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Roos bank on big hearts

LAKE Macquarie have replaced the biggest man in the club with the smallest but NSW Country five-eighth Brendan Holiday has faith in the Roos forwards to get the job done against Maitland in the elimination semi-final at Marcellin Park tomorrow.
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Towering former Waikato Chiefs second-rower Mark Burman has been ruled out of Lake Macquarie’s first assault on finals football with a knee injury.

His place has been taken by bulldog breakaway Shannon Turton, forcing a reshuffle.

Captain Cal Menzies shifts into the second row with Turton coming on at the side.

The spring-heeled Burman stands 197centimetres, weighs 113kilograms and is the Roos’ go-to man at the lineout.

He dwarfs Turton by nearly 30cm and 20kg.

‘‘It is not really like for like,’’ Holiday said.

‘‘Losing Mark is a big blow, but it is really good for Shannon to get a start.

‘‘He has worked hard for this club over a lot of years and adds a different element.

‘‘He is tough, goes hard at the breakdown and will be an asset.’’

As well as being the main jumper, Menzies is likely to assume the responsibility of calling the lineouts.

‘‘The other boys have to step up,’’ Holiday said.

‘‘We have a few things in mind to help in that area.’’

Maitland coach Geoff Golledge is not convinced that Burman will be absent but is aware of what Turton brings to the game.

‘‘I watched the tape and saw Burman go off,’’ he said.

‘‘I think he will play some part whether it is early on or at the back end.

‘‘Their lineout was more or less built around him. If he is not there it is a bit of a bonus.

‘‘In saying that, Shannon is a very tenacious player.

‘‘Once he gets on that ball he is very hard to move.

‘‘You know one thing from Shannon you will always get and that is 110per cent effort.’’

Maitland won both regular season encounters, 25-23 in week three and 27-21 in the 12th round.

Golledge studied video of the Roos’ 34-24 win over Wanderers to seal fifth place last round.

‘‘It was what I expected,’’ he said.

‘‘They are a bustling side and do a lot of their best work at the breakdown, where they are very spoiling.

‘‘That is how they played against us in the two rounds.

‘‘It was pretty physical and we don’t expect any different on Sunday.’’

Though it is the Roos’ first finals appearance since being promoted to Premier Rugby in 2002, Golledge doubts they will be overawed or satisfied with simply making the play-offs.

‘‘Knowing [Roos coach] Danny Maiava, he won’t be happy with that,’’ Golledge said.

‘‘They will have their heads on.

‘‘I remember when Maitland made the semis for the first time in yonks we got excited but it is only the start of the job.

‘‘They understand that.’’

Holiday, who won a premiership at Hamilton, is certainly not done with yet.

‘‘We are determined to go as far as we can go,’’ he said.

‘‘We have the players to put points on.

‘‘It is just getting in the right place on the field and keeping them away from our quarter.’’

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Bennett looks to future after defeat

KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett said his side had closed the gap on the top teams but were still off the pace after they finished his first season in charge with an 18-6 loss to South Sydney at Hunter Stadium last night.
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Erasing painful memories of a 40-24 loss in the corresponding game last year that denied them a place in the finals, Souths (36 points) secured a top-four berth and left the Knights (24) in 11th position, and vulnerable to being leap-frogged by St George Illawarra (24) if the Dragons beat Parramatta at ANZ Stadium tomorrow night.

Backing up their 34-14 victory over the Knights at ANZ Stadium on July 8, the Rabbitohs posted just their third win from 19 trips to Newcastle stretching back to 1988 and handed Newcastle a rare loss on Old Boys’ Day in front of a crowd of 24,127.

‘‘We were competitive. As I’ve been saying for a number of weeks now, we’re just a little bit off the pace compared to the top teams,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘They didn’t try any harder than us tonight, and they weren’t any more committed than we were, they just did things a little bit better than we did and that’s the difference.

‘‘But we’re bridging the gap. We’ll get it right ...

‘‘Our last six games have been against six of the teams that’ll be in the final eight now ... and it was only seven or eight weeks ago that Souths absolutely annihilated us in Sydney and ran over the top of us and physically intimidated us.

‘‘They didn’t do that here tonight. They were as physical as they’ve ever been and were as tough as they always are, the way they’ve been playing, but we were certainly not out-gunned in that area and we certainly held our own in a lot of the one-on-one stuff out there tonight.’’

Prop Roy Asotasi and man-of-the-match Greg Inglis scored tries in the eighth and 18th minutes to give the Rabbitohs a 12-0 lead, which Newcastle trimmed to 12-6 by half-time after fullback Darius Boyd was awarded a controversial benefit-of-the-doubt try in the 27th minute.

Five-eighth John Sutton scored the only try of the second half, darting from dummy-half past Willie Mason and Jarrod Mullen to touch down in the 60th minute.

Inglis produced the tackle of the game – if not the season – in the 45th minute when he launched himself at a runaway Aku Uate, stopping the former NSW winger in his tracks, and stripping the ball to save a certain try.

Few other players in the game could have produced such a tackle on a player as strong and fast as Uate in full flight metres from the line.

Commentating on Channel Nine, former NSW coach Phil Gould said: ‘‘That might be the greatest play I’ve ever seen.’’

Souths coach Michael Maguire and captain Michael Crocker described the tackle as inspirational and unbelievable.

‘‘In my time in rugby league, I think it’s probably one of the best tackles I’ve seen,’’ Maguire said.

‘‘Greggy is just able to do those things for his team over and over again. He puts his body on the line, and so does the team, with everything that was thrown at them.’’

Crocker said: ‘‘It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen – to stop Aku like that; not many people could have done that.’’

Knights captain Danny Buderus said he saw Uate racing down the eastern touch-line towards the Rabbitohs’ goal-line ‘‘then I saw big ‘GI’ [Inglis] coming across and you knew it was going to be a contest’’.

‘‘It was a fantastic tackle. If we’d slipped in there, it could have been anything,’’ Buderus said.

‘‘But once again, we had our chances. Always the last pass, or something would go astray from us, and we just couldn’t get over the line.’’

The Rabbitohs made the most of a southerly gale at their backs in the first half, pinning the Knights on their own line with a series of towering, swirling bombs and awkward grubber kicks to establish a 12-0 lead after 18 minutes.

Video referee Steve Clark awarded Boyd a benefit-of-the-doubt try in the 27th minute, which Tyrone Roberts converted from touch into the teeth of the gale.

Boyd appeared to drag the ball to the line after being stopped short but Clark, after several replays, gave him the green light.

Maguire described the game as a dress rehearsal for what Souths can expect in the finals.

‘‘The way the players fought for each other out there, it was actually a great game for us leading into what we’re about to face,’’ Maguire said.

Roy Asotasi of the Rabbitohs dives in for a try. Picture: Tony Feder/Getty Images

‘‘Newcastle threw a hell of a lot at us – they went from one side of the field to the other – but the boys kept getting up off the ground and fighting for each other, so it was a really good performance for us.’’

Play-the-ball errors by Newcastle forwards Adam Cuthbertson and Neville Costigan allowed Souths to re-establish momentum midway through the second half. Despite playing into the wind, the Rabbitohs forced three successive line drop-outs through a series of deft chip kicks and grubbers by Reynolds and Issac Luke, who made the most of a recall after being relegated to NSW Cup the previous week.

The Knights defended three sets but not four, as Sutton bounced out of dummy-half and beat Mason and Mullen to score in the 60th minute and Reynolds converted for an 18-6 lead.

Newcastle had a chance to hit back four minutes later when centre Timana Tahu flew high to bat back a Mullen bomb but the bouncing ball eluded Roberts, and Souths giant David Taylor tidied up for the Rabbitohs and carried it back into the field of play.

● Souths cracked the half-century in a 50-26 victory over the Knights in the NYC game.

RABBITOHS 18 (R Asotasi, G Inglis, J Sutton tries; A Reynolds 3 goals)

KNIGHTS 6 (D Boyd try; T Roberts goal)

Halftime Rabbitohs 12-6

Crowd 24,127

Referees Matt Cecchin, Chris James

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Power supply threat as workers consider strike

ELECTRICITY supplies will be under pressure if workers strike at two of the Hunter Valley’s biggest power stations.
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Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union spokesman Allen Drew said yesterday that nearly 600 Macquarie Generation employees in seven unions were considering industrial action over stalled pay talks.

They wanted similar pay rises to the 4.2per cent a year that Delta Electricity gave its workers but this had come before the O’Farrell government had introduced its 2.5per cent cap on pay increases.

Mr Drew, who is president of the union’s energy division, said an application for a secret ballot on industrial action would be heard in the Fair Work Australia tribunal on Monday.

Mr Drew said it was about 20years since the last serious power industry dispute.

A spokesman for Macquarie Generation said the corporation would be at Monday’s hearing and wanted seven days notice of industrial action, rather than the usual three days.

Mr Drew said the extra time was not needed because Macquarie could start or stop a turbine in a day if it needed to.

The Macquarie spokesman said its Liddell and Bayswater power stations near Muswellbrook produced as much as 40per cent of the state’s electricity.

‘‘Industrial action could put this supply at risk,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘We are working hard to reach a new enterprise agreement ... within the scope of the NSW wages policy.’’

A spokeswoman for Energy Minister Peter Hartcher said productivity improvements were needed to lift wages by more than 2.5per cent.

She said the government recognised the right to take industrial action but hoped talks would succeed ‘‘so that this right does not have to be exercised’’.

Power supply.

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Loss is not diminished for those left at home

VICKI PEARCE has more reasons than most to feel passionately about Australia's involvement in Afghanistan.
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The first anniversary of her son's death passed just last week. Private Matthew Lambert, 26, died from wounds he suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated during an early morning patrol in Oruzgan province.

Yet on the question of whether Australian troops should stay in Afghanistan, Ms Pearce says she has ''mixed feelings''.

On balance, ''we should stay and do our job'', but it is not a position she reaches easily.

"If we are not making a significant difference for the better and the situation is worsening with no end in sight then that is when you would question the viability of continuing," she says.

But the Brisbane mother of two also says she is concerned about the "insult to the soldiers we have already lost if we left earlier, leaving the job they died for unfinished". She also says her son's friends are disheartened "to hear the debate in the media back home regarding whether or not they should be there when a soldier is killed".

Four months ago, Matthew's father, Chris Lambert, told the Herald he could not see the reason for keeping troops in Afghanistan. ''I think the motivation for being there is questionable. I think the outcome is unlikely … The magnitude of my loss is incalculable: my first-born, my only son.''

Others, like Melbourne couple Terry and Jennifer Ward, were equally clear in putting the case that troops should stay on.

It has been more than three years since the Wards lost their son, Private Benjamin Ranaudo, to an explosion outside a village in the Baluchi Valley, 27 kilometres north of the Australian base in Tarin Kowt.

"We do need to be there. We need to finish the job we started," Terry Ward says.

But grief from the Afghanistan War does not always bring clarity about the broader issues.

"I honestly don't know what I really think at this stage. It's still too close for me to decide," Ross Atkinson says, adding that in time he will probably come to a clearer view.

It has been 19 months since his son, Corporal Richard Atkinson, died while working as a combat engineer in Oruzgan.

Clearer for these Australians is the sense of sadness that five more Australian families are now dealing with the same grief they have known.

"You don't get over it. You just get to handle it better. I know how raw it is at the time," Terry Ward says, but he adds some advice to the families of the five lost soldiers: "Be so proud of them. They died … trying for a better world."

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Family’s plea for justice falls on deaf ears

KIDNAPPED, bound and beaten to death and then left to rot in remote bush, the killing of Sydney nurses Lorraine Wilson and Wendy Evans still ranks as one of the east coast's most shocking unsolved crimes.
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Nearly four decades after their deaths, police have identified a group of men from two families who they believe know what happened to the two women - last seen hitch-hiking in Queensland.

These ''persons of interest'' include one man who has admitted to cleaning blood out of the car used by the suspected killer. But to the dismay of Wilson's NSW family, Queensland authorities are refusing to put the suspects under public scrutiny by holding an inquest.

In April, Wilson's mother, Betty, wrote to the Queensland Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, begging for an inquest.

The 89-year-old never got her answer as three days later she accidentally cut her leg open on a fence picket on her Dubbo farm and bled to death.

In July, Mr Bleijie wrote to the Wilson family to say no ''additional pertinent information'' had come to light since the original findings in 1985 and there would be no reopening of the inquest.

Speaking yesterday from his Blue Mountains home, Lorraine Wilson's brother Eric said Mr Bleijie had ''killed justice with the stroke of a pen''. ''The Attorney-General should hang his head in shame. He's also the Minister for Justice. Well, where does violent crime sit in that level of priority?'' said Mr Wilson, who has campaigned for decades for his sister's death to be properly investigated.

''My mother suffered for years for this. She would say: 'How can I complain when Lorraine lay out there for years?'''

Ms Wilson, 20, and Ms Evans, 18, nurses at Kogarah's St George Hospital, were last seen leaving a relative's home in Brisbane in early October to hitch-hike to Goondiwindi, where they were to pick up a car and drive to Sydney.

Despite a missing person's investigation, nothing was heard of the pair until 1976, when a bushwalker stumbled on a skull and some personal effects near Murphys Creek about 15 kilometres east of the Darling Downs town of Toowoomba.

Evidence suggested the women died from violent blows to the head and rope was believed to have been found with the bones.

At the time, a spate of other missing female hitch-hiker cases in south-east Queensland led to the investigation wrongly focusing on a hitch-hiker serial killer operating across the state.

In 1985, the Queensland government held a brief inquest, attended by Wilson's parents, which featured one policeman reading from a file, Mr Wilson said.

It was this 27-year-old inquest that Mr Bleijie pointed to in justifying his decision. He also noted several witnesses and suspects had died.

But Mr Wilson says the inquest at the time did not nominate any persons of interest and left an open finding.

Since then, police continued to investigate and, as recently as last year, held coercive hearings where individuals were interviewed before the state's Crime and Misconduct Commission - a scenario confirmed by Mr Bleijie in his letter.

Mr Wilson said police, while not able to charge suspects, had enough evidence to identify people of interest, including someone who cleaned blood from a car, and other living suspects. He said they should face public scrutiny in an inquest.

From his own inquiries he said he had found out the names of suspects. The Herald has confirmed from electoral rolls at least one of the suspects still lives in Queensland.

Mr Wilson said from what he could piece together from old police reports, he believed his sister and her friend had been picked up on the road, taken to a party in Toowoomba and then later taken to remote bushland against their will.

He said there were several sightings of the two women as they tried to escape from a group of men in a car in Toowoomba. They were then beaten to death in bushland.

Yesterday, Queensland Police said it remained ''an open cold case'' and declined to comment further.

The former Toowoomba Police detective Brian Tighe, who had done some work on the case in the 1980s, confirmed information had been received since 1985.

Mr Bleijie refused to budge on his decision yesterday.

''After reviewing the material, the Attorney-General is not convinced that reopening the 1985 inquest would be likely to result in a different finding being made,'' his spokeswoman said.

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All the little extras in an MP’s grab-bag

Sport lover ... Senator Stephen Conroy, centre, with NBN CEO Mike Quigley, left, and Treasurer Wayne Swan, right.Political interests database
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Would you like an upgrade? Please come into the chairman's lounge for some free food and soothing muzak. And let us know if we can give you an iPad - to keep.

For most weary travellers such offers are a fantasy. Not so for our grand final-loving, globetrotting, free-trip grabbing federal politicians, who appear to be happy to fly almost anywhere and attend almost anything on almost anyone's ticket.

And as they criss-cross the globe there is usually an upgrade provided by Australia's single biggest giver of gifts to politicians - Qantas.

The sifting of two years of disclosures, in a special Herald/Age investigation, reveals the financial profile of all 226 federal politicians, including their homes, savings accounts, shareholdings and their grab-bags of gifts and trips. It shows more than politicians' liking for upgrades (almost 300), overseas trips (more than 100) and free tickets to sporting and cultural events (more than 450). However, it also suggests substantial avoidance or breaches of disclosure requirements, with more than 70 politicians failing to disclose they had accepted subscription gifts from Foxtel and Austar.

Such disclosures are a fundamental part of Australian democracy, giving voters the information to gauge whether politicians are being duchessed by big corporations and foreign interests.

By making the trips and gifts public, the disclosures are supposed to act as a counter to politicians being unduly influenced in their decision-making by large corporate interests.

An Australian National University professor who has written extensively on accountability, Richard Mulgan, says transparency is vital. "There is a very strong court of public opinion when it comes to parliamentarians," he says. "This is where transparency seems to me to be key. Politicians do live in a glass house and it's harder for them to get away with things."

But the present regime of disclosures presents many hurdles to accountability - not least because the forms are scratched in handwriting on unsearchable pages that must be examined individually.

In the words of John Uhr, a professor of politics at ANU, the present system of disclosures "has still got a kind of 'club rule' about it, where the information is registered with the club official for club purposes".

As reported in the Herald today, those glad-handing the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, at high-profile sports events include Channel Seven (the Australian Open), Channel Nine (Test cricket), Channel 10 (Formula One) and SBS (FIFA World Cup). Senator Conroy also declared 10 tickets to AFL games in the past two years, including eight grand final tickets.

In fact, AFL grand finals resemble a who's who of federal politics, with more than a dozen politicians attending each of the past two grand finals matches, enjoying tickets that can cost more than $2000.

Overseas trips are also popular. The disclosures reveal that federal minister Bill Shorten took a fully funded trip to Rome financed by the Italian Democratic Party. And former Tasmanian senator Nick Sherry, a one-time superannuation minister, was flown to London in April by financial services company Baker Tilly.

Considering a return business class trip to Europe costs in the order of $8500 - before any accommodation - such trips are not small change.

The patterns show the heavy influence from certain regions and certain companies. Israel and Taiwan are the biggest national supporters of trips by Australian politicians, recording 44 and 16 partly or fully funded trips respectively.

Hancock interests owned by Gina Rinehart sponsored seven trips - the most by an individual company - and controversial Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and gas giant Santos each sponsored six trips.

One freebie was a 2010 chartered flight for the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, to look at Hancock Coal's operations in Queensland's Galilee Basin. Another involved Hancock sponsoring Julie Bishop, Teresa Gambaro and Barnaby Joyce to travel to Hyderabad in India to attend the marriage of the granddaughter of the head of Indian industrial conglomerate GVK Group.

Australia's parliamentarians are not subject to many of the checks and balances that govern behaviour of parliamentarians in other Western democracies.

These include codes of conduct, parliamentary standards commissioners, ethics commissioners and independent oversights of the way politicians spend their expenses.

Uhr believes destructive debates surrounding the behaviour of Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper are able to flourish when there is no rule book about what is acceptable for politicians.

"The pitfalls or dangers are that it becomes, at the worst, a grossly political bunfight when public debate emerges about appropriate standards," he says.

Most politicians who accept gifts and lavish trips don't have to meet standards expected of federal public servants, whose behaviour must comply with a code of conduct.

Ministers are an exception, with their behaviour needing to meet a ministerial code of conduct. But even this code is policed opaquely by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The requirements for politicians to reveal duchessing and the like are based on a list of necessary disclosures set down in 1984 for members of the House of Representatives and 1994 for members of the Senate, and hardly changed since. The lists of disclosure are often obscure, poorly framed and inconsistent between the two houses. For example:

Politicians have to reveal trusts they benefit from, but members of the House do not have to disclose the trust's shareholdings. Senators on the other hand must reveal trust shareholdings.

Just what constitutes a gift and what constitutes hospitality is barely defined. This is an important omission as gifts can require ministers to pay the difference out of their own pocket if the gifts exceed a certain amount.

If a gift is offered to all politicians, such as access to an airline lounge or free pay TV, no declaration is required for senators. There is no such rule in the lower house.

When it comes to spouses, there is no requirement to declare any of their interests if the politicians say they are unaware of what they own. The disclosure from the federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, for example, declares that the income of his wife, NSW Labor frontbencher Carmel Tebbutt, is "not applicable". A similar stance is taken by other MPs including Paul Fletcher (his wife is Sydney jeweller Manuela Zappacosta) and Joe Hockey (his wife is investment banker Melissa Babbage).

Asked how members should address such paperwork uncertainty about spouses and the like, the chair of the privileges committee, Yvette D'Ath, said: "Members are referred to the resolution agreed by the House in 1984. " Failure to disclose gifts appropriately can rise to a "serious contempt" of Parliament. However, experts interviewed by the Herald were unaware of these sanctions ever being enforced.

C

onfidence in the overall state of disclosures - and their ability to provide the "glass house" envisaged by Professor Mulgan - is not helped by omissions, opaque or illegible reporting and silliness.

For example, Gary Humphries and Nola Marino, two of a six-member group who took an all-expenses-paid trip to Frankfurt paid by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, gave no disclosure of the trip. The trip - with a conservative value of $8500 a head - was billed by another participant, Joel Fitzgibbon, as supporting the "framework of NATO's widening co-operation with Partners Across the Globe".

Humphries was unavailable to answer the Herald's questions. Marino told the Herald her non-disclosure was an oversight and she had ''written to the Clerk responsible for the Register to correct this''.

Similarly, when reporting 289 flight upgrades, in more than 50 cases politicians omitted the name of the sponsor, leaving the impression of half-baked disclosure and the possibility of upgrades simply not being reported at all.

Cory Bernardi, Michaelia Cash and Stephen Parry are not saying why they felt the need to take a charter flight provided by Hancock Prospecting between Adelaide and Canberra. The trip stands out because it is not in the mix of regular company-funded charters to see whatever major resource project is being developed by whatever major resource company.

The fact a billionaire mining magnate provides an in-fill charter service (provided by ExecuJet) for a routine route for certain politicians raises Professor Uhr's interest. "If this was a regular use every time the three wanted to go to Canberra, it's worth knowing," he says. "If it's exceptional use, that's worth knowing, too."

Then there is over-disclosure being pursued to the point of silliness.

Mark Butler, the member for Port Adelaide, has made his disclosures something of a vanity publishing exercise, recording every last meeting and every throwaway gift.

Butler displays a penchant for recording meaningless gifts when he need declare only gifts above a threshold of $300 for private gifts, rising to $750 for gifts from official sources. A sample of an exhaustive list includes a cup cake ("The value of the cup cake is approximately $5"), a $5 pie and a roll of toilet paper worth $3.

The same punctiliousness is displayed by Craig Emerson as Trade Minister, who adds his own "toilet paper" disclosure to a list of moon cakes, tea sets, vases and desk diaries from his international travels.

But even such trifles offer surprising revelations. Among Emerson's disclosures are a tea set and lacquered box from Bo Xilai, described as Chongqing party secretary, and a vase from Wang Lijun, described as Chongqing vice-mayor. The gifts dating from last year show Emerson playing a bit part on his visit to Chongqing before a drama that has transfixed China.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was charged and later found guilty of the murder of British businessman Neil Heyward, in a case launched after Wang took refuge in a US consulate.

Uhr supports the idea of such disclosures being made far and wide. "If it's public disclosure then the widest distribution of information to the public is a good thing," he says.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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There’s something in the air as El Nino prepares to visit

Rain, rain, go away ... wet weather has haunted Sydney over the past two summers. Hello sun ... beaches, such as Bond, can expect to be busy with El Nino back in town.
Nanjing Night Net

SPRING starts today, with more than a tinge of summer already in the air. The Bureau of Meteorology predicts a relatively warm, dry end to the year, with average spring temperatures creeping closer to those experienced in summer 30 years ago.

The rain-bringing La Nina weather cycle that haunted the last two Australian summers is gone, and its hotter twin El Nino is gathering pace.

''The last couple of years have been La Nina years, and those tend to bring above average rainfall and cool conditions,'' said a climatologist with the Bureau of Meteorology, Acacia Pepler. ''Now, we're in a neutral year, trending towards El Nino, and we're expecting average to warmer weather.''

The weather cycles are not completely understood, but meteorologists have been able to accurately track and predict extended dry and wet spells by measuring sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, between Darwin and Tahiti. Warmer water creates higher air pressure over the ocean, causing drier conditions over much of eastern Australia.

Sydney tends to be buffered from the most extreme El Nino-La Nina impacts, which have traditionally fallen west of the dividing range, but the trend towards El Nino means this year's spring temperatures will probably be higher than normal in the daytime.

''In the records since 1859, the average spring temperature at Observatory Hill is 21.9 degrees, but keep in mind that Observatory Hill has been warming up over the years,'' Ms Pepler said.

Daytime averages of about 23 degrees - quite balmy compared to the past two years - are expected for Sydney's spring this year. The bureau's climate models say there is a 60 to 70 per cent chance that temperatures for most of NSW will be above average.

Warmer, drier air means the risk of bushfires is also rising, and the NSW government announced this week that hazard reduction burns will take place in about 6000 hectares of bushland in and around the city. It means parts of Sydney could be shrouded in a smoky haze for the next few days.

Today, a hazard reduction burn in Royal National Park has been postponed due to likely high winds but others will proceed.

''The crews are taking advantage of the ideal spring conditions after a string of extremely wet seasons, including last years' record winter rainfall and an unusually wet, cold autumn,'' said the Environment Minister, Robyn Parker. ''This is a window of opportunity to carry out burns scheduled for last year and postponed because of rain, as well as continuing with operations scheduled for this spring.'' About $62 million had been allocated to an expanded hazard reduction program, she said.

This weekend, there will be hazard reduction burns in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, the Blue Mountains National Park, Berowra and Palm Beach, while there will be a controlled burn at Macquarie Park, next to the Lane Cover River, on Monday.

About 2400 hectares of national parks and reserves have been burned since July 1, in 10 separate controlled burns, the Office of Environment and Heritage said, with another 12 due to take place this week.

Altogether, 30,000 hectares will be burned for safety reasons by the end of November, in 70 separate hazard reduction operations.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Church should submit to more women in ranks

"The wife shall fear the husband" ... part of a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. Above, members of the faith at the Epiphany Festival.The gong for the Most Bizarre News this week surely goes to the Anglican Church, whose men at the top have decided women need to be reminded of their position - one of submission. Positively kinky, quite hilarious and maybe just a touch offensive. Having seemed one of the most progressive of the larger church groups - after all, they have started ordaining women - it's a surprising twist for the Anglicans. They have had ''a rethink'', and the result is a distinct tilt at turning back the clock, a tad too late.
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This is unlike say, the Greek Orthodox Church, whose clock has been well and truly fixed on Old Testament time but whose saving grace has been the sense of humour of its congregation. The various troglodytic declamations are simply regarded as droll, even by the faithful, though it must be said many marry in the church for cultural rather than religious reasons: the pageantry, the crowns, the walking in circles, the little asides from the priest who is also likely to be blessed with a sense of humour. Then there is that other highlight, the stepping on the foot. There are no vows in the Greek Orthodox ceremony. But the priest makes a pronouncement at some point in the proceedings from the Old Testament, that ''the wife shall fear the husband''. You have to listen out for it - a task which is non-trivial as it is all in medieval Greek - particularly if you are the bride, otherwise you will miss the opportunity to step on your new husband's foot in the traditional show of defiance. It never fails to elicit a rumble from the congregation and the tacit approval of the priest. Generations of women have shrugged off the anachronism with this show of feisty protest. An ill wind, however, is brewing in the wings: younger generations of women are simply failing to see what's funny about being instructed to fear their man. Hmm. Funny that.

But back to my disappointment with the Anglicans, who are maintaining that ''pledging to submit'' is ''not sexist''. Oh dear. At least ''obey'' implied a woman may have a view of her own though she is bound to put it aside. Submission is subjugation, a total relinquishing of selfhood. Given the response this week to this significantly backward step, the Anglican Church must be wishing they had stuck with plain old ''obey''. The trouble with making a change is that it attracts attention, and there is an expectation that the change will be progressive in some small way. But no, the Anglican Church is going for broke. Obviously all this equality between men and women has been the thin edge of the wedge. Gay marriage is at the floodgate.

So we must all have ''a rethink'' and return to the structure of the good old days when life was simpler and better, except that particular structure produced a very poor outcome for many women. Generations of women, some now in their 80s, did not fight long and hard for gains at work and at home for their granddaughters to be told their place in life is to submit.

This is precisely why the Taliban don't want women to have access to education; they become resistant to submission. Experience in India has shown that getting girls merely through primary education halves the birth rate, an ecclesiastical anathema as it puts a serious dent in flock numbers. The West has had to grant women education. The Catholic retaliation has been to deny them birth control. Western churches look with envy at the Muslim world: the massive and growing numbers of faithful and the collective submission to God's will - never mind that none of this reduces violence nor increases the protection of human rights.

The writing is on the wall for the church in the West; unless they get with the times, they'll become increasingly irrelevant. They need a different narrative for the 21st century. Some diversity in their senior ranks might help. Perhaps even at the very top. Lest you consider that blasphemous I, too, am really just hankering for the good old days, when women, too, were high priestesses, oracles and gods.

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Local filmmakers hoping familiarity will breed content

Arthouse ... Dead Europe.IT HAS been a question almost since the Australian film industry leapt back into life with Stork, Alvin Purple and Picnic at Hanging Rock in the 1970s: what sort of films should the country make?
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Should our directors try to compete with Hollywood? Or given smaller budgets, is it best to make more ''culturally important'' films, even if they only reach limited audiences in art-house cinemas?

In recent years, ''cultural'' has mostly won out over ''commercial''. Despite a series of acclaimed films, most still only get small-scale releases.

It seemed the only way to break into mainstream cinemas was to make a bigger-budget film backed by Hollywood (such as Australia and the Happy Feet movies), a feel-good comedy (Kenny, Red Dog and now The Sapphires) or an adaptation of a best-selling book (Mao's Last Dancer, Tomorrow When the War Began).

The result: while 20 Hollywood movies have taken at least $10 million at the box office this year - the industry benchmark for success in this country - only five Australian films have done it in the past decade.

But the latest batch of local films suggests that is changing.

Four films, starting with The Sapphires, are getting Hollywood-scale releases in more than 200 of the country's 2000-odd cinemas.

This week, it was the comic TV spin-off Kath & Kimderella. Later this month comes Bait 3D, a tongue-in-cheek action-thriller about a shark terrorising shoppers in a flooded supermarket.

Then comes the black comedy Mental, which reunites the team from Muriel's Wedding - director P. J. Hogan and Toni Collette as a one-of-a-kind nanny.

And after two serious dramas, Lore and Dead Europe, there is another comic TV spin-off - Housos Vs Authority.

It seems Australian producers have learnt from Hollywood that ''familiar source material'', whether it is a hit stage musical, TV show or just an earlier film, helps find an audience.

Clearly, the government's producer offset - a tax rebate scheme to boost production - is allowing bigger-budget and more ambitious films to be made.

The chief executive of the film agency Screen Australia, Ruth Harley, says it has encouraged more commercial production without sacrificing cultural merit.

''We can't really steer the production because what comes in [for funding] is what comes in,'' she says. ''But what we have done is make it very widely known that we are very welcoming of films that have broad ambition.''

Dr Harley believes the new niche for Australian films is ''elevated art-house crossover'' - smart stories that work in both art-house and mainstream cinemas - as well as ''elevated art-house'' and ''elevated genre'' in the case of Bait.

The Hollywood-based Australian director Phillip Noyce, whose films include Patriot Games, Rabbit-Proof Fence and Salt, says it is encouraging to see these wider releases. ''It's always hard for a little Australian film to compete for awareness with Hollywood product that has already been sold into Australian hearts and minds by global culture platforms such as the web and the Hollywood publicity machine that feeds it,'' he says.

''Sometimes a film can find an audience but mostly the audience needs to be forced to find the film by the kind of saturation advertising that is necessary to support wider releases.''

While The Sapphires is already a hit - heading for at least $14 million - Hollywood is in no danger of being overtaken. Even with wider releases, the Australian share of annual box office is still likely to be less than 5 per cent this year.

Magda Szubanski - Spectrum

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Happiest feats

Magda Szubanski reprises her role as Sharon in Kath & Kimderella. Comic genius ... Kim Jong-il's song I'm so Ronery in Team America.
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AS SHE ponders her favourite comic performances in movies, Magda Szubanski lists classic lines and scenes by renowned comedians from Charlie Chaplin to Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.

It's clearly a challenging task for one of the country's great humorists, which is made more complex by driving around the block while she talks to us, having forgotten her phone charger while visiting her mum. Eventually, the actor much loved for playing hapless Sharon in Kath and Kim, Mrs Hoggett in Babe and Miss Viola in Happy Feet settles on her standouts.

Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921)



Charlie Chaplin is my all-time favourite because he has that ability to ''make 'em laugh, make 'em cry''. I find The Kid so incredibly moving. If, in spirit, Sharon resembles anyone, it's him, although I wish I had the level of skill he had. He's like an elite gymnast. I'm someone who came in very sideways to comedy. I always feel like I'm just winging it but I really love that old-fashioned, brilliant skill.

Cross-dressers Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot (1959) and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982)



I would have seen Some Like It Hot 50 times or more. What a genius filmmaker Billy Wilder was but Jack Lemmon is impeccable. That moment when Tony Curtis says to him, ''Why would a guy wanna marry a guy?'' and he goes ''Security!'' is so funny. And Marilyn Monroe is fantastic. I'm a bit of a lover of ensemble work. I love craftsmanship in anything. I'm probably part of the demise of that because I come from the punk era when not being slick at things was the intention. Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie is another one of my absolute favourites. It's also about a guy who has to cross-dress but it's an updated version. Those moments when he breaks out of the feminine, when he hits the guy as he's trying to get into the cab, are really funny.

Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

I once had a night on the town with Maggie Smith talking about Scottish accents. They are really hard to do well. And what she does in Miss Jean Brodie is not just an Edinburgh accent but a Morningside accent - a very haughty, posh accent. This was one of the first times growing up when comedy felt relatable and possible, not on a conscious level but something clicked in terms of women doing comedic performances. I suppose this film really resonated because [I'm] half-Scottish. When I wanted to be an actor in my teens, it was Maggie Smith.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

There's an energy you get from improvisation, where you can be so real in the characters, that I absolutely love. People always go on about ''It goes up to 11''. For me, that's not the funniest moment. I really love the details: that they live in Squatney and the names - Nigel Tufnel and David St Hubbins - are just perfect! I went on my own to a cinema to see it. When they were singing Big Bottom, I was screaming with laughter.

Madeline Kahn in Clue (1985)



Clue is not a great film but Madeline Kahn is fabulous in anything. I was living in this house with a bunch of teenagers in the late '80s and they were rewinding the scene where she gives her explanation of why she committed the murder: ''I hated her, so much [she stammers] flames, flames on the side of my face!'' It's got to be improvised; you couldn't write that stuff. It's just hilariously funny.

Kim Jong-il - voiced by Trey Parker - in Team America: World Police (2004)

Kim Jong-il's song I'm So Ronery is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen - comic genius. Team America really got stuck into the perceived sanctimoniousness of some Hollywood actors who are activists -

I thought a bit harshly - although all those actors had a really good sense of humour about it. The film took no prisoners, but it's really funny.

Edna Mode - voiced by director Brad Bird - in The Incredibles (2004)

I find Edna Mode absolutely hilarious. In fact, a little bit of me dies inside every time I watch her because I feel like it should have been me, which is a really bizarre thing to say about an animated character. I feel like somehow Brad Bird snuck into my brain and stole a part of me.

Bridesmaids (2011)



That scene in the bridal change room - I was screaming with laughter! Hopefully, Bridesmaids finally put to bed the old chestnut that women can't be funny and there's not money to be made from women being funny. It's incredible to me. I come from a family where the women are really funny. My mother is 88 and still hilarious. Bridesmaids is a beautiful ensemble where everyone is given a fantastic role and they all shine.

■Kath & Kimderella opens on Thursday.

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Just for laughs

Chaplinesque … Szubanski as Sharon, with Gina Riley as Kim in Kath & Kimderella.After roles in Babe, Happy Feet and Bran Nue Dae, Magda Szubanski is heading back to cinemas as the hapless Sharon in Kath & Kimderella. As one of the country's finest comic talents, what does she regard as the greatest comedy performances in movie history? When Spectrum asked Szubanski to nominate her favourites, she came up with a surprising list.
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Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921)

Charlie Chaplin is my all-time favourite, because he has that ability to 'make 'em laugh, make 'em cry'. I find The Kid so incredibly moving. If in spirit Sharon resembles anyone it's him, although I wish I had the level of skill he had. He's like an elite gymnast. I'm someone who came in very sideways to comedy. I always feel like I'm just winging it, but I really love that old-fashioned, brilliant skill.

Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot (1959)

I would have seen Some Like It Hot 50 times or more. What a genius filmmaker Billy Wilder was but Jack Lemmon is impeccable. That moment when Tony Curtis says to him, 'Why would a guy wanna marry a guy?' and he goes, 'Security!' is so funny. And Marilyn Monroe is fantastic. I'm a bit of a lover of ensemble work. I love craftsmanship in anything. I'm probably part of the demise of that because I come from the punk era when not being slick at things was the intention.

Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982)

Another one of my absolute favourites. It's also about a guy who has to cross-dress but it's an updated version. Those moments when he breaks out of the feminine, when he hits the guy when he's trying to get into the cab, are really funny.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

There's an energy you get from improvisation - where you can be so real in the characters - that I absolutely love. People always go on about 'it goes up to 11'. For me, that's not the funniest moment. I really love the details: that they live in Squatney and the names - Nigel Tufnel and David St Hubbins - are just perfect. I went on my own to a cinema to see it. When they were singing Big Bottom, I was screaming with laughter.

Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

I once had a night on the town with Maggie Smith talking about Scottish accents. They are really hard to do well. And what she does in Miss Jean Brodie is not just an Edinburgh accent but a Morningside accent - a very hoity, posh accent. This was one of the first times for me growing up when comedy felt relatable and possible, not on a conscious level, but something must have clicked in terms of women doing comedic performances. I suppose this film really resonated because of being half Scottish. When I started to feel in my teens that I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be Maggie Smith.

Madeline Kahn in Clue (1985)

Clue is not a great film but Madeline Kahn is fabulous in anything. I was living in this house with a bunch of teenagers in the late '80s and they were rewinding the scene where she gives her explanation of why she committed the murder: 'I hated her, so much [she stammers] flames, flames, on the side of my face.' It's got to be improvised: you couldn't write that stuff. It's just hilariously funny.

Kim Jong-il, voiced by Trey Parker, in Team America: World Police (2004)

Kim Jong Il's song I'm So Ronery is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen - comic genius. Team America really got stuck into the perceived sanctimoniousness of some Hollywood actors who are activists -

I thought a bit harshly - although all of those actors had a really good sense of humour about it. The film took no prisoners.

Edna Mode, voiced by director Brad Bird, in The Incredibles (2004)

I find Edna Mode absolutely hilarious. In fact, a little bit of me dies inside every time I watch her because I feel like it should have been me, which is a really bizarre thing to say about an animated character. I feel like somehow Brad Bird snuck into my brain and stole a part of me.

Bridesmaids (2011)

That scene in the bridal change room, I was screaming with laughter. Hopefully Bridesmaids finally put to bed the hoary old chestnut that women can't be funny and there's not money to be made from women being funny. It's incredible to me, because I come from a family where the women are really funny. My mother is 88 and still hilarious. Bridesmaids is a beautiful ensemble where everyone is given a fantastic role and they all shine.

Kath & Kimderella opens on Thursday.

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Foodie alert: the city’s top restaurants are going bush

Going bush ... Top Chef Peter Gilmore of Quay Restaurant.BUSH tucker ingredients and Cantonese cuisine may sound an unusual pairing but the flavours are ''simpatico'', says the chef Kylie Kwong.
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Reworking the menu at her Surry Hills restaurant with native ingredients, she found crispy skin duck pairs very nicely with the tart and sour flavours of Davidson's plums, and wallaby meat just ''works'' in a stir-fry with black beans and chilli.

''It has made me reassess the whole notion of what Australian-Chinese cuisine really is,'' Kwong said. ''It's not a fad, it's now really integrated into my menu.''

Quay's Peter Gilmore is another chef incorporating the likes of Warrigal greens and bush apples into his dishes. He says the latter tastes like the skin of red apples. ''I used that in a fish dish, on top of a really nice piece of hapuka.''

Gilmore says the key to incorporating these ingredients is steering clear of the ''almost kitsch'' ways they have been used in the past. ''It's about being a bit more selective about what you use.''

The use of bush foods is a trend identified by Good Food Guide co-editors Terry Durack and Joanna Savill as making its mark on the Sydney dining scene in the past 12 months.

Durack said it was a year marked by a series of highs and lows for the industry - 54 new restaurants have been included in this year's guide, while some big names have been farewelled due to restaurant closures.

The net result for Sydney's diners is a positive one.

''It is happening. If you're hungry you're in for a treat because you are going to eat so well,'' Durack said.

Other trends he identified included eating up high (on stools at counters, that is), salted caramel and kitchen gardens.

''How we're eating out is all becoming quite casual but the quality of what we eat is becoming higher and higher. In the old days ingredients would be shipped into the kitchen, you would have no idea who grew them and now that all has changed. Often the person who grew them is the chef themselves.''

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Decision day looming for Gillard on Gonski reforms

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard will break months of uncertainty about the Gonski reforms on Monday - but the wait for more cash for the sector is far from over.
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Ms Gillard is expected to announce that Labor supports the principles underpinning the Gonski review; namely, that the present funding model is failing students and that every school should receive a base-funding amount, with extra funding to tackle key areas of disadvantage.

The landmark Gonski review of schools funding - the most comprehensive review of Australia's school funding arrangements in almost 40 years - recommends the government pours an additional $5 billion a year into the education sector.

But the sector is not expecting Ms Gillard to commit to a dollar figure, because this could place the federal government at a disadvantage in negotiations with the states and territories about the share they will be expected to pick up.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said the expected announcement would be momentous.

''We are hoping and, indeed, expecting that the government will embrace the Gonski funding principle of base funding and additional loadings to address issues of disadvantage, which can only deliver additional resourcing for public schools.''

The Gonski panel, led by businessman and academic David Gonski, was instructed to report in line with the government's commitment that no school would lose a dollar of funding under the new rules.

But the panel found that the present system was failing the needs of students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

''There is also an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socio-economic and indigenous backgrounds,'' it found.

Government schools educate a higher proportion of Australia's disadvantaged, disabled and Aboriginal children than private and Catholic schools.

In 2010, 36 per cent of all government school students were from the lowest quarter of socio-economic advantage compared with 21 per cent of Catholic school students and 13 per cent of independent school students.

In the same year, 78 per cent of children with a disability were in government schools.

The government should, the panel recommended, ''make reducing educational disadvantage a high priority in a new funding model''.

To deliver that, it recommended a $5 billion investment in government and non-government schools.

But that figure was based on 2009 estimates, meaning the real cost would be higher today.

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