman aren’t alone in noticing the relationship between Baret and Shakespeare. In 1944, Shakespeare scholar T.W. Baldwin noted that Baret’s Alvearie was the standard dictionary of the day and that Shakespeare would have ”turned many a time and oft to Baret for his varied synonyms”.

Shakespeare’s Beehive begins by explaining first how Shakespeare could have come to possess the book. His childhood acquaintance Richard Field moved to London before him and apprenticed himself to the French printer Thomas Vautrollier. It’s speculated Shakespeare probably lodged with Field in London and Field may have helped Shakespeare acquire work as a proofreader for Denham.

Additionally, the annotator seems preoccupied with two letters in particular, and he imitates the capitalised entries in the Baret. The two letters: W and S. He does it five times with the W, three times with the S and with no other letter in the alphabet.

Most important are the multitude of examples connecting the annotations to text from the plays and poems. To cite just two, they show how a small circle beside the following entry ”Forsworne, perjured, false, that hath broken his oth” leads us directly to Sonnet 152.

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworne,

But thou art twice forsworne, to me love swearing;

In act thy bed-vow broake, and new faith torne,

In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

But why of two othes breach doe I accuse thee,

When I breake twenty? I am periur’d most;

For all my vows are othes but to misuse thee,

And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

Another example is where the annotator has written beside the entry for ”Scabbard: vide sheath” the word ”vagina”, which is a Latin synonym. This immediately calls to mind one of the final speeches in Romeo and Juliet where awakening to find that her love has killed himself says:

Yea noise? then ile be briefe. O happy dagger,

This is thy sheath, there rust and let me dye.

Although sheath nominally refers to the cover for a sword, the sexual connotations of the word were not lost on Shakespeare. It’s important to recognise many of the synonyms only appear in this edition of Baret. The accumulation of annotations and the way they lead directly to the work, makes their case persuasive.

More intriguing still is the blank leaf at the end of the book on which the annotator has written 210 words in English and French. Wechsler dates the writing on this sheet to 1598 when Shakespeare was in the process of writing Henry IV parts I & II, The Merry Wives of Windsor and leading up to the writing of Henry V. Wechsler and Koppelman show how all of these words feature in the plays – and is of added significance as Henry V is the only play in which Shakespeare includes a substantial amount of French.

Despite the evidence, the fact the book is unsigned is a problem. Another potential issue is the annotations appear to be in several different hands.

However, this might not be as large an obstacle as it appears. Of the six accepted Shakespeare signatures, those known as examples B and C were signed on consecutive days and look distinctly different. Additionally, we know that in the Elizabethan period writing in a variety of hands was encouraged and seen as graceful.

From the beginning, they reached out to scholars for assistance. Wechsler says: ”They were extremely helpful giving advice but it was also clear that they weren’t going to jeopardise their reputations.”

Shakespeare biographer and scholar Stephen Greenblatt is enthusiastic about the dictionary as an unheralded Shakespeare source book. ”It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare’s passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them.”

However, he’d ”not had time to weigh the evidence” of it being Shakespeare’s copy.

Wechsler is prepared for the fact that no matter how strong the evidence, some people simply won’t believe them. He also feels opening up the dictionary to scholars will reveal further evidence. ”If George and I can see this, what will they find?”

In their official statement, the Folger Shakespeare Library thought it ”premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their ‘leap of faith’.”

Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger, feels the ”handwriting is a big problem. The annotations need to be read against and compared to the handwriting of many other early modern annotators, not just Shakespeare’s.” Having said that, she agrees the book would be ”a great addition” to the Folger’s collection.

Folger director, Dr Michael Witmore, gives further perspective: ”A deeply early modern dictionary annotated in the playwright’s hand would have to be top of any Shakespearean’s wish list. But even if this isn’t Shakespeare’s handwriting, the annotated Alvearie is exciting because it gives us a glimpse into that creative encounter between an early modern reader and words on the page.”

So what is it? At the very least, the Alvearie is a now a recognised Shakespeare source book. At most, they’ve made one of the most significant finds in the history of literature. Invariably, the question of money comes into it. Wechlser is reluctant to discuss numbers, but ”after scholars have had time to digest the possibility and go over the evidence” they are looking to sell it.

To put it in context, the last First Folio to sell at auction made £2.5 million ($4.5 million) in London in 2006.

The dictionary is kept in a secure storage facility. It can be viewed online at shakespearesbeehive苏州美甲培训

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Click go the shears: Joe Hockey softens up the public for budget pain

It has become an autumn ritual in national politics. As the trees turn yellow in Canberra, treasurers recycle a well-worn narrative of budget pain. They speak of tough calls, difficult choices and the need for sacrifice if the nation’s books are to balance.

After many years of budget watching, the veteran market economist Saul Eslake says treasurers in newly elected governments have an additional part of the script that requires them to say that ”their predecessors left things in worse shape than previously disclosed, so that the decisions contained in the forthcoming budget will be even more ‘difficult’ and ‘painful’ than would have otherwise been the case”.

But even by the standards of incoming treasurers, Joe Hockey’s language has been strident.

Hockey has warned of a ”tsunami” of spending demands and that the budget will be in deficit ”for at least a decade” without big changes.

This week Hockey said he was morally obliged to repair the government’s finances.

”We owe it to our children not to leave them with a mortgage that paid for our lifestyle,” he said.

The ominously named commission of audit, ordered soon after the Abbott government gained office, has added extra spice to this year’s budget prelude.

The 900-page report, which includes 86 recommendations, will be released next Thursday. Hockey gave a sneak peak in a Wednesday speech titled ”The Case for Change”. ”The report makes it clear that Australia has a serious spending problem,” he said.

The audit focuses on the 15 largest and fastest-growing government programs, mainly covering welfare, health, education and defence.

They are, in almost all cases, projected to grow faster than average government expenditure and expand faster than the economy. ”To put it simply, our biggest costs are also our fastest-growing,” Hockey warned.

Hockey singled out the age pension, which at $40 billion a year is the biggest single government program by a fair margin.

”Increasingly the burden of our ageing is being borne by other people,” he said.

”Of Australians over the age of 65, four out of five receive a full or part pension. If we also take into account the concessionary health card, then only 14 per cent of older Australians receive no government payments.

”At least for the age pension, this situation is unlikely to be much different in 2050. Despite spending billions of dollars in taxation benefits for superannuation, by 2050 the ratio of Australians receiving a full or part pension will still be around four out of five.”

Demand for government programs is outstripping the capacity of taxpayers to fund them – between 2010 and 2050 the percentage of people of working age supporting those over the age of 65 will almost halve.

”So the policies must be changed, either now or more dramatically in the future,” Hockey said.

The Treasurer’s tough rhetoric is reminiscent of his Liberal predecessor Peter Costello, who made much of the ”Beazley black hole” unearthed when the Coalition won office in 1996.

That line was an integral part of the Howard government’s political rhetoric for more than a decade.

Hansard shows Hockey himself was still telling Parliament about the ”Beazley black hole” in 2008, more than 12 years after it was unearthed.

Costello managed big spending cuts of between 0.5 to 1 per cent of gross domestic product during his first two years in office. But as the proceeds from the mining boom rolled in, the Howard government did not maintain its spending restraint.

In Wednesday’s speech, Hockey forecast a much more frugal approach. His target is to limit annual spending growth to an unprecedented 1.75 per cent above inflation for a decade.

It is unusual for an incoming Treasurer to peer so far into the future with such ambition.

”That would be heroic if they pulled it off,” said John Daley, chief executive of the Grattan Institute.

”It would be a lot better than any Australian government has done for a very long time.”

The fiscal future Hockey foreshadows is in marked contrast to what many voters have come to expect from budgets. For most of this century, budget night has been like a financial lucky dip. No voter had to wait long before something came their way.

But those days are now gone.

”If Australians ask themselves of the budget in May ‘what’s in it for me?’ my response will be ‘a better future,’ ” Hockey said on Wednesday.

”I ask Australians not to judge this budget on what they get or lose today. This budget is about our quality of life for the years ahead.”

Budget hawks are urging Hockey to follow Costello’s example and wield the axe. ”Our main advice to the new government is to cut early and cut hard, because they will never have a better chance than now to fix the budget,” said Stephen Anthony, an economist at consultancy firm Macroeconomics.

But some economists think Hockey is exaggerating his budget problems. After all, Australia’s financial position is far better than that of most advanced countries.

Australia is one of only eight nations with a stable outlook AAA rating from all three credit agencies. How does that fit with talk of a budget crisis?

”Mr Hockey has got an easier job than finance ministers just about anywhere else in the world,” says Stephen Koukoulas, an economist and former adviser to prime minister Julia Gillard.

Koukoulas thinks Hockey is right to take action to improve the budget position but he likens the problem to a Rolls-Royce with a flat tyre.

”Sure, you’ve just got to fix the tyre, but you’ve still got a Rolls-Royce,” he said. ”It’s hardly a disaster.”

Eslake says Hockey can be forgiven for using extreme language about the budget situation, given the need to build political support for far-reaching reforms.

But he thinks the short-term impact of next month’s budget will be constrained by promises made by the Coalition before the last election and by the fragile state of the economy, which could be harmed by a sharp contraction in government spending.

”What’s different about Hockey’s toughening up rhetoric … is that the tough decisions he’s talking about are ones that are going to impact after 2016-17,” he said.

”Firstly, that would allow the government to argue that it has not broken promises made before the election. ”Number two, that’s sensible economics because it doesn’t inflict damage on the economy when it’s not well-placed to handle it.

”And number three, it’s actually directed at where the real problem is.”

The Grattan Institute’s Daley doubts whether Hockey’s tough talk will be matched by his actions, in view of the Coalition’s election commitments.

”Given the size of the problem, the kinds of things they are talking about just don’t look big enough to get us out of trouble,” he said.

Daley points out that imposing a $6 co-payment on each visit to the doctor – one of the measures proposed in the budget prelude – will raise only about $250 million a year.

”When your budget hole is $30 billion and rapidly rising … $250 million is a rounding error,” he said.

”The kinds of things that are big enough to make a difference are, by and large, the things that the Prime Minister has taken off the table.”

Daley says the government must do something more than just saying ”trust us” to get the budget on a sustainable footing over time.

”A credible approach is one that shows you are on a plausible path to surplus within the next three or four years, bearing in mind that at this point in the economic cycle Australia should be running a balanced budget, and it’s not even close,” he said.

Earlier this month Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson warned that without any changes in policy, the budget would be in deficit for the next 10 years.

”If this situation came to pass, it would mean that the budget would be in deficit for 16 consecutive years – substantially longer than the seven years of deficits in the early 1990s,” he said.

Parkinson has also pointed out that the effects of bracket creep – when taxpayers are pulled into higher tax brackets as their wages rise – will add to the government’s financial challenge.

Without any changes to the present tax brackets, a taxpayer earning the projected average full-time wage in 2023-24 will pay tax at 28 per cent, up from 23 per cent this year – a rise in the tax burden for those individuals of almost one quarter.

Parkinson warns that this would drive down workforce participation rates and exacerbate further the impact on living standards from an ageing population.

However, any future change in tax brackets to ease the burden on middle-income workers will make the savings task required to return the budget to surplus even bigger.

While Hockey has declined to go into specifics about his budget plans, he has hinted that welfare programs will be a target for long-term savings, including pensions, aged care and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

But Hockey insists the burden will be shared.

”Our approach to budget repair is a principled one,” he said. ”Every sector of the community – households, corporates and the public sector alike – will be expected to contribute.”

Voters will have to wait until budget night, May 13, to discover exactly how much and when.

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Joint Strike Fighter commitment a boost for high-tech manufacturers

The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. Photo: Lockheed MartinThe founder of the Melbourne aerospace manufacturer Marand learnt his trade at the city’s Holden plant. Now his company is making carbon fibre and titanium tails for what is promised to be the most formidable fighter plane the world has seen.

Andy Ellul started out in 1969 as a small automotive supplier, but more recently the firm, now run by his son David, has shifted towards aerospace.

Holden is, of course, pulling out of Australia. Ironically, Marand has taken over factory space in Geelong given up by Ford, which is also pulling out.

Aerospace, it turns out, was a good bet.

“Ten years ago, we’d never had an export order,” general manager Rohan Stocker says. ”Now we’re probably about 70 per cent exports. This is a story of transition.”

The source of much of this lucrative work? The Joint Strike Fighter, the revolutionary if controversial stealth fighter to which the Abbott government firmly committed Australia this week.

The debate as to the merits of the fighter – its flaws, its delays, its considerable cost – will rage on. Taxpayers might be a little punch drunk after learning the 58 planes the government this week committed to buy will cost $24 billion over their lifetime, never mind its tangled efforts to claim the money is already put aside.

The commitment has made local defence manufacturers a little more bullish.

Under a deal struck with Washington in 2002, Australian firms get to bid for work on the gargantuan program – its cost worldwide is likely to top $1 trillion. It’s an important part of the sales pitch for the federal government and prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Some $335 million in manufacturing work has already gone to Australian firms and it is hoped this will rise to $1.5 billion. All up, including servicing and support over coming decades, the government says business opportunity could reach $7.5 billion. It will not replace the car industry, but it is high-tech work and a green shoot in manufacturing.

But those opportunities depend on our buying a decent number of the fighters, also called the F-35 Lightning II, from the US. The original expectation was for 100 aircraft. The Abbott government’s announcement this week takes Australia’s commitment to 72 – and possibly up to 24 more when the current Super Hornet is ready for retirement from 2030 onward.

As some close observers remarked this week after Abbott posed in the cockpit of a mock F-35 at Fairbairn military airport in Canberra, the timing of the purchase announcement had as much to do with shoring up local work as it did the defence of the nation.

“A lot of companies in Australia had been worried that unless the government starts talking about large numbers, they could be cut back on their work,” one insider said.

Abbott said his government made defence announcements according to defence priorities. But the insider said that if the government had dithered for a year or two, or even – heaven forbid – ordered a batch of rival planes as a stop-gap while the F-35 flaws were being ironed out, some of those local industry chances would likely have evaporated.

Stocker says the announcement provides some certainty to firms such as Marand. “We’re definitely more comfortable,” he says. The firm expects at least 15 years’ work out of the F-35.

The most complex and lucrative work is locked down by the big boys – Lockheed Martin itself, principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems as well as engine-maker Pratt & Whitney. But they are subcontracting to hundreds of firms around the world. Marand’s manufacture of the tails, for instance, is subcontracted by BAE.

“No one at the back of Sunshine is going to build a shed and start making Pratt & Whitney-competitive engines,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence economist Mark Thomson says. “But there’s a whole range of areas where Australian manufacturers can produce components for the F-35 at a competitive rate and are doing so – and that’s a great thing.”

All up, 18 local firms are part of the global supply chain. Companies such as Chemring Australia – which is making launchable flares to help the F-35 dodge missiles – and Sydney-based Quickstep – which makes material for the tail and body – are expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

The work is not dished out like a sheltered workshop – the practice in the past for many defence projects shared between nations. Rather, it must be won. Ultimately it will be up to Australian firms to bid for the business at a competitive price, Australian Industry Group defence expert John O’Callaghan says.

But given there will be as many as 3000 F-35s built in the coming decades – the US alone expects to acquire more than 2500 – O’Callaghan says Australia can reach the lofty dollar figures the government is predicting. He applauds Abbott’s push towards high-tech manufacturing.

“These are the smart companies of the future … tapping into a global supply chain that can help turn an old-style, traditional manufacturing base into a base for the future,” he says.

With all the gloom in manufacturing and fears of the so-called “Valley of Death” for shipbuilders as work dries up, the added certainty the F-35 program provides is a shot in the arm for defence firms, Australian Industry & Defence Network national president Alan Rankins says.

“There is an air of cautious optimism in the defence industry again that things will happen,” he says. “This area and shipbuilding were areas of particular concern. We still haven’t seen any resolution for shipbuilding, but this is a real step in the right direction for the aerospace industry.”

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China spreads its watching web of surveillance across Australia

Face-off: Chinese and Tibetan protesters clash in Canberra. Photo: Jason SouthFairfax Media reported this week that China was building covert networks of informants at leading universities in Melbourne and Sydney to keep tabs on ethnic Chinese lecturers and students.

The Chinese consulate in Sydney denounced the report as ”totally groundless” and having ”ulterior motives”, while reminding Australia that China has become its largest source of international students. Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television, which beams into China and across the diaspora, interviewed two Chinese students in Sydney who both said the report was ”unfounded”. The Global Times, a popular nationalist tabloid that is a subsidiary of the People’s Daily, posited that Fairfax was being used by the ”US-Australia intelligence system” to manage its ”public relations crisis” since Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Those reports generated thousands of comments and tens of thousands of messages across social media, most of which raged against the ”groundless” Fairfax report and the political agendas of the Western media. Many wrote letters directly. Beneath the venom and profanities, however, there were other messages it would be dangerous for Australian institutions to ignore.

”You know our face, what we look like, but you don’t know why we behave like that, as described in your article,” said Albert Zhang, a student at Bond University, in an email that linked to a video of a Melbourne University lecture titled ”When China Rules the World”. ”In Australia, we are just a minority group. We are not expecting your asshole government is going to stand for our interests … [We] have to rely on pressure from our asshole government. Another point I want to make is we feel homesick from time to time.

”If you didn’t have any experience of living abroad for years, thousands of miles from your mother country, separated from culture and food, you would probably never figure how eagerly we [look forward to] any greeting from our hometown, not to mention the greetings from the leaders of our government.”

In one example, reported by Fairfax on Monday, Ministry of State Security officials told parents in China to constrain the activities of their son, after informants in Australia said he had seen the Dalai Lama. In another, a senior lecturer was interrogated by officials from China’s Ministry of State Security over comments about democracy he made in a closed-door seminar at the University of NSW.

Yang Hengjun is a novelist and online commentator who stepped down from his career as a Chinese diplomat to resettle his family in Sydney just before the Sydney Olympics. While audience figures are hard to pin down in China, he counts his blog readers in their millions. In April 2008, after bloody race riots had rocked the Tibetan plateau, Yang watched with concern as the Chinese propaganda system raged against amorphous ”Western Hostile Forces” conspiring to dismember China. He watched footage of pro-Tibet protesters creating mayhem at the Olympic torch relay in London – on route to Canberra and ultimately Beijing – and he tracked the furious Chinese internet response.

But nothing he had written sparked an inferno like the gently worded essay he posted on April 16, which described how Australians eight years earlier in 2000 had laughed at attempts to extinguish the torch in Sydney and urged angry Chinese students to cool down. ”Foreign dog”, ”white ghost”, ”beggar”, ”Han traitor” and ”running dog”, said his anonymous internet assailants, some of whom said he should be shot. Within 24 hours he counted more than 1000 hostile attacks. He stuck to his position, with gently reasoned argument, despite the Mao-era language hurled at him.

”I’m sending a friendly message to the Chinese government that this is very serious,” Yang said at the time. ”And I’m telling Chinese students here they are stupid: if you really want to show your patriotism, then go to Tiananmen Square.”

While Yang was dealing with the fall-out from his posts, a Chinese security official said Chinese diplomatic missions and companies were helping to organise and sponsor volunteer units to protect the passage of the torch. A Chinese student leader, speaking by phone from Canberra, said the Chinese embassy had promised to provide free interstate bus rides as well as breakfasts and lunches on arrival. A Chinese-language newspaper, Australian New Express Daily, rushed to import 1000 Chinese flags as part of a campaign to ”dye Australia red”.

On April 23, Australian law-enforcement officers knew thousands of protesters were coming, but they did not know how many until they counted the buses leaving Sydney and Melbourne that morning. Some were struck not by the numbers – estimated to be about 10,000 – but by the ”military precision” with which they were deployed. Protesters dispersed themselves evenly at sites and intersections where television crews would gather, and, when the torch passed, they rolled on to new locations to systematically cover the 20-kilometre route. Pro-Tibet protesters were obstructed – hidden by red-flags – but with minor exceptions, the Chinese students were meticulously non-violent.

Beijing was happy there was no unsightly interference with the spectacle of the torch relay, which dominated the television news at home. The Australian Federal Police showed they were far better at crowd control than their counterparts in San Francisco, Paris and London. Many Australians were simply bewildered. When the spectacle had passed, intelligence agencies sat down to try to map the networks in universities and beyond that enabled all this to take place. It was ”very illuminating”, says an Australian official.

There have been no repeats of anything like the student protests in Canberra in 2008, perhaps because the gains were questionable and the broader public relations costs were high. However, the organisational web is growing more elaborate.

At the core of the system are the Chinese Students and Scholars Association branches, which are prominent at every major university and which are complemented by sub-groups, umbrella groups and cultural associations. These associations are public and mostly they provide community services that universities seem unable to deliver.

They can serve to gather information and promote political objectives, but sensitive informant work is handled by higher-level political counsellors, according to members of Australia’s Chinese community. Rarely, it seems, does this work graduate to the level of espionage.

”Obviously, some of China’s practices don’t match the Western conception of a spy,” says Yang Hengjun, the Sydney writer, referring to the term used in the headline of the Fairfax article on Monday. Rather, he says, ”it’s an extension of the Leninist, Stalinist state and its efforts to control the masses, including through thought reporting and reporting the offences of others”.

Yang, who retains impeccable connections inside the Chinese system despite his advocacy for democracy, has found that speeches he has given overseas have been misreported to ”the relevant organs”. For this, he blames amateur informants who seek ”funding and attention”.

The Ministry of State Security is mainly responsible for espionage, as distinct from informant work. The ministry can work through embassies but also directly into the community, according to officials, retired intelligence officers and members of the Chinese community here.

The ministry’s provincial bureaus can work directly in Australia, without co-ordinating with each other, according to one member of the Chinese community who has been interrogated by different provincial arms about comments made overseas.

Separately, two departments of the People’s Liberation Army are responsible for electronic espionage, agents and influence. It is this level of Chinese espionage work – conducted directly by the Ministry of State Security and the PLA – that is driving the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to build significant new counter-intelligence capabilities, according to Australian officials.

Overseas Chinese surveillance and influence work is also performed by the United Front Work Department and its government analogue, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as well as various business, native place and patriotic associations that report to them. The State Council agency that is responsible for united front work among the overseas Chinese is called, unimaginatively, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

Leaders of these united front organisations appear more demanding. In 2009, a Politburo-level leader, Wang Zhaoguo, urged Chinese people returned from overseas and their relatives to ”do a better job of uniting the force of the circle of overseas Chinese around the party and the government”, according to the Xinhua news agency.

This year, President Xi Jinping sent a personal and probably unprecedented Chinese New Year letter to all Chinese studying in Germany. According to Xinhua, he urged them ”to use what they have learnt to serve the motherland and the Chinese people”.

What should Australia do about it?

Yang says Australia and the West long ago shelved the values of freedom, equality and democracy when dealing with China, and it is too late to enforce them now.

”If Australia no longer cares about human rights in China, then of course it can do nothing about Chinese students reporting [to authorities],” Yang says. ”To respond in extreme ways would itself violate human rights, and this is the paradox.”

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Young champions in the making

Gotta love this city. At the Narrabeen North cross country race last week, the usual winner of the senior girls division, Caitlin Hickey, had left her opponents so far behind they were in a different postcode, only to suddenly pull up badly lame with 400 metres to go.

All she can do is hobble forward to the finishing line, and she is just 50 metres off when her great friend and rival Jasmine Nix catches her.

What’s up?

My toe is broken and I can’t run.

Jasmine offers to walk the last part of the race with her and such is their lead they approach the tape with still no other runners close.

Five metres off, Jasmine offers first place to her friend, reasoning that but for the broken toe, Caitlin would have finished well in front.

Caitlin declines and insists her friend deserves the win. So they agree to break the tape together, but at the last instant Caitlin pauses and sends her friend over first to take the win.

Champions both.

Gotta love this city!

The accidental superstar

The Buddy thing? Hey, happens to us all.

Someone tweeted the other night that it would be like my damn hide to get too high and mighty over it, as I should know only too well that those kind of things happened in the Wallabies all the time in my day … well, at least my five minutes. (But, oh Gawd, how did he know? Every second week, one or other of us, on a clear stretch, with no rain, no oncoming traffic, careered out of control and totalled four parked cars. I mean ALL THE TIME!).

So, what did actually happen?

No idea. The main thing is neither he nor anyone else was hurt. But the most intriguing theory came from 3AW’s Ross Stevenson. “I’ve just checked,” he said on Thursday morning, “and Buddy Franklin did have a seizure while at Hawthorn, and Sharrod Wellingham did have to call an ambulance. It was called a ‘dizzy spell’. And on January 3 at Sydney, he had a seizure. I’m not saying he had a seizure last night, but if there’s no drugs or alcohol, and he’s crashed his car in dry conditions into four parked cars on the other side of the road, you’ve got to ask what’s going on.”

Makes a certain amount of sense, no? Particularly when you put it together with the piece written by Caroline Wilson on Thursday, detailing the long and troubled history of Franklin’s driving record.

Boost for women’s cricket

Can’t quite get it straight, but Geoff Lawson is involved, and I gather there will be some major announcement shortly about six corporately run women’s cricket teams – with the best players from all over the world – playing in a comp in one city, at one venue, over 12 days. (A kind of antipodean female miniature IPL?)

We’ll see who the companies are, and what kind of moolah they put in, but if it works, and the crowds come, it has to be a major step forward for women’s sport in Oz.

Leapai is punching above his weight

You may or may not have got to the bottom of it all, but it seems one of ours, the Samoan-born Alex Leapai is fighting for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world early on Sunday morning, against incumbent champion Wladimir Klitschko. Back in the day, such a fight would garner immediate and huge attention, as boxing had not yet descended into an alphabet soup of organisations that we mere mortals have no chance of determining the credibility of.

To try and make sense of whether or not this is the real deal, I asked my friend and Fox Sports boxing commentator Paul Upham and he advises: “Of the four major boxing sanctioning belts, Wladimir Klitschko holds three of them – WBA, IBF and WBO. He has not lost for 10 years. The consensus of boxing experts I respect consider Wladimir Klitschko to be the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”

To the good then. But is our bloke any chance of beating him?

“If Alex does win, it would be one of the biggest boxing upsets of all time; in my opinion, a bigger upset than when James ‘Buster’ Douglas beats Mike Tyson in Japan. In boxing, it only takes one punch to win. Alex has the power punch to win, but probably not the skills to win this match.”

Has Benji lost the magic?

Which brings us to Benji Marshall. TFF did an interview with Radio New Zealand on Tuesday, where they were wondering how someone so brilliant at rugby league could be such a dud at rugby union. My answer, for what it’s worth, was this: Yes, the five-eighth’s quixotic skills with the Tigers were extraordinary. For a decade, every time they hollered for a Marshall, there he was, usually dancing to the line through a thick forest of defenders, with such skill that Fred Astaire would blush. He was the best. But he wasn’t like that for the last two years or so with the Tigers, even being benched at one point. His form for the Auckland Blues has been entirely consistent with those two years.

Has he lost it? It remains unclear. But even the best of magicians must eventually go stale. Marshall was a star for a decade with the Tigers. How many players get much longer than that at the top of their game?

What they said.

Benji Marshall, in July last year: “I will honour my words about not playing for another [NRL] club. There is no other NRL club for me to play for. The Tigers are my home and will always be my home.”

Marshall this week, after leaving the Auckland Blues, happy to play for anyone who will have him: “When I made those comments I was obviously emotional. I hadn’t played for any other club before.”

Marshall on why he and the Auckland Blues have parted company this week: “I am just an average rugby player.”

Buddy Franklin: “I truly am sorry for the inconvenience I’ve caused other people’s cars.”

The Age’sCaroline Wilson, in an interesting piece highlights Franklin’s long history of bad driving in various forms: “It is now beyond dispute that any suggestion Lance Franklin and his rock-star lifestyle would be left to their own devices in a big city not obsessed with Australian football was fanciful. This is because Franklin has not significantly curbed that lifestyle and also because Sydney is a tabloid town that knows a car crash waiting to happen when it sees one, and pounces accordingly.”

The Tele’sAnthony Sharwood on SBW pulling out of the Anzac Test. “Rothfield claims the absence of Williams will mean less bums on seats. He’s wrong. It’ll just mean one less bum on the field.”

Curtis Woodhouse, on the boxing match between Australian-Samoan Alex Leapai and Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship of the world: “Someone said, ‘It’s a bit like Rocky’. But it’s nothing like Rocky. Rocky is f—ing made up. This shit is real.”

What does Joe Bugner say? “Alex has got one chance. He’s got to land the big one, because he’ll never outsmart Klitschko. In reality, it’s going to be a hard task. I said to Alex straight up, ‘Don’t you dare wait for him. When that bell rings, you go across and you whack him’.” Sounds like a plan!

Klitschko’s own analysis: “I think that Alex is certainly very motivated to become a champion and he’s the guy that has nothing to lose. I think Alex has been successful with his style – I call it ‘pure violence’ in the ring – and he became No.1 mandatory, thankfully to that style.”

Gary Ablett snr on Gary Ablett jnr: “I wouldn’t like to play on Gary. The way he’s going, I think he might take the crown.”

Eddie McGuire on playing AFL football in Melbourne on Good Friday: “We live in a secular society, and I believe that if you want to have a sacrifice to commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, well, then you do that, you don’t go to the footy. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to if you’re not into it, or the Muslims or the Jews or whoever else.”

Kevin Pietersen tweets: “Everyone deserves a second chance … !” How the mighty are suddenly humble! Perhaps it is cold outside the England team?

Sebastian Vettel’s reply when told to let teammate Daniel Ricciardo pass: “Tough Luck.”

In the game against the Titans, Panthers skipper Peter Wallace protests to referee Gavin Morris that his teammate Sika Manu has had the squirrel grip put on him by Greg Bird: “He grabbed him on the nuts …”

Greg Bird, in response, after the match: “He wasn’t that lucky … ”

This up-and-coming writer for nrl苏州美甲培训 will make his mark, but I am guessing maths was not his strong suit at school. Here he previews the Sharks-Roosters game: “There have been exactly 48 games played so far this year, which means – if our second-grade maths is correct – that there have been 24 outright winners and the same amount of losers.”

Team of the week

Buddy Franklin. Crashed his girlfriend’s car into four parked cars at Double Bay on Wednesday evening, making him appear to be up Shit Creek without a paddle. It was a Jeep. I think he’s going to need a bigger boat.

Benji Marshall. He came, he saw, he conked out in rugby union and looks likely to return to the NRL somewhere, at a club desperate enough to take him. Step forward, Cronulla.

Glenn Maxwell. “The Big Show” is setting the IPL on fire with 279 runs in three innings from 131 balls. Man of the match in all three games.

Merewether Surfboard Club. The reigning Australian club of the year is having its 50th anniversary celebration and reunion on June 28 at Newcastle City Hall. Give ol’ Bloody Mary a bell.

Minami Katsu. The 15-year-old became the youngest winner in the history of the Japan LPGA Tour by winning the Vantelin Ladies Open.

Canterbury Bulldogs. First team in NRL history to win three games on the trot by one point.

Sydney FC. Losing to Melbourne Victory with a winner in injury time sums up their season perfectly.

Mark Webber. Began his world endurance championship career with a third-place finish.

Luke Versace. Cheated death running with the bulls in Pamplona 12 years ago, and this week won a dramatic Stawell Gift final.

David Gallop. Has done well as FFA chief executive, with crowds for A-League matches up this season by 3 per cent, while over the last three seasons numbers are up by a staggering 43 per cent.

Australian women’s cricket team. A reader wonders WHY THE HELL, after winning the World Twenty20 championship for the third successive time, they still have not been honoured with their image on a stamp, the way Michael Clarke’s team was when they won the Ashes.

Sydney FC. Follow in Manchester United’s footsteps and also sack their manager, Frank Farina, who is likely to be replaced by Graham Arnold. I have the impression that there are about 10 well-known soccer identities perpetually circulating through about eight clubs?

Lewis Hamilton. Has won the last three formula one races.

Israel Folau. Back with a try in the first 25 seconds of the match against the Bulls. He is The One.

RIP Dylan Tombides. Young Australian soccer player, who broke into the West Ham first-team squad while receiving cancer treatment, has died. He was just 20. Vale.

RIP Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Made famous by Bob Dylan’s song, the boxer who did two decades in jail for a crime he did not commit, has died at 76. Despite it all, there are those who insist he did commit the murders. They should read this.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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Screening revolution: foetal blood test a breakthrough with disadvantages

“The capacity to genetically test foetuses has just taken off,”: Michael Chapman. Photo: Katheirne GriffithsFrom the moment a woman discovers she is pregnant her mind is cluttered with an endless stream of questions. Will the baby be healthy? Will it have a birth defect? Will the foetus live until full term?

But advances in genetic testing mean many of those fears and worries weighing down expectant mothers may soon rapidly diminish.

For more than 40 years pregnant women have only been able to peek at the foetal wellbeing and chromosomal make-up of their unborn child through invasive diagnostic tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, both of which are stressful and carry a one in 400 chance of miscarriage.

New genetic technology – known as non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) – can screen for foetal disorders with 99 per cent accuracy through a simple blood test which isolates the baby’s DNA from maternal blood. It is a ”revolution” in pre-natal screening, doctors say, which presents no risk to the woman and is, by some estimates, up to 10 times better at detecting an extra copy of chromosome 21, which causes Down syndrome and is the most common genetic disorder, occurring in about one in 700 births.

And the relative simplicity of the test is expected to vastly reduce the 9200-odd Australian women who undergo amniocentesis (at 15 weeks) and CVS (at 11 weeks) each year, procedures which involve inserting a needle into the the womb to extract fluid or taking tissue from the placenta.

”The capacity to genetically test foetuses has just taken off,” says Michael Chapman, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of NSW. ”In my 30 years of practice, this test is the most exciting step forward I’ve seen.”

The convenience, however, comes at a cost and there are some significant drawbacks, doctors warn. Australian women must spend $500 to $900 for their blood sample to be sent to the US for analysis and face a two-week wait for the results.

From early next year, pathology company Victorian Clinical Genetics Services will make NIPT tests available within Australia, with the price to drop by about 20 per cent and wait time reduced by about five days.

And unlike amniocentesis or CVS, which can give information about all 46 chromosomes, the NIPT test only looks for the presence or absence of chromosomes 13, 18, 21 and determines gender.

”There are major disadvantages,” says Dr Philippa Ramsay, the director of women’s ultrasound practice Ultrasound Care.

”It should not replace the standard 12-week ultrasound because a blood test won’t tell you about structural development, like if there are two arms, two legs and if there’s a heart beating. There is also about a one in 1000 risk of over-diagnosis, or the test coming back with a false positive. In the case it’s positive result, a woman still needs an invasive test because despite the accuracy, the NIPT is not diagnostic.”

And in the same way medical advances have intensified the moral issues at end of life, improved accuracy and availability of genetic tests means ethical problems at the beginning of life are equally as troublesome. Are advances in genetic testing outpacing our ability to handle them? Will people use it to select the gender of their child? How much information about a foetus should a parent receive?

One of the major concerns, says Gavin Sacks, a fertility specialist at IVF Australia, is that NIPT is able to determine the sex of the baby at nine weeks. ”This could create social pressure. We never want the information to be abused so that women end up terminating unwanted sexes.”

Ramsay said the ability to sex-select in the first trimester ”could become a big problem in cultures where there is major pressure to have a son”.

Sacks also says some people do not believe in or want screening. He is also concerned that the new test focuses on only a few chromosomal abnormalities.

Maternal foetal medicine consultant at Royal North Shore, Andrew McLennan, said in the past 18 months, the number of women having NIPT tests had jumped from about 10 a month to more than 250. Doctors estimate that within private practice about 10 per cent of women have the test. ”There is a real hunger for it in the community,” McLennan says. ”Especially with women who are over 36 or have an increased risk.”

A recent study of almost 2000 women, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that non-invasive tests could predict the likelihood of Down syndrome 10 times better than standard screening and were five times better at predicting Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome.

But McLennan warns that because of the new test only detects a handful of chromosomes, and based on the ethical concerns, women need to be properly counselled before having the NIPT. ”I’d hate to see it become a routine test,” he says. ”If that happens it would be a nightmare. At the moment, anyone can order these tests so appropriately qualified people need to discuss the implications and limitations with the patient. It may be a super-screening test but it definitely can’t tell you everything about the baby.”

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Former ICAC chief Barry O’Keefe dies aged 80

Lawyer, judge, corruption buster, Mosman mayor, influential Catholic and high-profile monarchist, Barry O’Keefe was a man of public achievement.

As the older brother of rock star Johnny O’Keefe – ”the wild one” – Barry was dubbed the ”mild one”.

He joked about it, watching former Catholic archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell appear before the royal commission on child sex abuse last month.

”My heart’s no good these days, but I’m holding out to stop the obituarists going on about John,” he said.

Mr O’Keefe died on Thursday, aged 80.

His father, Ray O’Keefe, a furniture salesman and Waverley mayor, sent his sons to Christian Brothers College, Waverley.

They won Commonwealth scholarships to Sydney University. John O’Keefe tried economics, Barry O’Keefe took up law.

Admitted to the NSW bar in 1958, he became a QC in 1974 and three years later began a 13-year stint on the Mosman council. He served three mayoral terms.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1993, and the Fahey government appointed him commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption the following year.

Mr O’Keefe’s ICAC career was not without controversy. In July 1998, he ran head first into the Carr government, accusing state parliamentarians of trying to pay him back for investigating allegations against politicians and their links with underworld figures.

Two days later, Mr O’Keefe was summonsed to appear before a parliamentary committee inquiring into his overseas and interstate travels that had cost taxpayers $178,000. He became annoyed when asked if his contract included his wife Jan travelling first-class with him overseas.

”She’s entitled to, but she hardly ever does,” he said.

The couple married in 1962 and had five children, Philip, Vanessa, Roger, Andrew and Sophie.

Mr O’Keefe’s funeral will be held on May 2 at St Mary’s Cathedral.

Correction: This article originally stated that Mr O’Keefe was 79 when he died. This was incorrect, he was 80.

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Mike Baird: the new man at the top

A Premier’s faith

Among the packing boxes, prints and other assorted debris lying around Mike Baird’s new office, a baseball bat leans against the wall next to the door.

It’s a Louisville Slugger, presented to him by the US Major League Baseball when it opened its season at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers last month.

Baird is no stranger to baseball, having been a talented junior player when he lived in America in the late 1970s, when his father Bruce was Australian trade commissioner in New York. He takes its handle, as if to assess its weight. The new Premier knows he might need it in the coming weeks and months.

On the day of Baird’s appointment by his colleagues as the new Liberal leader – and premier-designate – the Labor opposition offered a taste of what is to come: a YouTube attack ad titled ”It’s about to get much worse”.

A classic of the genre, it features a menacing, black and white picture of Baird and highlights his record as treasurer of privatising state assets, and cutting health and education budgets. It noted he appointed Liberal Party fund-raiser and businessman Nick Di Girolamo to the board of State Water Corporation.

”It’s going to be really tough. I’m under no illusions,” Baird says.

”Scare campaigns, smear campaigns will come thick and fast. And all of us in government have to be prepared to fight.

”It was quite clear to me that Labor were smirking and thought [Barry O’Farrell’s resignation] gave them every opportunity to put up a very competitive fight, if not win the election. They were not quite handing out the spoils, but it’s clear they were clapping with [the] events of last week.”

Just how ready for the fight Baird and the NSW Liberals are is a much discussed question at the moment.

To some, O’Farrell’s sudden resignation over his false evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption in relation to the gift of a $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage from Di Girolamo left something of a vacuum at the top.

Baird is far from a seasoned political warrior. He left a career in merchant banking to enter Parliament in 2007. It has been a rocket ride to the top. Baird’s chief of staff, Bay Warburton, is a former marketing and sales executive and no political hardhead.

Adding to the uncertainty is the NSW division’s apparent inability to appoint a state director following the resignation of Mark Neeham last year. Scott Briggs, a former deputy director who is now a Channel Nine executive, has been courted but thus far efforts to coax him across have failed.

The Liberal Party is essentially rudderless nine months from an election, facing the rat cunning of Labor and a cashed-up union movement.

Is the clean-cut, impeccably polite former treasurer up to the task? Baird bridles a little at the suggestion he is anything other than carved from granite. ”I’ve got the toughness needed to get the job done,” he declares. ”I have been underestimated a lot on this journey so far.”

He points to the ugly battle he fought against the hard right faction for initial preselection in the seat of Manly, but seems most proud of the way he was elected unopposed by his colleagues in the party room last week.

”I haven’t reflected back but how often in state political history has a leader been elected in such circumstances, so quickly in a unanimous way?” he asks.

”And that was done without making phone calls, without anyone being prepared for the events of that day. There was no preparation work.”

In truth, Baird’s rails run into the job was made possible only by the reluctance of Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian to enter the ballot, despite the urgings of her supporters. Berejiklian struck a deal with Baird not to challenge and in turn received his support to become deputy Liberal leader.

Nevertheless, the new Premier is taking it as a strong endorsement from his colleagues of his ability to carry them to next year’s election and beyond. ”To be elected in a unanimous context in those circumstances, I would say … my colleagues recognised within me the ability to do the job that needs to be done, whether that be toughness, whether that be determination, whether that be policy vision, energy,” he says.

The timing of Baird’s ascension to the premier’s office is both a blessing and a curse.

On one reading, his predecessor’s cautious approach to reform allows the opposition to claim little has been done in the government’s first term. The reforms it has achieved – most of them focused on cutting back expenses to wrangle the budget back into position – are difficult to get voters excited about.

Its more visible, feelgood work – such as the north-west rail link and WestConnex motorway – remain works in progress.

But Baird says the government is more than prepared to run on its record, and the timing of his rise from treasurer to premier is in fact ”almost the perfect transition because coming from the treasurer’s role you’ve got a deep appreciation of the true state of the finances … so I’ve got a perfect understanding of where we’re at”.

The pitch: that the ”payoff” for three years of fiscal discipline is coming. ”We still have to be disciplined,” Baird notes, sounding very much like the treasurer. ”We’ve controlled expenditure down to a sustainable position.

”If the economy continues to kick up, which at the moment it is in jobs and economic growth and confidence and sales – we’re seeing that emerge – and that obviously drives a bit of a revenue benefit. So provided we remain disciplined in our expenses and let that revenue naturally take hold, then there’s more of a buffer to do more infrastructure and put more into services.”

Precisely what that means is likely to be unveiled in the June 17 pre-election budget. Baird is not offering hints but has said the statement would contain measures that ”will really excite NSW”.

Before then, Baird faces his first big test as leader when several of his former colleagues make an appearance in the ICAC witness box during a four-week inquiry starting on Monday.

The inquiry is examining allegations former energy minister Chris Hartcher and fellow central coast MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber ”corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources” in return for favours.

The Liberal Party memberships of the trio have been suspended; they now sit as independents in the Parliament. But already the inquiry is promising to veer uncomfortably close to home for Baird: one of its witnesses, John Caputo, the former Liberal mayor of Warringah, is vice-president of Baird’s state electoral conference.

The inquiry coincides with the resumption of Parliament, ensuring a test of Baird’s skills on his feet when the inevitable salvos are fired from the opposition benches.

A committed Christian who studied at Bible school in Canada, Baird is also navigating the shoals of his well-known social conservatism early on.

During his first news conference as premier-designate, he struggled with a question about a remark he made last year in relation to same-sex marriage, referring to ”those who are choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle”.

It was done without fanfare, but within days Baird had retracted the words in a statement to the gay and lesbian newspaper the Sydney Star Observer.

”I chose my words poorly when I referred to a lifestyle choice,” he told the newspaper.

”I was merely trying to say that everybody should be free to be who they are.”

Asked about how his strong Christian views will influence the decisions he makes as Premier, Baird commits to allowing a conscience vote on issues such as gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights.

”In terms of the policy, every single person in NSW can be assured I’m looking after them,” he says.

”Whether it be race, whether it be religion, whether it be sexuality, I do not care. I have a deep respect for every single person in this state. And I will serve every single one of them with every ounce of my being.”

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Coogee mums ready for run of their lives

Mum’s the word: Members of the Coogee Cougars after a morning training run. Photo: Peter RaeIt began as a simple story. A bunch of mums get together for a few training runs in the hope of improving their times in the The Sun-Herald City to Surf, presented by Westpac.

They met on the promenade of Coogee beach in the early morning and ran together, the story goes. Gradually others heard about the runners meeting on a Thursday and numbers grew.

Five years later there are more than 300 regulars. Among them is Sergeant Carolyn O’Brien, who a few months ago, never thought she would be running in the 2014 Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon.

She was recovering from painful shin splints sustained after returning to exercise too soon after a hip injury. She also believed her days of clambering over five-metre walls and sprinting 100 metres, as was required when she first joined the police force, were long gone.

“Everyone told me I was old, that I would never come back,” said Sergeant O’Brien, 52. “My son would look at me and say, ‘it’s time to give up’, and that’s what spurred me on to come back.”

While she was once an active officer manning the streets, she said her fitness took a “back seat” over the past 15 years as she raised a family and took a desk job with NSW police.

The point of change came on her 50th birthday when she gave up 30 years of smoking and joined the Coogee Cougars, a regular running group for mothers in the eastern suburbs.

“I sometimes think, ‘oh God I can’t do this’, but hopefully I’m on track and the Cougars keep me going”.

Organiser Jo Davison, who will also be running along with 70 other Cougar members, said the group was “community that support each other through the day to day, the highs and lows of life”. They will be among 15,000 people expected to enter the half marathon on Sunday May 18.

The 21.1-kilometre race starts and finishes at Hyde Park and passes some of Sydney’s landmarks including the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Garden.

This year, marathon organisers hope to raise more than $1.5 million for The Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Make-A-Wish Australia and UNICEF Australia.

Sergeant O’Brien will run the first seven kilometres. Her relay teammate will complete the remainder But she is determined to return next year to conquer the entire distance.

“I would like to do the [Sun-Herald’s] City to Surf, then the full Half Marathon next year,” she said. “I think that’s what running does to you. It’s a personal achievement. A challenge to yourself.”

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