Labor in crisis: Gillard on back foot after ministers quit

Family time … Nicola Roxon watched over by Julia Gillard as she announces she is stepping down as Attorney-General.THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, capped the third day of her election campaign with the resignation of two frontbenchers, leaving her to fend off accusations Labor was spinning out of control.

Ms Gillard announced a frontbench shake-up on Saturday after two of her most trusted ministers resigned: the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, and the leader of the government in the Senate, Chris Evans.

The Prime Minister’s latest shock announcement came just three days after she stunned her party and political observers by setting up the longest ever election campaign – to run until September 14 – and just two days before the resumption of a difficult session of Parliament.

Shocked Labor MPs, struggling to regain their balance over the ”crazy-brave” election announcement on Wednesday, were again left reeling by the timing of the personnel changes, which Ms Gillard insisted were entirely hers to control.

The changes saw the elevation of four known Kevin Rudd supporters.

Ms Gillard said both outgoing ministers had indicated their desire to leave politics as far back as 12 months ago but she had required them to hold off until the best time for the government.

”We agreed at the right time they would relinquish their ministerial roles and I would make new appointments,” Ms Gillard said. ”This is precisely the right time as Parliament resumes next week.”

But exasperated colleagues did not share her view. ”If this is the best time, then I know nothing about politics,” said one. ”This is not a cunning plan … it’s ridiculous, it’s got me f—ed,” said another.

The resignations have also raised talk of rats leaving a sinking ship and had internal critics claiming it again showed the Prime Minister’s political judgment remained problematic, with her government seen as lurching from crisis to crisis.

The biggest winner is the former Melbourne barrister Mark Dreyfus. He leap-frogs the outer ministry by going straight from parliamentary secretary to attorney-general.

The senate leadership post is subject to a ballot of the ALP caucus to be held tomorrow in Canberra.

It is expected to be filled by the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, after the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, chose not to run.

Senator Evans and Ms Roxon stepped down at a press conference in Canberra, both offering the same reason for leaving – a desire to spend more time with their families.

An emotional Ms Roxon, who was health minister for nearly four years before becoming Australia’s first female Attorney-General last year, said she was ”torn” by the decision to quit at the election. She will serve out the remainder of the parliamentary year on the backbench.

”When I was elected 15 years ago, I hadn’t even met my husband, Michael, and my daughter, Rebecca, was a long way from being born,” she said. ”If I run for office again, she’ll almost be in high school before I might retire.”

Senator Evans, who has been flying between Canberra and Perth for almost 20 years, said simply, ”the time has come.” He will step down from the Senate when a replacement can be found, to be appointed by the West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, on advice from the pre-selector of the state’s Labor branch.

Their shock double-departure has added to concerns the government cannot get clear air, nor avoid self-imposed mistakes. In the three days since Ms Gillard set out on a 7½- month election campaign, her government has been rocked by the return of controversy surrounding Craig Thomson.

Mr Thomson’s arrest on Thursday followed closely on the heels of the dumping of the Labor senator Trish Crossin in favour of the party outsider, Nova Peris.

And on Friday, the ALP’s vice president, Tony Sheldon, slammed ”B-grade ministers” in an address to Young Labor and complained of a moral crisis within the party.

The reshuffle prompted despair among pro-Rudd MPs. One said it was ”a total joke, we’re a laughing stock”.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, called on Ms Gillard to regain control of her government.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Voters back more funding for public education

TWO out of three Australians believe public schools are underfunded and a slim majority would be more likely to vote for a party at the next federal election that would increase funding for public schools, according to a new poll.

The survey on views about education, commissioned by the Australian Education Union, also revealed strong disapproval of the O’Farrell government’s $1.7 billion cut to education, with more than 70 per cent of NSW voters saying they opposed the move.

Two-thirds of respondents believe funding for public schools is too low, with only 4 per cent stating they believe it is too high, according to the Auspoll survey of 2200 Australians, including 500 people in NSW.

Only 14 per cent said funding for private schools was too low, while almost 45 per cent said it was too high. Just over half (51 per cent) said they would be more likely to vote at the federal election for a party that planned to give more money to public education, compared with 4 per cent who said they would be less likely and 45 per cent who said that factor would have no effect on their vote.

Most respondents supported the main recommendations of the Gonski review, with 78 per cent of voters stating they ”support” or ”strongly support” school funding being allocated on the basis of need and 74 per cent stating they wanted state and federal governments to increase funding by the recommended $6.5 billion a year.

Smaller class sizes and more individual attention for students were identified as the most important changes to the education system, followed by more training for teachers and specialised literacy and numeracy teachers for students falling behind.

Reforms that were considered least important were giving greater autonomy to principals and providing more modern facilities and equipment to schools.

The federal School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, met most of his state counterparts at a ministerial council meeting in Sydney on Friday, where they discussed the progress of the Gonski reforms.

State education ministers have expressed frustration that the proportion of the $6.5 billion annual price tag they will be expected to contribute is still not known.

The poll was commissioned to coincide with the union stepping up its ”I give a Gonski” campaign, with new advertisements from today.

”The poll shows education funding is an area that voters across Australia want action on – whether they support the Coalition, Labor or the Greens,” the union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Not your average festival …

Musical playground … Kings of Convenience frontman Erlend Oye dances in the crowd at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.TREES draped with fairy lights, Melbourne trams selling food and audience dance-offs are a few signs this is not your ordinary music festival.

The Sydney College of the Arts in Rozelle was transformed into a musical playground on Saturday for 12,000 fans attending the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.

“Laneway started out as a street party,” the festival co-founder, Danny Rogers, said. ”We threw a party in a back alley in Melbourne. It was very organic … It just exceeded our expectations.”

The party has evolved into a yearly event with seven shows across Australia and internationally. Rogers believes that smaller festivals are able to give fans a more unique line-up and experience.

”With festivals like the Big Day Out and Future Music, you need really big acts, huge acts, and with that comes obviously huge amounts of money and huge amounts of expectation … our focus is less about the headliners but more about building a solid body of artists.”

Tom Willis, 21, bought a ticket to Laneway because it is a different kind of festival. ”It’s very chilled out, everyone is here to have a good time,” he said.

Not all smaller festivals have experienced the same success.

Peats Ridge, which was held in the Glenworth Valley north of Sydney over the new year, has not covered costs and is yet to pay artists and production crew. The year before, Playground Weekender at Wiseman’s Ferry was cancelled but could not refund customers.

Adam Zammit, the chief executive and founder of Peer Group Media, which runs The Big Day Out festival, said that, just because a few festivals had not survived, did not mean the market was in trouble. Big Day Out sold out in Sydney this year.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Motion in the ocean is a Classic

THE 30th annual Cole Classic was an event for young and old as nearly 4000 competitors across an age band spanning 75 years competed in Australia’s largest ocean swim on Sunday.
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An 83-year-old woman battled the Pacific Ocean alongside a competitor aged just nine to help raise more than $191,000 for 700 charities. The event is sponsored by Fairfax Media.

Seventeen-year-old Elliot Long was the quickest out of the water in the men’s one-kilometre race and finished with a time of only 13 minutes and 38 seconds to retain his title for a second successive year. Georgia Miller was the fastest female in the short course race, finishing three seconds behind Long.

The event’s nine-kilometre swim was cancelled due to severe weather warnings but the 3872 competing in the shorter courses were still in a celebratory mood despite the testing conditions. ”The conditions weren’t great. Obviously in the water it was nice and warm but there was a bit of swell that came in and made it difficult on the beach,” Long said.

He made his switch from chlorine to saltwater for the first time at last year’s Cole Classic where he competed to raise money for a charity and to complement his pool training.

”I’m actually a pool swimmer and I did it as a bit of fun and my coach suggested it as an aid to training. I just joined a charity raising money for kids cancer. We’re under 25 and then there’s the older ages and they’re all like-minded people. It’s good to mix with older people in a sporting environment.”

Ollie Signorini clinched the men’s two-kilometre race, finishing in 25 minutes and 18 seconds, while Josh Beard finished second four-tenths of a second ahead of Chris Fydler. Alicia Caldwell was the women’s two-kilometre champion with 26 minutes and 18 seconds, ahead of Siobhan O’Leary, with Zoe Whitfield in third.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Hayes set to ramp up Diamond assault

THE continued reinvention of David Hayes’s stable will be amplified in the next fortnight as the master trainer rolls out a swarm of smart two-year-olds seeking a spot in the $1 million Blue Diamond Stakes as well as the first of a wave of European imports he hopes will be bound for spring glory.
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When the Melbourne Racing Club announced third declarations for the Blue Diamond during the week, the Hayes name was the most prolific to feature on the list of nominations with 10 of the final 49 hopefuls under his care as he chases his fourth win in the race in eight years and his sixth Blue Diamond victory.

One of those contestants, Friday night’s impressive debut winner Gregers, seems likely to secure a place in the race along with Mount Zero, but Hayes still has a few aces to play to increase his stake come Victoria’s best juvenile contest.

”It’s going to come down to prizemoney and it will be a question of whether a few of mine have enough to get in,” he said. ”I’d hoped that I Am Titanium could have run a place [on Saturday] to get him closer but there was a nose by a nose between fourth and second. A couple of others are borderline as well, but we’ve got a few more to come.”

This Saturday’s Blue Diamond Preludes offer trainers the few final opportunities to qualify for a place in the series final on February 23, and Hayes will be represented by at least one runner in each of the fillies’ and colts’ divisions.

Fastnet Rock colt Fast ‘N’ Rocking is likely to run after an eye-catching performance behind Dissident in the Blue Diamond Preview, while Encosta De Lago filly Blue Palace returns from a spell after a Yarra Valley trial win in the fillies’ event. Both runners will need to finish in the placings to have any hope of sneaking into the final field for the Blue Diamond. Just as well known for his success with imported gallopers as he is with juveniles, Hayes is also looking forward to stepping recently acquired European gallopers Why Not and Jet Away out in preparation for a possible tilt at the Australian Cup in March.

Why Not was bought from Germany last year and was seen just once during the spring carnival when running a strong race over 1600 metres in an open handicap at Flemington. Hayes is confident the horse has developed during the summer and is capable of measuring up to a good standard this campaign.

”He will run over 1700m at Flemington in two weeks and we’ll see where he ends up,” Hayes said.

”He’s got a nomination for the Australian Cup but whether he makes it to that level this time we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve got no doubt though that he has the makings of a group-standard horse.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Coal exploration ‘fair process’ questioned

AN exploration licence over the Wybong area near Denman has effectively been granted to a coal company that paid more than $100 million in fees in advance to the former Labor government.
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Despite previously criticising such huge charges as a risk to ‘‘fair process’’, the state government is yet to introduce a new schedule of fees, more than 18 months after starting an overhaul of the system.

The Department of Trade and Investment recently put out a letter of offer for the Wybong licence to Ridgelands Coal Resources, which is believed to consist of a consortium of China- and Singapore-based companies.

If the company accepts proposed conditions, the licence will be granted.

It first applied for the licence through an expressions-of-interest process the then resources minister Ian Macdonald called in 2009.

Mr Macdonald, who is at the centre of the state corruption watchdog’s inquiries into the granting of other exploration licences in the Bylong Valley, gave approval to Ridgelands in April2010 to apply for an exploration licence within six months.

This triggered an obligation for a $122million payment.

The company did not apply then, but did so last year.

Wybong Action Group member John Shewan said it was ‘‘disappointing’’ the application had been approved. This could destroy one of the last remnants of vegetation in the valley, he said.

In July 2011 Resources Minister Chris Hartcher said a fee schedule based on scale and tonnage would be developed.

“Under the former Labor government, the community rightly felt that fair process was at risk, with hundreds of millions of dollars demanded at the exploration stage,’’ he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hartcher said last week a committee of Treasury, Finance and Services, and Trade and Investment representatives was still considering the matter.

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Solo parents get ready to protest

SINGLE parents around the nation will hold protest rallies tomorrow morning against federal government cuts to parenting payments.
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Single Parent Action Group Newcastle spokeswoman Karen Davies said the rally would start at 9.30am at the Centrelink office in King Street, Newcastle, and go to the Hunter Street electoral office of federal Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson before ending with a public meeting at Newcastle Trades Hall.

Parliamentary papers show the government expects to save $728million over four years by moving more than 80,000 single parents from a parenting payment scheme to the Newstart unemployment benefit.

‘‘Even the bureaucrats acknowledge that people are disadvantaged by the changes,’’ Ms Davies said.

‘‘The maximum rate is about $120 a fortnight less, and the harsher Newstart income and assets test could mean people being $500 a fortnight worse off.

‘‘And Newstart has more rigorous participation requirements than the parenting payment, which is designed to help you as a parent, not starve you as a job-seeker.

‘‘It’s a cruel and inhumane policy, begun by the Liberal Party in 2006 and now extended by Labor.

‘‘It’s a backward step that will make it harder for single parents and their children as the adult of the family is increasingly forced to work out of school hours.’’

Ms Grierson said she understood how difficult it was for single parent families to make ends meet and she had raised the issue in caucus.

She said the changes meant all parenting payment recipients were treated equally, regardless of when they first claimed the payment.

Ms Davies said the changes should be rescinded and the parenting payment eligibility restored to its pre-2006 levels.

Protesters Karen Davies with 12-year-old daughter Melody and Ross Benton deliver their message. Picture: Brock Perks

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GALLERY: Surfest Tag Team Challenge

SURFING Newcastle president Dan Frodsham sees a bright future for Surfest’s Tag Team Challenge after leading Frenchmans Boardriders to the inaugural title at Stockton beach yesterday.
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Frodsham, James McMorland and Duncan McNicol edged out North Shelly’s Johnnie Keith, Russell Molony and Cameron Sharpe 38.61 to 36.51 in the final.

The Swansea club led comfortably after Frodsham (18.67) and their under-20 competitor, McMorland (11.67), did well in the difficult 1.5-metre swell punctuated by 2m-plus bombs. But McNicol opened the door when he fell on the first of his two rides, earning only 1.07 points.

Sharpe hit back with an 11.67 effort on his second, power ride, which was worth double points, to give North Shelly a 5.5 lead with just over two minutes left.

But McNicol responded with a second effort, a 7.2 ride, to seal victory.

‘‘We had a six-point lead, but it all became pretty tight at the end,’’ Frodsham said.

Duncan had a one-point ride and that made it super tight for that last ride.

‘‘But in the end he just had to do the basics, get it to the beach, and he did what he had to do.’’

Frodsham, 37, was delighted to grab the maiden title of a contest he believes will become a key event in the rich Surfest tradition.

‘‘The first one’s always a good one to win,’’ he said.

‘‘It was challenging, but it was a good contest.

‘‘It just makes Surfest bigger and better and I think it should become a major part of it.

‘‘With the quality of surfing we’ve seen, it should get more and more support as the years go on.’’

Frenchmans enjoyed a trouble-free run into the final with wins over Merewether’s second and third teams, Bar Beach and Catherine Hill Bay.

North Shelly edged out the top Merewether side of Jackson Brent, Paul Parkes and Kurtis Herman by 1.14 in an exciting semi-final.

Next on the Surfest schedule is the Indigenous Classic from February 13 at Merewether, which features open and junior divisions for men and women.

The six-star World Qualifying Series men’s and women’s events, headlined by world champions Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore, start on February 18 at Merewether.

James McMoreland of the Frenchmans Boardriders competes at Stockton yesterday. Picture: Brock Perks

James McMoreland. Picture Brock Perks

James McMoreland. Picture Brock Perks

Paul Parkes. Picture: Brock Perks

Kurtis Herman. Picture: Brock Perks

Kurtis Herman. Picture Brock Perks

Dan Frodsham. Picture: Brock Perks

Dan Frodsham. Picture: Brock Perks

Justin Lee. Picture: Brock Perks

Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach. Picture: Grant Sproule

Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach. Picture: Grant Sproule

Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach. Picture: Grant Sproule

Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach. Picture: Grant Sproule

Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach. Picture: Grant Sproule

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MVP race will go down to wire

The apocryphal story of China’s Chairman Mao Zedong on his deathbed in 1976 being asked about the long-term effects of the 18th-century French Revolution and replying, “Too early to tell.” sums up this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player race – and indeed, quite probably the race for the next few years – quite nicely.
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And make no mistake; it is indeed a race, albeit with just two protagonists.

On one hand you have LeBron James, the putative Dauphin of the NBA; in the other, Oklahoma City’s enfant prodige Kevin Durant and MVP la course en tete.

It is testament to James’s understated brilliance that Commissioner David Stern will not be handing over the Maurice Podoloff trophy to Durant at half-time of the All-Star game this week; such has been the Thunder star’s dominance thus far.

On pace for an historic season, the word most associated with Durant this season has been, as the French in their world-weary way would say, inhumain.

For those unfamiliar, Durant is knocking on the door – some might say breaking it down with explosives – of a very exclusive club.

There are just five members of the 50/40/90 club – averaging 50% FG, 40% 3FG, 90% FT and meeting league minimum requirements – in NBA history: Larry Bird (twice), Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash (four times) and Dirk Nowitzki.

Durant is presently averaging 29.6 points per game while hitting 51.7% from the floor, 41.7% from international waters and 91.2% from the charity stripe, all while providing nightly highlights of jaw-dropping athleticism.

And while his rebounding and assist numbers – 7.4 and 4.4 respectively – are perfectly respectable, they pale into comparison with the genie athletique of Miami’s own Sun King.

We take James for granted these days, his season averages of 26.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game barely cause a ripple, such has his expansive repertoire become almost passé.

In any other season, from any other player, those kinds of numbers would be drawing rave reviews from coast to coast and on a global scale.

He’s on track for career highs in rebounds and assists, and although his scoring remains on pace to be his lowest since his rookie campaign of 2003-04, his field goal and three-point percentages are also at career-best levels.

But perhaps what is more impressive is that he’s doing it an efficient level not seen since his sophomore season in Cleveland, with a USG% rate of 30 and a turnover rate of 11.6, way down on last year’s 13.3.

The stellar duo has left all pretenders to the throne in their wake. New York’s Carmelo Anthony has – for the most part – harnessed his amazing talents this year and will finish either third or fourth in the race, depending on how you view Chris Paul’s tremendous impact on the previously moribund Los Angeles Clippers.

But all that is secondary to the battle between James and Durant. One chasing the opening chapter of a long-term supremacy, the other’s quiet brilliance ensuring the league’s le roi regnant has not yet been usurped.

In the end, it will be up to Durant to storm his own private Bastille and deliver the coup d’état. There is time enough.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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STABLE TALK: Black Caviar shows class

WOW is the only word that aptly sums up Black Caviar’s exhibition gallop at Caulfield on Saturday.
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Sure, she looked great and ran a slick time, but is her crowd-pulling power waning?

It seems Caulfield officials were disappointed with the 6000 attracted to the course on Saturday.

But she did clear out the bars and betting ring when she paraded.

What she did in her hitout should ensure that on Saturday week when she resumes in the Lightning Stakes at Flemington the crowds will flock back to see her.

She was on every TV news bulletin on Saturday night and she led the newspaper racing sections yesterday.

For all the ability she has, Black Caviar has to be remembered for being the greatest advertising that racing has and will attract for many years to come.

■ The Kris Lees pair of Gold Epona and Whitlam, which won at Rosehill on Saturday, are heading for a brief R&R session.

They are going to Lees’s spelling and pre-training property near Cessnock, Ellalong Farm, today for a week.

‘‘Both will go to the farm for a week and spend plenty of time on the water walker,’’ Lees said.

‘‘I’ve found that horses do so well using the water walker midway through a preparation. It really freshens them up.’’

Gold Epona made the transition from winning at Wyong to the city by scoring over 1200 metres.

Whitlam was highly impressive in winning his second consecutive Saturday city race in the 1100m sprint.

They continue Lees’s incredible winning run.

‘‘Gold Epona just continues to improve and another one of these restricted races is not beyond her,’’ Lees said.

Whitlam, a cast-off from Darley, stormed home off a fast pace to win easily.

‘‘He was much calmer yesterday and raced really well,’’ Lees said yesterday. ‘‘He could go onto bigger things.’’

■ The runaway win of Diamond Drille over 1400m at Rosehill only shows how quickly horses can improve.

At her first start Diamond Drille was far from impressive in just winning a maiden at Gosford.

She was easily beaten in town at her next start, but on Saturday looked like an A-grader in the making.

The owners of Diamond Drille might have thought they had done their purchase price of $200,000 cold judging on her Gosford run.

But now it looks like they will get their money back with interest as she races her way through the grades.

Diamond Drille, which has a terrific female line, will then also be worth plenty in the breeding barn.

■ No, this isn’t a gee up.

The security guard in charge of Black Caviar on Saturday was Grant Frankel.

■ The first foal of former smart Newcastle mare Ugly Betty was the highest-priced youngster at the Karaka yearling sales in New Zealand on Friday.

The colt by group1 Oakleigh Plate winner Swiss Ace was sold for $NZ150,000 ($121,000). The winning bid came from a New Zealand trainer, but the colt will be raced by a businessman who has extensive interests on the Central Coast and Newcastle and is well known in racing.

He must have been very keen to buy the colt, which was the centre of a bidding war.

Ugly Betty was bought by Newcastle trainer Kris Lees at a Scone sale for $9000.

She went on to win five races and was stakes-placed, giving her black type, and earned $170,000 in prizemoney.

She was raced by a syndicate from Channel 7 and thus the name Ugly Betty, which was a hit show on that network at the time.

■ Some jockeys declared Rosehill on Saturday the heaviest surface they have ridden on.

It was safe, but only one favourite won, and many heavily backed commodities were beaten out of sight.

Most punters left the course hoping they had enough petrol in the car to get them home.

But at least the meeting went ahead.

■ Newcastle’s newest staying star Award Season had a big day on Saturday.

He left his Broadmeadow stables in the morning and travelled to Sydney with stablemates racing at Rosehill.

But instead of racing he went to the stables of Tim Martin at Rosehill.

He stayed there for the day and at 7pm a transporter picked him up and he headed to Mornington in Victoria.

He will be stabled there until he races in the $350,000 Mornington Cup over 2400m on Wednesday week.

‘‘I wanted him to think he was just having a normal trip to the races,’’ trainer Kris Lees said.

‘‘He travelled to Sydney like it was just another day out.’’

Lees worked Award Season the Melbourne way of going on the course proper at Broadmeadow on Friday.

‘‘He has raced the Melbourne way overseas and handled it well here at Broadmeadow,’’ he said.

The horses that fought out the Mornington Cup lead-up race at Flemington on Saturday did not look as good as Award Season did in his 2400m and 1900m wins in Sydney recently.

■ The jury is still out on whether youngster Aussies Love Sport will live up to his big reputation or simply be another money muncher.

At Rosehill on Saturday Aussies Love Sport was having his second race-day start and was favourite again.

Again he got beat.

He missed the start but stormed home for fourth in the 1200m race for two-year-olds.

The effort will probably get plenty of punters in again for his next start.

He did enough to say he still could make it, but he is hard to back again.

It may be best to wait until he wins a 1600m maiden at Broadmeadow as a mature three-year-old and then follow him.

■ Gosford’s in-form galloper Frozen Rope suffered a mild bout of colic last week that stopped him racing on Saturday at Rosehill.

The Adam Duggan-trained galloper had to be treated and was then scratched from the 2000m handicap.

The horse quickly recovered and worked impressively on the course proper at Gosford on Saturday morning.

It was bad luck for connections as Frozen Rope is a mudlark and would have loved the big wet in Sydney.

Frozen Rope may run in a 1600m open in Sydney on Saturday.

Also spotted working on the course proper at Gosford on Saturday morning was Grant Allard’s impressive two-year-old Napayshini.

The colt stormed home from last to finish second to All The Talk on debut at Warwick Farm on December 1.

Allard is aiming the son of Ready’s Image at the Golden Slipper.

■ New Taree course manager Scott Olson doesn’t have time for an easy entry into his new job. Olson, the former Wyong course manager, starts at Taree today.

He has to get ready for a meeting at Taree tomorrow.

■ Memo to the board of directors of the Newcastle Jockey Club: Stable Talk does not have a spy among the ranks, as was debated heatedly at the latest board meeting.

No, the duty-free Hong Kong-bought recorder taped under the huge mahogany desk that is the centrepiece of the plush committee room at the Broadmeadow bunker does the trick.

So calm down, boys.

Black Caviar during her exhibition gallop at Caulfied on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images

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LETTER: Short Takes

It is incomprehensible to me how anyone could prefer Tony Abbott slashing the Schoolkids Bonus for families in favour of scrapping the minerals resource rent tax on wealthy companies. As a former high-school principal and teacher for over 36 years, I know how invaluable the allowance of $410 for each primary-school child and $820 for high-school students is to families. In addition, the Schoolkids Bonus provides a great boost to the local economy.
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Barbara Whitcher, Stockton

Brilliant move by the PM to name the election date so far out. Almost stateswoman-like. Every day from now until the election, the PM can call on Tony Abbott to come out with his policies, which he certainly won’t do because (a) he currently probably doesn’t have any ready, and (b) if he does so now, the government can change their policy to match or better the Coalition’s. But PM, please don’t insult our intelligence by suggesting that you named the date so far out for altruistic reasons. You called it purely for political gain. Just be happy to have a win.

Mike Sargent, Raymond Terrace

After the fight, Tony Mundine showed what a sportsman he is by leaving the ring without shaking the hand of the deserved victor. Hopefully this will be the last we see of him.

David Reynolds, Lakelands

Why are so many remakes of successful films being made when people who saw the originals are still alive and able to make comparisons? Baz Luhrmann’s remake of The Great Gatsby comes to mind. Here in Australia we have our own Gatsby, the late Gordon Barton, whose real-life story is much more interesting than an American character of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s creation.

June Porter, Warners Bay

What part of ‘‘pick up your own dog’s poo’’ do some dog owners not understand? Are they just lazy, or are they the same people who park in disability parking zones without a disability sticker on their car and still talk and text on mobile phones while driving? Heavy fines should apply to these offenders, who obviously do not respect the rights of others.

Denise Trummel, Mayfield

I remember the ‘‘good old days’’ when most people were gainfully employed. One could safely ask of someone whom you met what they did for a living. Of course this was before businesses were forced offshore and a time when people were considered. I doubt whether these halcyon days will return. At least I have the memories.

Daphne Hughes, Kahibah

Congratulations to all those young people who have resisted the trend for tattoos. Your unblemished bodies are much more beautiful now and you will be more attractive as you age.

Janet Stephenson, Wallsend

Negotiation breakdown with Jobe Wheelhouse not a good advertisement 2 parents considering signing little Johnny in the emerging Jets program. A pathway 4 local juniors 2 become Jets has suffered a few potholes.

Rocco De Grandis, Cameron Park

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LETTER: Thriving habitat a loss for all

I AGREE with Nina Horvath (Letters 31/1), the sight of a stinking industrial bog in place of Kooragang’s important and once beautiful natural wetland habitat is sad.
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My wife is a wildlife carer and has to deal with the consequences suffered by these poor birds born into such an awful environment.

Nobody on behalf of the state government or mining companies involved appears to be ashamed – quite the contrary. They are working together to further expand this mess with a possible T4, along with the continued expansion of already overwhelming open-cut mining activities.

Our health, the health of water birds and other wildlife these wetlands are supposed to support, along with our air and water quality, sadly come second to the profits, ongoing employment and state government royalty revenue mining expansion brings.

Convoluted, ridiculous statements from the Environmental Protection Authority with regard to the wind being the cause, and the difficulty of absolutely ascertaining the origins and chemical composition of this dusty mess, confirm this.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for a change of approach (though filtering the air I breathe may be necessary soon).

Change would take vision, ethics, talent and political risk not suited to favourable economic outcomes in the current political cycle.

Paul Buckman,Belmont North

**FLOCKS of black swans, their young families and many species of migratory birds inhabited acres of Kooragong Wetlands beside the road for all to see.

Their replacement by dark mounds of coal is lamented by Nina Horvath (Letters 31/1).

It won’t be long before that memory is erased forever in our minds, and the glorious image of this wildlife paradise relegated to a picture book on the old days of Newcastle.

Today’s young will never have experienced this marvellous sight but may wonder why, in such a bleak landscape, the road should ever have been called Cormorant Drive.

It takes no time at all to forget that these little pearls ever existed and that the desolation was not always thus.

This is why we, as a community, must oppose the drear financial pragmatism that is always ready to absorb public recreational parkland.

A living example is in the struggle by the Friends of King Edward Park to stop the King Edward Park Headland Reserve from turning into a car park and function centre for invited guests.

The Kooragang site was probably doomed because it wasn’t ours, but the Headland Reserve is ours, and should be kept natural for the enjoyment of all people.

Kim Ostinga, Newcastle

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TOPICS: Sashay with pride

BLESSING IN DISGUISE: Olivia Bourrillon has no regrets about being rejected from modelling. Picture: Ryan OslandWHEN Olivia Bourrillon tried out to be a model, they told her she looked too Indian.
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Now she holds titles in two overseas pageants. Let’s start with the rejection.

‘‘This agency turned me down for being too Indian-looking,’’ Olivia, 19, from Hamilton, said simply.

She’s Indian on her dad’s side, and Italian on her mum’s.

‘‘They said there’s not much of a market for that.’’

After the shock of being told her ethnicity wouldn’t sell things, Olivia got annoyed. Then she got going.

She applied for the UK-based Face of Europe pageant, and was picked to represent Italy. Out of 81 contestants, Olivia came second in the senior category.

She entered and won Miss India Australia, which we can’t imagine being easy, and then flew overseas for the first time, alone, to contest the Miss India Worldwide competition.

This extravaganza was held in Suriname, a tiny South American country north of Brazil. Olivia came second runner-up.

With her Miss India title about to expire, Olivia’s glad she was rejected from modelling. She got a new lease on her heritage out of it, not to mention an armful of pageant sashes.

‘‘It gave me some drive,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m glad they said that.’’

Celtic five-piece claim to steal U2’s thunder

HERE at Topics, we love a bit of confidence.

There’s no shortage of the stuff swirling through the change room of Celtic Thunder, the adult contemporary Irish five-piece that played the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on Friday night.

Check out their promotional spiel.

‘‘Having sold out venues across the country earlier this year, the world’s most popular Irish band Celtic Thunder have announced they will be returning to the Newcastle Entertainment Centre,’’ it gushed, adorably.

Stop the tape. Rewind. World’s most popular Irish band?

We have a teensy suspicion that U2 might have something to say about that. And Van Morrison. And the Cranberries.

Like we said – confidence.

Hot waterbest forjellyfishstings

HAVE you been stung by a bluebottle? Then stop reading this and put hot water on it.

Are you back? Did you use water that was hotter than 40 degrees? Good.

Nobody knew that was the way to deal with a bluebottle sting until an award-winning study was carried out on Newcastle beaches. That’s right. Our town gave the world the bluebottle cure.

Calvary Mater clinical toxicologist Dr Geoff Isbister headed up the research, which took place on Nobbys and Dixon Park beaches and was finalised in 2006.

Dr Isbister’s team observed 96 sting victims over 15 months, and found hot water to be far more effective at relieving pain than the old method of applying an ice pack.

‘‘The venom is made of proteins and, if you heat them up, you destroy them,’’ Dr Isbister told Topics.

You could make a case for every beach to be equipped with hot water taps.

Until that happens, remember: if the water’s hot, a cure you’ve got. If you’re using ice, the pain will last twice … as long. Oh come on.

MURPHY’S TALE: Irish musicians Celtic Thunder do not hold back in their publicity material.

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