Aku in line for shock return

FORMER NSW and Australian winger Aku Uate is making a rapid recovery from damaged ribs and could be a shock starter for the Knights against the Dragons at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.

PRIMED: Aku Uate runs at training. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Coach Wayne Bennett said last Wednesday that the three-time Dally M winger of the year could be sidelined for five to six weeks after suffering rib cartilage damage in Newcastle’s 28-12 loss to the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium 10 days ago.

But the Newcastle Herald has been told Uate has improved significantly in the past week and he showed no apparent discomfort at training on Tuesday.

Though he was not included in the 18-man squad Bennett named on Tuesday, Uate will be assessed later in the week and could be a game-day inclusion if he continues to recover at his current rate.

Bennett recalled three former Dragons – Queenslander Darius Boyd and forwards Chris Houston and Neville Costigan – and Knights under-20s captain Adam Clydsdale for the game against the club he coached to the 2010 premiership.

Presuming Boyd backs up after the Origin series-opener at ANZ Stadium tonight, he will start in his regular fullback position.

Kevin Naiqama, who replaced Boyd in the 25-18 loss to Souths last Saturday, was named on the right wing but it is understood he would make way for Uate.

Houston, who was dropped after their 44-14 loss to Canberra on May 12 and has played the past two games in NSW Cup, was named to replace injured back-rower Alex McKinnon (ankle).

Clydsdale and Costigan were named alongside David Fa’alogo, Adam Cuthbertson and Korbin Sims on a five-man bench Bennett will trim later in the week.

Though disappointed about losing McKinnon for the next six to eight weeks, Sims said news of Houston’s return had been well received by the players.

“Howzo’s been playing good footy in ‘reggies’ and he deserves to come back,” Sims said.

Sims, who signed a new two-year contract with the Knights on Monday, said staying in Newcastle would allow him to carve out his own career away from any potential shadow cast by his older brothers, Ashton and Tariq.

The three Sims brothers left the Broncos at the end of 2010 but Ashton and Tariq headed north to the Cowboys and Korbin flew south to link with the Knights.

“Any contract you negotiate is a tough decision but I thought Newcastle gave me a chance three years ago, so I’d better repay the favour and show them a bit of faith like Wayne’s shown me with playing me this year,” he said. “That’s why I came down to Newcastle. Newcastle gave me an opportunity, and I’m just willing to give back to them what they gave to me.

“Our whole family supports each other. I’m supporting my brothers 100 per cent and I know they supported me when I told them about my decision. They were over the moon . . . obviously a bit disappointed but they were very, very happy for me.”

Family insight into ‘confident’ coach


Junee Diesels president Lloyd Nicoll insists his brother-in-law and man of the moment Laurie Daley’s passion for the NSW jumper is of drought-breaking intensity.

Nicoll has been a part of the Daley clan for the past 32 years, and inside knowledge has him convinced the Junee-born legend is the man for the Blues job.

Speaking to The Daily Advertiser yesterday, Nicoll said Daley’s passion and pride for the Blues jumper will be more deeply ingrained in the team than ever before.

“Definitely, Laurie was one of the most successful captains for NSW, he’s been there and done that, and he knows the insides of what you have to do to win,” Nicoll said yesterday.

“There’s no one that’s got more passion for NSW than Laurie.

“One of the best things about him when he was a player is that he knew when to switch on, and when to switch off.

“That’s the way he conducts himself as a coach, he’s more laid back than is probably typical.

“He’ll simplify things for NSW and I think that will work for them.

“The thing is, everyone knows Laurie’s passion and that will rub off on the players because they’ve just got massive respect for him.

“He’s prepared the team well, and he’ll be very confident.”

Recalling old memories, Nicoll said Daley’s upbringing in Junee has helped keep his feet on the ground, despite massive success in Australian rugby league.

Nicoll said Daley’s playing potential as a kid was the best he has ever seen before he went on to break records as a five-eighth and captain Canberra, NSW and Australia.

“There is one thing I can say about Laurie, and that’s his passion for rugby league is unbelievable, it always has been,” Nicoll said.

“He’s just a guy who likes to spend time with his mates, but he’s always been very family orientated that’s for sure.

“They’ve certainly kept him level-headed over the years, that’s just the way he was raised.”

Daley has the entire state behind him tonight, but Nicoll insists Junee will stop to cheer on it’s favourite son to end Queensland’s domination.

“All I know is I’ve got a few mates coming around to cheer on Loz and we can’t wait,” he said.

“There’s a lot of buzz around town.”

DROUGHT BREAKER: Junee Diesels president Lloyd Nicoll believes his 1986 premiership-winning teammate, NSW coach Laurie Daley, has the passion and pride the Blues need to guide them to a drought-breaking series win. Picture: Addison Hamilton

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Sportspeople urged to join special trek to help in India  

IT will be much more than the average end-of-season footy trip when Bendigo chaplain Bruce Claridge leads a mission to India in November.

The Bendigo Gold and Golden Square footy clubs chaplain is heading a week-long “Kolkata Aid” trip to help people in the Indian city’s slums.

And he hopes Bendigo sportspeople join him for a life-changing experience.

“I always felt like I would love to give guys something like the AFL does,” Claridge said.

“The West Coast Eagles’ chaplain regularly takes their guys over to Cambodia to build orphanages.

“It’s bonding, unity and also it’s a help to that community.

“The concept is to take a regional representative trip to India for a week to work at the slums there and for the guys to bond, build unity in the clubs and to further build the relationship between say Bendigo Gold and other regional teams.

“When I spoke to (Gold coach) Aussie (Jones) and Tim Dickson (chairman) earlier in the year, they were right behind it, which was a great encouragement to me.

“(Former BFNL chief) Steven Oliver got right behind it and, even though he’s moved on from that role, the Bendigo league is right behind it and Golden Square is right behind it.”

A team in Kolkata will facilitate the work week, which involves activities such as teaching children in a mobile classroom and providing the children with a nutritious meal.

Organised sports events, medical camps and evening tuition are also part of the program.

“The footballers, or netballers, would go together as a group, to work in a structured way, from hands-on stuff, to relating to young people, to being ambassadors for Aussie Rules,” Claridge said.

The Gold has committed members of its leadership group to the trip and will fund-raise to cover the $2400 per-person costs.

“It’s just a great way for us to be across all things in the community and help these kids in life and not only on the footy field,” Gold coach Jones said.

“We just see it the full picture of our footy club we need to offer that experience and something a little bit different from every other club.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Jones will help Claridge launch the “Kolkata Aid” program at the GPO Restaurant in Pall Mall tomorrow from 8pm.

Claridge hopes to turn the program into an annual trip, with many clubs represented.

“My goal is for organisations to sponsor some of the quality guys who put in at their club to go and have this experience,” he said.

“The committed ones are the Bendigo Gold’s leadership group, ideally I’d love a representative from each Bendigo club.

“I’m hoping as this unfolds Bendigo will adopt this area of the slums of Calcutta and go back each year and build relationships – some businesses may help.

“I’m just hoping it snowballs from here.”

For information about the trip contact Bruce Claridge on 0412 478 744

ON A MISSION: Pastor Bruce Claridge, Bendigo Gold Football Club coach Aussie Jones and Golden Square Football Club senior coach Rick Ladson at the QEO. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

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Reserve Bank holds rates but wants to see dollar go lower

The Reserve Bank has left the door open to further interest rate cuts, saying it has ”scope for further easing, should that be required”.

The bank board decided to leave its cash rate on hold at the half-century low of 2.75 per cent on Tuesday in part because it saw some signs its earlier cuts were boosting economic activity and wanted to wait and see if there were more.

It was also pleased that, since it last met, the Australian dollar had slipped below US100¢, providing the first boost from a lower exchange rate in more than a year.

But in a statement released after the board meeting, governor Glenn Stevens made it clear the dollar was nowhere near low enough.

”It remains high considering the decline in export prices that has taken place over the past year and a half,” he said. Souring the bank’s view of the decline in the dollar was the knowledge that in the month in which the dollar fell, commodity prices slipped 3 per cent, depriving exporters of much of the benefit from the lower exchange rate.

The bank will watch movements in the dollar and commodity prices closely in the next few weeks in order to form an opinion as to whether the recent slide in the dollar is a small one-off adjustment or part of a move back to the more normal exchange rate it thinks Australia needs.

The bank’s focus on the

exchange rate means that each monthly board meeting is ”live”, with the board prepared to cut rates if needed without waiting for the quarterly inflation result.

Mr Stevens said inflation was under control and ”expected to remain so over the next one to two years”.

Economic growth was ”a bit below trend”, providing another reason to cut rates again ”should that be required to support demand”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the bank had ”the flexibility to cut” should it need to.

The economy was in a transition that would ”not be seamless, particularly with the dollar still at high levels”.

Meanwhile, Australia’s biggest wholesale mortgage broker AFG reported that it had processed a record number of mortgages in May, $3.6 billion worth, up 13 per cent from the record $3.2 billion processed in April.

AFG makes up 10 per cent of the market.

Mark Hewitt, AFG’s general manager of operations, said there had been a marked lift in borrowing since February.

”Borrowers of all types were encouraged by the further rate reduction in early May and the expectation that we are in a low rate environment for some time to come,” he said.

”Reassuringly, the growth looks sustainable. We are not seeing the normal characteristics of a boom. The average new loan size is the same as it was over a year ago.”

The increase applies to all types of mortgages: loans for purchasing houses, loans for first home buyers, loans for investors and refinancing.

Futures market prices late on Tuesday implied a 100 per cent probability of a further interest rate cut by October. The chance of a cut at the bank’s July meeting was 32 per cent.

Wednesday’s national accounts are regarded as unlikely to alter the Reserve Bank’s thinking.

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‘Next top jock’: station rewards royal prank DJ

A still from an interview with 2dayfm presenters Michael Christian and Mel Greig, which aired on A Current Affair late last year. Photo: Image courtesy Channel Nine.One of the two radio announcers at the centre of the disastrous royal prank saga has won a national competition to discover the station’s “next top jock”.

Michael Christian, who six months ago was under fire for his role in the prank call to a London hospital that led to the suicide of a nurse caring for the Duchess of Cambridge, was on Tuesday given the award by his bosses at Southern Cross Austereo.

In a statement, Southern Cross Austereo said it was “thrilled” to crown Christian – who moved into Melbourne’s Fox FM mornings timeslot after being suspended in the wake of the fallout from December’s prank – as the joint winner, alongside Sydney 2Day FM mornings host Ellie Mobbs.

It comes amid reports that management has cut off Mel Greig, Christian’s former co-host who also participated in the prank call.

Last December, Greig and Christian, filling in as hosts of the Hot 30 program, phoned the King Edward VII hospital in London and impersonated the Queen and Prince Charles in a bid to find out more about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, where the duchess was being treated for morning sickness.

The nurse who answered the call, Jacintha Saldanha, 46, committed suicide days later. Ms Saldanha did not reveal any information about the duchess’s condition, but transferred the call to her room where another nurse did reveal information.

As part of his victory last night, Christian won a trip to Los Angeles for a tour of the radio studios of the city’s leading station.

In a statement, Christian said: “From the start, I felt like I had something to prove to myself … Regardless of all that’s happened in the past few months, I’m still at the top of my game. So it felt good to see my name at the top of the final leader board!

“If this competition has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a LOT of talent in this company. Plus it’s given all our announcers access to ideas, ways of thinking and people we might [not] normally have day-to-day contact with.”

The judging panel for the awards comprised Southern Cross Austereo’s head of content, Craig Bruce, Fox FM content director Dave Cameron and 2Day FM content director Derek Bargwanna.

Christian’s victory comes as reports at the weekend suggest that Southern Cross Austereo management had cut Greig off.

“The producers [also involved in the prank] and MC [Christian] aren’t having much contact with Mel any more and it seems as though everyone has gone back to work as though nothing has happened,” an unnamed Southern Cross Austereo insider told Adelaide’s Sunday Mail.

Greig’s lawyers say she wants to testify at the inquest on Ms Saldanha – expected to be held in September – while her employers say that they are working for her to return to work “at a time that’s right for her”.

The newspaper also suggested that Greig had been stopped from sending a condolence letter to Ms Saldanha’s family.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

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No deceptions, says CSIRO

The CSIRO has denied it duped the pharmaceutical giant Novartis into buying a compromised anti-counterfeit device to protect millions of medicine vials.

A Fairfax Media investigation in April revealed that DataTrace DNA, a joint venture between CSIRO and another company, Datadot Technology, misled the Swiss multinational by passing off cheap Chinese chemicals as its own “trade secret” formula.

But the deputy chief of the government’s peak scientific organisation, Mike Whelan, told a Senate Estimates committee that CSIRO’s internal investigation had found no evidence that it had deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis over the supply of materials.

“Secondly we have identified no evidence that CSIRO officers deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis with respect to the security level of the solution offered by DataTrace to Novartis,” he said.

Mr Whelan said the organisation was continuing its investigation into the allegations, but defended the sale of its 50 per cent share in DataTrace three months after signing the deal with Novartis.

“The allegation that CSIRO seeked [sic] to capitalise on the alleged deception of Novartis through the sale of CSIRO’s interest in DataTrace is also false,” he said.

He said there was nothing unusual about CSIRO “selling down its shareholding” in a company.

In 2010, DataTrace DNA Pty Ltd signed a five-year deal with Novartis to supply a custom-designed high-security forensic “tracer” that would protect its vials of injectible Voltaren from being copied, filled with a placebo and sold by crime syndicates.

But despite a deal to supply a unique tracer code, DataTrace issued Novartis cheap tracer it had bought in bulk from a Chinese distributor.

The sale of counterfeit medicines has become a booming black market and a significant global health problem. Interpol seized 3.75 million units of fake drugs in 2012.

The invention sold to Novartis – a microscopic chemical powder painted on the neck of its Voltaren ampoules – was supposed to protect against such counterfeit attacks.

Instead Novartis was given a widely available tracer material that was only suitable for low-risk applications with no security concerns.

Damning internal documents seen by Fairfax Media showed DataTrace and some of the most senior officials at the CSIRO knew that Novartis was being misled in a deal believed to be worth $2.5 million.

As a result of the Fairfax Media revelations DataDot was placed into a trading halt and the company launched an internal investigation. Federal Science Minister Don Farrell also called for CSIRO to investigate the allegations.

When questioned by Senator Richard Colebeck at Monday’s estimates committee about why he did not launch an independent investigation, Senator Farrell said an internal review was appropriate because other third parties were also conducting investigations.

“We believe that’s the way to best protect the reputation of CSIRO,” he said.

The shadow minister for science, Sophie Mirabella, criticised the government for failing to conduct an independent enquiry.

“Months after the government was embarrassed into launching an investigation into these very serious allegations of corruption at CSIRO, we hear today that the investigation is being conducted by none other than CSIRO itself,” said Mrs Mirabella.

“CSIRO should have nothing to fear from a genuinely independent investigation into allegations of serious misconduct,” she said.

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Paramedics not muted by threats 

Source: Bendigo Advertiser

Paramedics are writing statements on ambulance windows to have their message heard. Photo: BLAIR THOMSON

Bendigo paramedics say they have faced threats of disciplinary and legal action over messages scrawled on ambulance windows.

A number of local ambulances have been adorned with hand-written messages calling for better working conditions and fairer pay.

Ambulance Victoria management labelled the notes “graffiti” and urged paramedics to stop “defacing” ambulances.

In a recent bulletin circulated to staff, Ambulance Victoria general manager specialist services Mark Rogers said the signs drawn with chalk pen did not fall under protected industrial action. “Any existing graffiti must be removed from all ambulances immediately by the current crews on shift,” he wrote.

“If handwritten messages continue to be written on Ambulance Victoria vehicles, Ambulance Victoria will consider taking action in relation to such conduct, which may include disciplinary action or legal proceedings.”

Bendigo paramedic Brett Adie said some staff had already faced threats.

“The government have really cracked it with us over it,” he said. “Management have made some unofficial warnings that they are considering action… All the messages are doing are informing the community of what’s going on.” Ambulance Victoria Loddon Mallee regional manager Kevin Masci denied that management had made any legal threats.

“That is categorically untrue,” he said. “We have been asking them to wipe them off. We don’t want ambulances covered in chalk, basically. At the end of the day I think a lot of the messages are controversial.”

Mr Masci said the ongoing argument between Ambulance Victoria and the union was about whether the signs were protected or unprotected industrial action.

Ambulance Employees Association state secretary Steve Mcghie said staff would be protected because the messages were being written outside work hours. He believed the threats had resulted from increasingly heated negotiations over the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

“There’s no question there has been a bit of an effort from Ambulance Victoria to pressure staff to stop doing it,” he said.

“Our instructions to our members is that they need to be able to do it in off-duty hours.”

Mr Mcghie said paramedics have had a positive response from the community.

“We’re trying to get the message out there,” he said. “It’s got people talking.”

Mr Masci said he was no closer to determining when a pay agreement would be reached with staff.

Hunt for US Marine – kidnapped in Mexico

McAllen, Texas: The FBI is searching for a US Marine reservist who served in Iraq, his father and uncle after they were kidnapped at a ranch in Mexico last month, authorities said on Tuesday.

The FBI has asked for the public’s help to locate US Marine Armando Torres III, who was taken with his father Armando Torres II and his uncle Salvador Torres on May 14 in La Barranca, Mexico, near the southern tip of Texas.

The FBI says it is working with Mexican law enforcement agencies to locate Torres, a US citizen, and the two older men, who are both Mexican citizens.

Investigators in Mexico say a property dispute over the partial sale of the ranch may have triggered the kidnapping.

Armando Torres III drove into Mexico on May 14 to visit his father’s ranch, the FBI said in a statement. Shortly after his arrival, gunmen entered the property and kidnapped the three Torres men, who have not been heard from since.

“We’ll take any leads to find this guy safely,” said Erik Vasys, an agent from the FBI’s San Antonio office.

Officials at the state attorney general’s office in Tamaulipas, where the ranch is located, said the kidnappings appeared to be linked to a dispute between Torres’ family and a man to whom his grandfather had sold part of his ranch.

After the grandfather died, Armando Torres II and his brother Salvador decided to renege on the sale, angering the man, who vowed to settle the matter, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They added that it was unclear where the kidnap victims were or who had taken them. Tamaulipas is one of Mexico’s most lawless states, with much criminal activity going unreported or uninvestigated for fear of reprisals.

“It’s just shocking, you know, because you don’t want to believe it,” Mr Torres’ sister, Cristina Torres, told ABC News. “My cousin called me. She told me you know that she had seen a white truck outside the house. She saw several people just get out of the car and go inside the house and they grabbed my brother and my uncle and my father and just took them.”

Cristina Torres did not immediately return requests for comment from Reuters on Tuesday.

Armando Torres III is a member of the US Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve – a category of former active duty or reserve military personnel who do not regularly drill, but may be called on to serve – and served in Iraq.


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Talking points out the window as pollies switch from postmodern to the surreal

”We just have to bind together as a party and get on with it!”: Joel Fitzgibbon made quite an appearance on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program. Photo: Jonathan Carroll As the 43rd Parliament lurches towards its nether end, the vibe around the place grows increasingly postmodern. Which is to say – deconstructed, self-referential, culturally relative and, in select cases, more incoherent than the poetry of typewriter-bound monkeys.

On Tuesday Labor MP and serial Julia Gillard irritant Joel Fitzgibbon began the day with what a jazz cigarette-smoking post-structuralism student would call a very ”meta” television appearance – an interview in which he deconstructed the very process of being interviewed.

Breakfast television host David Koch asked Fitzgibbon about the uniformly disastrous for Labor poll results splashed across three newspapers on Tuesday.

”Joel, Joel, Joel, are you shattered by this?” Kochie asked.

”Hang on, Kochie!” cried the Member for Hunter, with the sort of ebullience and maniacal eye-glint of a man about to go over the top of a rain-and-rat-sodden trench. ”I just brought the manual with me! I’ll see what it says!” he said, and then he held up an actual manual, which looked a lot like the ”talking points” MPs of both sides are issued with daily.

The talking points everybody knows about, but nobody is supposed to talk about.

”It says I should say, ‘Polls come and go but the only poll that matters is on election day!’ ” Fitzgibbon laughed.

In the same interview, Fitzgibbon mentioned there was a seminar being held in Parliament House for retiring MPs and quipped: ”I hope there is not a rush for the door!” Then he pointed out that he had, a few months ago, ”suggested that the party wanted to think about new directions and paths” – a reference to his support for a Kevin Rudd revival, so passive-aggressive it would make your mother-in-law blush.

And then, in a final flourish: ”We just have to bind together as a party and get on with it!”

Just as the Prime Minister’s communications strategy team was about to call in a drone strike, the Member for the Queensland seat of Moreton, Graham Perrett, took to ABC Radio, and operations had to be redirected.

”We are in more trouble than Indiana Jones,” he admitted.

Asked whether he thought Rudd should return as Labor leader to stem the catastrophic electoral tide, Perrett answered in idiosyncratic fashion.

”If my aunt had testicles, she’d be my uncle, wouldn’t she,” he said.

Yes, we suppose she would. We’re just not quite sure where that leaves us, other than in the obvious place – that is, more confused than the gender identity of Graham Perrett’s mother’s sister.

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Coalition steps back from workplace bullying moves

A law to help employees achieve a better work-life balance could pass Parliament with the Coalition’s support – but only if new powers to tackle bullying are removed.

Fairfax Media has learned that the opposition will move amendments to the Gillard government’s Fair Work Amendment Bill that would strike out the new anti-bullying powers for the Fair Work Commission and also the increased ability for unions to meet in lunchrooms.

The action comes despite the Coalition declaring last month that it would support the bullying powers – so long as they also covered union conduct and included a ”filter” to prevent vexatious complaints.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten described the new stance as a backflip by a party ”choosing to play politics rather than to protect vulnerable workers”.

But opposition sources insist the Coalition will still legislate for the bullying powers, as per its policy, if elected on September 14 and had merely proposed simple amendments to allow the government’s own workplace law to pass this month.

The manoeuvring follows Tuesday’s declaration by key independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor that they would not support workplace changes unless they had bipartisan backing. The hung Parliament means the Labor government needs support from either the Coalition or most crossbench MPs to get laws through the House of Representatives.

The Fair Work Amendment Bill, currently being debated in the lower house, would expand the right for employees to request flexible work arrangements, require employers to consult with employees about changes to regular rosters or ordinary work hours, and adjust the way in which parental leave can be taken.

The bill would also require the Fair Work Commission to take into account the principle of penalty rates for unsociable hours when setting award conditions – a move flowing from the ACTU campaign against ”insecure work”.

The proposed bullying measures, meanwhile, would give Fair Work the power to issue an order to prevent workplace bullying from continuing.

Fair Work would be required to start dealing with each case within 14 days, in a move the government argued would give people a new speedy avenue to resolve bullying problems before they escalated in severity.

Business groups have warned the measure would overlap the work of existing state-based health and safety regulators. Last month’s budget earmarked an extra $21 million over four years to help Fair Work deal with the cases.

In a letter to the government on Monday, opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz pointed to Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott’s call for bipartisanship. Senator Abetz flagged Coalition amendments, including the removal of the section dealing with bullying.

”While the Coalition supports measures to stop workplace bullying, the provisions contained within this bill require significant amendment and should be excised until such a time as such changes have occurred,” he wrote.

Senator Abetz also flagged the removal of a section about union right of entry to lunchrooms and the employer paying the costs of union travel to remote work locations.

He stressed the simplicity of the opposition’s proposed changes, which did not involve contentious tinkering with wording but rather the removal of entire sections. With the changes the opposition would support the bill, Senator Abetz said.

But Mr Shorten attacked the Coalition, saying it had previously acknowledged the importance of dealing with workplace bullying.

”They indicated they cared about providing an avenue to victims of bullying, to make sure the issues were resolved quickly and effectively,” he said.

”We now know they were crocodile tears.”

Debate on the bill is due to continue on Wednesday.

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Piercing world record attempt spiked

Brendan Sawczuk was set up to attempt a world record next weekend, but has been forced to reconsider. Photo: DAVE TEASESource: Illawarra Mercury

A Wollongong man who was poised to claim a place in Guinness World Records says he is devastated at the book’s decision to “rest” the record he was going to break.

Body piercing specialist Brendan Sawczuk spent $3500 on materials ahead of his June 16 attempt on the record, for the most people body-pierced in one hour by one person.

He planned to pierce 120 nostrils in 60 minutes at his Wollongong salon, Pierce Xpress, to beat existing record-holder Rhonda Polley, who pierced 64 people in Melbourne on September 18, 2010.

Guinness approved Mr Sawczuk’s application in January but by late May, when he wrote again to check if Ms Polley’s record still stood, he was told the record had been rested.

“This … means that no-one can attempt this record and become a new record holder and therefore is not a category that we wish to pursue further,” a representative for the franchise wrote in an email.

In a later email, a representative said the decision was made on health and safety grounds but – bizarrely – a new “most people pierced in one hour” record category had been created – the same as the former category but without the requirement for a single person to perform the piercings.

The change meant Mr Sawczuk could still likely break the record, but his new record would be easily beaten by a group of people performing piercings at once.

“They could get 500 [piercers] and … do one each,” Mr Sawczuk said.

Mr Sawczuk, who was preparing sterilised, individualised piercing kits in the lead-up to his attempt, believed the new category posed a greater health and safety risk.

“They’re saying to me they’re worried about one person going quick, yet they’re encouraging multiple people to go quick, doing multiple skin penetrations in the one premises, which is more unsterile,” he said.

“If there was some sort of logical explanation, I could accept it and move on but it’s very contradictory.”

In an email, a Guinness representative told Mr Sawczuk the franchise’s records were constantly under review.

“Whilst we do not think this to be the case, in this instance we have become concerned that the record category, when limited to one piercer, may encourage the applicant to perform the process at a greater speed, potentially at the cost of the quality of aftercare,” the email read.

“We wanted to avoid the record category reflecting the fastest time to undertake a piercing and as such we felt this record category should not be limited to one piercer and should be increased to a team of unlimited size. Having said that, the record category may still be attempted by an individual.”

More than 120 people had volunteered to be pierced as part of Mr Sawczuk’s record attempt.

He said he still planned to make the attempt but it could be delayed as his correspondence with Guinness continued.

Europe heads in the right direction

With Swedish cities roiled for weeks now by rioting unemployed immigrants, many observers see a failure of the country’s economic model. They are wrong. The Swedish/Scandinavian model that has emerged over the past 20 years has provided the only viable route to sustained growth Europe has seen in decades.

Europeans should remember that perceptions of strength and weakness change fast. In the 1980s, Scandinavian countries stood for chronic budget deficits, high inflation and repeated devaluations. In 1999, The Economist labelled Germany “the sick man of the euro” – a monument of European sclerosis, with low growth and high unemployment.

Now, the spectre of devaluation has disappeared from northern European countries. Budgets are close to balance, with less public expenditure and lower tax rates, while economic growth has recovered. The transformation of the old European welfare state started in northern Europe, and is proceeding to most of the rest of the continent.

Today, it is difficult to imagine the mindset that prevailed before Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the US in 1981. Thatcher’s greatest achievement was the liberalisation of the British labour market, while Reagan turned the tide with his inaugural address: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” The moral superiority of high marginal income taxes suddenly waned. Free-market ideas took hold.

In northern Europe, the transformation of the welfare state started in Denmark in 1982. In deep financial crisis, traditionally social democratic Denmark elected a conservative prime minister, Poul Schluter, a jovial man with a bow tie. One of his first decisions was to peg the Danish krone to the Deutschmark to stop the inflation-devaluation cycle. The Danish peg – now to the euro – still holds.

Schluter’s second big decision was to deregulate the Danish economy, which now has the world’s largest number of enterprises per citizen. But he left the country’s high taxes and welfare state in place.

In the early 1990s, Norway, Sweden and Finland experienced a horrendous real-estate, banking and currency crisis. Output fell and unemployment skyrocketed. In 1991, Swedish voters broke the reign of the Social Democrats, electing a coalition government under conservative prime minister Carl Bildt, who called his program “the only way”. Bildt tried to follow Schluter’s lead, but, in 1992, Sweden was forced to devalue – though his deregulation of markets did work well.

Sweden’s greatest achievement was a gradual cut in public spending by no less than one-fifth of GDP from 1993 to 2007. Meanwhile, Sweden’s public debt was reduced from 73 per cent of GDP to 39 per cent, while taxes have been cut repeatedly. The Social Democrats returned to power in 1994, but they accepted Bildt’s new fiscal policies, and carried out a revolutionary pension reform in 1998 that tied benefits to payments.

In parallel with the Scandinavian crisis, communism collapsed in eastern Europe in 1989 and in 1991 in the Baltic states. Poland’s first post-communist finance minister, Leszek Balcerowicz, showed an amazed world how communism could be abolished and a market economy built almost instantly. The rest of central Europe and the Baltic states followed his lead.

Former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar was the most radical European reformer. In 1994, he introduced a flat personal income tax, a policy most eastern European countries have since adopted. In 1999, when Laar became prime minister again, he abolished the tax on corporate profit, which was harming entrepreneurship. As a consequence of the ensuing tax competition, corporate tax rates have fallen to 15 to 25 per cent in most European countries.

More broadly, Estonia has revolutionised public finances. Since 1992, it has maintained a more or less balanced budget, with hardly any public debt. It slashed public expenditure and capped spending at 35 per cent of GDP – the same level as in the US.

As free-market thinking has taken hold and similar reforms have proliferated, the social welfare state is being transformed into a social welfare society.

The systematic reforms in Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and Estonia have much in common. First, all were caused by a profound crisis of the social welfare state: falling output, rising unemployment, large budget deficits, inflation and devaluation. Without severe crisis, no significant reform was likely.

Second, a change of government prompted reforms and gave them democratic legitimacy. Reform does not require a state of emergency, as is often argued.

Third, reforms require a strong leader. No major reform has been undertaken through consensus.

Finally, fundamental reform of the social welfare state requires leaders who embrace free-market ideas. Rethinking requires a new ideology, and, after one country has shown shows the right direction, neighbours often follow.

Europe has now reached the point at which most of its laggards are prepared to accept the social welfare society. This humane European capitalism is now hastening towards crisis-ridden southern Europe.

Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, and author of How Capitalism Was Built.

© Project Syndicate, 2013.


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ASIC slammed over CBA failure

ASIC has been lashed over its failure to investigate the claims of whistleblowers at the centre of Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning scandal in a heated exchange during a Senate estimates hearing.

Nationals senator John Williams slammed ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell over a 16-month delay between the time whistleblowers first approached the corporate regulator and ASIC’s belated move to seize the files of CBA financial planner Don Nguyen.

The hearing follows a Fairfax Media investigation that found the CBA had concealed improprieties by a top financial planner who once controlled about $300 million in retirement savings on behalf of at least 1300 clients.

The misconduct by Mr Nguyen, who has been banned by ASIC for seven years, allegedly includes forging client signatures, creating unauthorised investment accounts and overcharging. Some clients lost more than half their life savings, forcing them to seek assistance from Centrelink as they battled with CBA for compensation.

Senator Williams compared the case to that of insolvency practitioner Stuart Ariff, who was jailed for six years in 2011 on fraud charges. ”To me this sounds like Stuart Ariff mark two,” Senator Williams said. Whistleblowers contacted ASIC by fax about Mr Nguyen’s activities on October 30, 2008, but ASIC did not investigate the allegations until the whistleblowers visited ASIC’s offices in early 2010.

Fairfax Media found bank staff took part in a cover-up that allegedly included the falsification of documents after Mr Nguyen left the bank in an apparent bid to stall or limit compensation amounts.

”I believe in that fax it said there was some urgency in ASIC securing the files as they are being cleaned up. Why did it take ASIC 16 months to follow up on that fax, and numerous emails from the whistleblowers, to act in relation to the Commonwealth Financial Planning files?” Senator Williams asked.

Mr Kell declined to comment on the timing of ASIC’s investigation but defended its handling of what he said was a ”large and complex matter”.

”It has been a landmark achievement that has completely changed the way the bank does business.”

He said leadership of the bank’s financial planning division ”was changed wholesale” and $23 million had been recovered for 202 investors.

He refused to say whether ASIC would refer to police the allegations that signatures had been forged on some documents.

Senator Williams responded: ”There are $1.3 trillion in superannuation funds in our nation, and this nation is going to rely on good, sound, clean advice for financial planning. You are the corporate watchdog, and I expect you, if you see wrongdoings and criminal acts, you report them.”

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