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Undercover: the year of Richard Flanagan

Joint fiction award winners, Steven Carroll (left) and Richard Flanagan, with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and awards host Ray Martin. Photo: John Robenstone Joint fiction award winners, Steven Carroll (left) and Richard Flanagan, with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and awards host Ray Martin. Photo: John Robenstone

Joint fiction award winners, Steven Carroll (left) and Richard Flanagan, with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and awards host Ray Martin. Photo: John Robenstone

Joint fiction award winners, Steven Carroll (left) and Richard Flanagan, with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and awards host Ray Martin. Photo: John Robenstone


You would assume the split results in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards meant the judges could not agree in this already contentious year. And you’d be right. In a first for the awards set up by Kevin Rudd, three of the six $80,000 prizes were presented to joint winners by Tony Abbott in Melbourne on Monday: the fiction prize was shared by Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Steven Carroll  for A World of Other People; the history prize went to Broken Nation by Joan Beaumont and Australia’s Secret War by Hal G.P. Colebatch; the co-winners of the non-fiction prize were Gabrielle Carey for Moving Among Strangers and Helen Trinca for Madeleine.

The history and non-fiction panel chaired by Gerard Henderson with Peter Coleman, Ross Fitzgerald, Ida Lichter and Ann Moyal, was unanimous on both shortlists. However, historian Moyal told Undercover she was “totally against” giving an award to Colebatch’s “poorly constructed and poorly written” book about union efforts to undermine Australian troops in World War II. She said she was responsible for putting Beaumont’s World War I book on the shortlist, as well as Clare Wright’s Eureka book, and she proposed Arthur Phillip by Michael Pembroke as her second-choice winner. She also lobbied for Michael Fullilove’sRendezvous with Destiny to win the non-fiction award. But, she said, “There was a clear disposition of the other members of the panel to work as a team”. She was disappointed the media was focused on the controversy rather than discussing the quality of the best books. She said she would “never” sit on the judging panel again, and as a retired academic had urged the Ministry for the Arts to engage younger scholars who have published a number of books.

Colebatch’s book had been rejected by other publishers before being taken up by Quadrant Books (an offshoot of the conservative Quadrant magazine, once edited by Coleman) and was favourably reviewed by Fitzgerald in February in The Sydney Institute Quarterly, owned by Henderson’s organisation; he qualified his praise by saying Colebatch was “half-right” about union opposition to the war. Fitzgerald says he and Henderson proposed the shortlisting of Mike Carlton’s naval history First Victory 1914, which Fitzgerald reviewed well for the Herald. Carlton has attacked Colebatch’s book as badly researched on Twitter and radio this week.


Following news reports that the Prime Minister had intervened to include Flanagan as a winner, Undercover spoke to poet Les Murray, who judged the fiction and poetry with publisher and chair Louise Adler, poets Jamie Grant and Robert Gray, and filmmaker Margie Bryant. “We judges did not mention Richard Flanagan,” Murray said. “It was Steven Carroll solo. Suddenly, when the announcement was made, I was thunderstruck to see the Tasmanian pop up.”

Murray, poetry editor of Quadrant, said the three poets on the panel each independently favoured Carroll’s book because it was “invented, he made up his own story and did not fictionalise a known story; and the language was better. We reckon we know language.” Adler had “argued fiercely for” Flanagan’s book with Bryant’s support, Murray said. “A clear majority of us thought the Flanagan book was superficial, showy and pretentious and we disdained it.” He did not know if the Prime Minister had intervened but said, “Something happened behind the scenes. I don’t know who pulled strings but the decision we delivered was without strings.”

Asked if politics played any part in their choices – Flanagan has been openly critical of the Abbott Government – Murray said, “That is a deeply offensive question. It didn’t cross my mind. I don’t think about books in that way.”

Adler would not discuss the judging process with Undercover but said the judges had debated whether splitting the prize would dissipate its significance; Abbott “was very respectful” of their process. “Les should be reminded the judges’ deliberations are in the strictest confidence,” she said, but added that the controversy was “terrific publicity” and she hoped everyone would buy all the shortlisted books.


Australian books are on many overseas lists of the year’s best books. Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, also the Man Booker Prize winner, was chosen by The Observer, as was Amnesia by Peter Carey. Flanagan is also among The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books, on The Economist’s list, and on both the Telegraph and the Independent lists with Fiona McFarlane’sThe Night Guest. (The Independent declares “a triumphant year for Antipodean fiction” with The Night Guest as “the most striking of debuts” but mistakenly calls McFarlane a New Zealander.) The Miles Franklin winner, All the Birds, Singing by Australian-British Evie Wyld, was picked by The New York Times, Independent and Irish Times. Terry Hayes’ thriller I Am Pilgrim made the Houston Chronicle Top 20. Amazon’s editorial team read 480 books to choose a Top 100 that includes Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and Flanagan. Irish author Colm Toibin also picked Flanagan’s novel as one of his favourites, while Bill Gates chose The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion and Sebastian Faulks named The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny.

Palestinian Authority condemns death of government minister at protest

A still of Sky News television coverage showing an Israeli soldier with his hands around the throat of Palestinian government minister Ziad Abu Ein shortly before he collapsed. Photo: Sky News A still of Sky News television coverage showing an Israeli soldier with his hands around the throat of Palestinian government minister Ziad Abu Ein shortly before he collapsed. Photo: Sky News

A still of Sky News television coverage showing an Israeli soldier with his hands around the throat of Palestinian government minister Ziad Abu Ein shortly before he collapsed. Photo: Sky News

A still of Sky News television coverage showing an Israeli soldier with his hands around the throat of Palestinian government minister Ziad Abu Ein shortly before he collapsed. Photo: Sky News

Beirut: The Palestinian Authority has suspended all security co-operation with Israel after a Palestinian government minister died following an altercation with Israeli soldiers at a protest in the occupied West Bank.

News footage shows Ziad Abu Ein, who was head of the Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, being pushed and shoved by Israel Defence Forces and border police. At one stage a soldier is filmed with his hand around Mr Abu Ein’s throat

Soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades at the gathering of dozens of Palestinian and international activists led by the 55-year-old minister, who were carrying olive branches and flags as part of an International Human Rights Day protest against land confiscations on Wednesday.

They were attempting to walk from the Palestinian village of Turmusaiyya, north of Ramallah, towards the illegal Israeli outpost of Adei Ad that is built on the village’s land, witnesses said.

International humanitarian law prohibits the transfer of an occupier’s population to occupied territory, however there are an estimated 515,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Formerly deputy minister of prisoners’ affairs, Mr Abu Ein, a father of four, collapsed soon after the scuffle with Israeli forces – Israeli army medics attempted to revive him before he was evacuated to a hospital in Ramallah, however he reportedly died en route. There are reports that he suffered from a health condition that could have contributed to his death.

Just minutes before he collapsed, told local media: “We came to our Palestine land to plant olive trees, they [security forces] attacked us immediately without anyone throwing a stone or anything.”

The Palestinian Authority condemned the killing of Mr Abu Ein and announced three days of mourning across the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced security coordination with Israel had been halted. Palestinian officials said an autopsy would be performed, and Israeli officials said one of their pathologists would attend.

“Israel’s use of excessive and indiscriminate violence constitutes war crimes under international law,” PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said. “Israel habitually uses extreme violence, especially against non-violent resistance, and Ziad was guilty of nothing more insidious than planting olive trees on Palestinian land that Israel was attempting to steal.”

The Israel Defence Forces described the protest as a gathering of “200 rioters” and said it was reviewing “the circumstances of the participation of Ziad Abu Ein, and his later death”.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon confirmed the “event” in which Mr Abu Ein died is under investigation by the IDF.

“We express sorrow over his death. We have proposed … that a joint autopsy be carried out on Abu Ein’s body. Security stability is important to both sides and we will continue coordination with the [Palestinian Authority],” Mr Yaalon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement released overnight, “pointed to the need to calm the situation and act responsibly”.

Soon after Mr Abu Ein’s death was reported, several Palestinian groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad called for the PA to halt security coordination with Israeli forces, a policy already deeply unpopular with Palestinians.

A senior Fatah official, Jibril Rajoub, told the al-Jazeera news network that the Palestinian Authority would cease all security coordination with Israel in the West Bank in the wake of Mr Abu Ein’s death.

Mr Abbas described the death of Mr Abu Ein as “a barbaric act that cannot be tolerated”.

Mr Abu Ein was extradited from the United States in 1981 over the murder of two Israelis in Tiberias in 1979, and sentenced to life in prison, but released in 1985 in a prisoner exchange, the Palestinian Maan News Agency reported.

The protest – which participants described as peaceful – was timed to coincide with a petition filed in the Israeli High Court by four Palestinian villages and the human rights group Yesh Din that demands the army remove the Adei Ad outpost, the website +972 reported.

Mr Abu Ein’s death will further inflame tensions across Jerusalem and the West Bank which have been running high for months following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, the retaliatory kidnapping of a Palestinian teenager who was burned alive, the Gaza war and a series of violent incidents in Jerusalem including an attack on a synagogue in which four rabbis and a security guard were killed.

Postage stamp prices expected to rise to $1.50 under Abbott government plan

The cost of postage stamps is expected to double to $1.50. File photo.The cost of postage stamps is expected to double to $1.50, and could rise as high as $2 within three years, under a two-tiered pricing system being considered by the Abbott government.

But Fairfax Media understands the government has stalled on plans to loosen the regulations governing Australia Post because of concerns about a political backlash to increased stamp prices.

Although Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull finalised an Australia Post rescue package several months ago, the reforms have not made it onto the Cabinet discussion paper this year. This means any changes will not be approved until February at the earliest.

This is despite repeated calls from Australia Post management for urgent government action and signals from the Labor Opposition that it is prepared to offer a bipartisan approach on the issue.

There are fears that licensed post offices around the country will be forced to close unless Australia Post is allowed to increase stamp prices and introduce a two-tiered pricing system for letter delivery.

Australia Post’s proposed “priority” service would run on the current timetable of guaranteed next-business-day delivery for metro mail and guaranteed second-business-day delivery for metro to country mail.

Letters would take an extra day or two days to be delivered within metro areas in the proposed “regular” service.

Under a range of scenarios outlined in Australia Post’s latest Corporate Plan, which has not been released publicly, a “priority” stamp would cost $1.25 to $2. A “regular” stamp would cost 70 cents to $1.

Sources familiar with the corporate plan said the most realistic scenario would be for a regular stamp to cost 80 to 85 cents in the short term, with priority stamps costing around $1.50.

Safeguards would apply so that concession card holders – including pensioners – would continue to pay only 60 cents for a basic stamp.

The reforms are based on the premise Australia Post should be able to recoup the costs of letter delivery – estimated at $1 per letter.

Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour has warned that the company faces $12 billion in losses over the next decade and will require a taxpayer bailout unless the government changes its customer service obligations.

“This business is disappearing in front of our eyes,” MrFahourtold Senate committee hearings last month.

“We are not recovering our costs, which is why we are losing a tonne of money.”

Ahmed Fahour

Boo on target for shot at title

IN THE HUNT: Boo Weekley on the 15th hole at Royal Pines on Thursday. Picture: Getty Images
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THERE will be a few nervous deer in the south of the United States given Boo Weekley is heading home soon.

It seems the field at the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast should also be worried about being outgunned by the American.

The keen huntsman and three-time US PGA Tour winner tops the leaderboard following a rain-affected opening round at Royal Pines on Thursday.

Weekley’s six-under-par 66 ensured he will take a two-shot lead into Friday, ahead of a group of six players on four-under, including defending champion Adam Scott.

The American’s month-long stay in Australia has included equal 15th place finishes at the Australian Masters and Australian Open and, famously, an estimated 40 meat pies.

The 41-year-old tucked into the revamped Royal Pines course like one of those savoury treats, making five birdies, a bogey and an eagle on the par-four 17th.

That eagle was the highlight of his day.

‘‘I had 146 [yards] into the hole, was kind of in between clubs and I just figured I had a breeze a little bit into us … took an eight-iron and choked it down a little bit,’’ he said.

‘‘As soon as I got up in the air, got flying towards it and I like ‘get right, be right’ and then one hop and it went in the hole.’’

Weekley is planning to ditch the clubs for his rifle when he gets home next week.

Landing a trophy buck will be on his Christmas wish-list, though having the Joe Kirkwood Cup on his mantelpiece would also be a welcome addition.

Scott also made eagle on Thursday, at the par-five 15th, and was happy to notch the first under-par first round of his Australian swing.

● Toronto’s Nathan Green was one of the lucky few to complete his first round.

After bogeying two of his first three holes, the former US PGA card-holder completed a steady of round of six birdies and just one more bogey on the back nine to finish with three-under 69.

Jake Higginbottom’s round of six birdies was marred by double bogeys on the seventh and 14th and another dropped shot on the 10th, which left the Charlestown product at one-under.

It was a miserable start for Charlestown’s US-based professional James Nitties, who was left on two-over after a storm halted play.

The other Hunter golfer to complete the first round was Belmont’s Corey Hale at one-over.

The Vintage’s Edward Stedman is two-under through six holes, Charlestown’s Aaron Townsend is even par after 12, Waratah’s Leigh McKechnie (one-over) has nine holes to play on Friday and Toronto’s Callan O’Reilly is one over with 10 holes left.

Coaching juniors gets Allira Richardson back in the water

MOTIVATED: Former professional Allira Richardson has rediscovered her passion for surf lifesaving. Picture: Max Mason-HubersDRAINED mentally and physically, Allira Richardson walked away from surf lifesaving after almost a decade on the professional ironwoman circuit.
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Eighteen months on and the 27-year-old from Forster is inspired in the surf again after her work with the juniors at Cooks Hill.

This weekend, she hopes to return the favour.

Richardson and two-time Australian board paddling champion Stewart McLachlan (Redhead) will lead the Hunter team at the NSW Interbranch titles at Catherine Hill Bay.

Richardson, a former Australian board champion and round winner on the national ironwoman series, will join ex-national youth team competitor Jessica Collins (Redhead) and Hannah Trypas (Swansea-Belmont) in the women’s open line-up.

Coolangatta Gold fifth-placegetter Isak Costello and ski specialist Mark Stowe join Redhead clubmate McLachlan as the open men representatives.

They will spearhead a 42-member Hunter side covering under 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 19 divisions.

For Richardson, the carnival is part of a long road back to competition.

The former Mooloolaba and Maroochydore competitor went home to Forster early last year after finishing 13th in the 2012-13 national series and missing automatic requalification.

After resting shoulder and knee injuries, she moved to Newcastle in February to link with former coach Wayne Whiteman, the director of surf sports at Cooks Hill, and has been working as an assistant nippers coach at the club while starting a veterinary nursing degree.

Refreshed and fit again, Richardson says the move is paying off.

‘‘The Cooks Hill kids are all so dedicated and so welcoming, so it’s been such an easy transition,’’ she said.

‘‘I had some injuries that I needed a long time off to get over, and just mentally, I was just over it a bit. I was a little bit drained and just needed a break, physically and mentally.

‘‘So I moved back home and started coaching, and just working with the kids gave me motivation again.

‘‘I started back just this year but it’s been one of the best decision I’ve made, just coming back and enjoying the sport. I’m just enjoying being back in it and just being fit and healthy more than anything else.’’

After a pre-season setback with bronchitis, Richardson showed she will be a force this summer with an ironwoman win at the Cronulla carnival three weeks ago.

She is hoping to continue that form and lead the way for the Hunter youngsters this weekend.

‘‘I love the kids that I train with and working with them has been inspiring,’’ she said.

‘‘I just really like it, especially being in a team environment. I just hope I set a good standard and I’m a good role model.

‘‘Hopefully I can do everything right, compete to the best of my ability, the results go my way and I can inspire the kids somehow.’’

Richardson and Hunter assistant coach Craig Coates believe the juniors will be the team’s strength this weekend when they try to break a run of fourth-place finishes behind the powerful Sydney branches and Central Coast.

‘‘They give 100per cent in training and I think the Hunter kids are going to cause some surprises,’’ Richardson said.

‘‘We are going in there pretty hard to finally get that podium finish.

‘‘We’ve finished fourth so many years in a row now and to actually knock off one of the Sydney clubs would be unreal.’’

Coates said the forecast of 3.5m to 4m swell from east-south-east could force organisers to switch venues from Catherine Hill Bay to Blacksmiths Beach and a decision on the site would likely be made on Friday.

Berisha – if you can’t stop him, starve him

Kill the body and the head will fall. That is the approach Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold is taking to nullify Melbourne Victory marquee Besart Berisha on Saturday night.
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There are dangerous players in every team, some who require special attention, man-marking or even a specialist tagger for 90 minutes. When it comes to Berisha, Arnold believes even these tactics won’t help.

So potent is the Albanian striker once the ball is at his feet that there is little defenders can do from preventing a scoring chance, something even Manchester United can attest to.

Sydney FC boast the most lean defence in the league and have built a reputation of their own when it comes to intimidation, but even they aren’t taking any risks against the lively Berisha in his new backyard.

Arnold was full of praise for a player who scored his sixth goal in eight games last week, playing on a cricket pitch amid a storm against Central Coast, and said his best chance of stopping Berisha was to starve him of possession. Sydney won’t deploy any special tactics directly towards him, but will instead focus on shutting down the creative players around him so as to cut off supply to the danger man.

“Look, he’s a fantastic player, I said it before, we saw the energy that he gave Brisbane when he was at Brisbane and what he did up there with the goals he was scoring and his energy is now rubbing off on Melbourne Victory players,” Arnold said.

“We just have to try and make sure we cut off the supply to him. Defensively we have to be very, very strong and give nothing away. We’ve analysed them this week and hopefully I can expose a few of their weaknesses that I’ve seen with where we can be strong. It will be a matter of just going down there and sticking to the game plan, and also being ready for the fight.”

The Sky Blues travel to Melbourne after suffering their first loss of the season in a 2-1 defeat to Perth Glory last week but will be buoyed by the return of their own marquee, Marc Janko. The Austrian captain overcame a niggling injury and has been declared fit to play against the club’s oldest rivals. Defender Sasa Ognenovski, who has a thigh injury, appears no closer to a return.

A nine-day break gave Sydney plenty of chance to reflect on their loss to Perth but Arnold says their confidence has not been hit.

“After analysing the game, it was probably our most consistent performance for 80 minutes but unfortunately we gave away two cheap goals from set-pieces,” he said.

The Sydney coach has been overwhelmed with offers to sign players from abroad, now that he has two spots available as injury replacement covers for Ali Abbas and Corey Gameiro. Arnold is looking at foreign players, but says he is interested in signing one who will improve the standard of the first team, not their depth.

“I want competition for places, we’ve lost two starting eleven members with Corey and Ali Abbas, and we’ve got to have depth in the squad but I’m not going to bring out somebody to sit on the bench or somebody to put depth in the squad,” he said. “I want quality, otherwise I want to give Australian kids an opportunity.”

Australian dollar inches higher

The Australian dollar edged slightly higher on Thursday, after a US dollar sell-off and mildly positive domestic employment data afforded the local unit a day of respite from recent declines.
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However, divergent economic fortunes continued to fuel a slide in the local unit against its New Zealand pair.

In late local trade, the Aussie was fetching US83.25¢, compared with US83.15¢ at the same time on Wednesday. The currency did hit a high of US83.76¢ just after the November jobs data release, but retreated after closer inspection revealed worrying trends in youth unemployment and under-employment.

The dominance of part-time work in job creation also points to further hits to household income, according to analysis by Morgan Stanley.

“Although unemployment growth is running at 0.7 per cent a month on a three-month annualised basis, hours worked are again falling, reflecting a mix shift from full- to part-time work,” the investment bank said in a note.

Even still, most commentators said there was nothing in the data to support calls for cuts in the Reserve Bank of Australia’s cash rate next year, although some maintain that they point to further economic weakening next year.

In contrast, central bank language on future rate rises in New Zealand on Thursday helped drive the Aussie to its lowest level against the Kiwi dollar in five months.

In late local trade, the Australian dollar was fetching $NZ1.07, compared with $NZ1.08 at the same time on Wednesday, and a year-to-date high of $NZ1.13 at the end of October. In early trade it touched $NZ1.06

The Kiwi currency was last this strong against its trans-Tasman pair in mid-July.

The latest surge came after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand left the official cash rate unchanged at 3.5 per cent for the third policy meeting in a row, as expected, but accompanied the decision with less dovish language than forecast among some sectors of the financial community.

While acknowledging that further hikes would be “required at a later stage”, the RBNZ also said that the “expansion can be sustained for longer than previously expected with a more gradual increase in interest rates”, given subdued inflationary pressures.

Bank of New Zealand currency strategist Raiko Shareef said currency traders had been pricing in an end to tighter monetary policy, while credit markets had better anticipated RBNZ guidance.

“The rates markets had the most sensible reaction, in my mind, to what happened, which is essentially that the RBNZ lowered its expected future path of interest rates, as one would expect given the developments we’ve had in global inflation over the past three months or so,” he said.

“So the rates market actually rallied a little bit, which is what you would have expected. In contrast, he said, foreign exchange traders had expected guidance on an end to monetary tightening from the RBNZ.

“There was some speculation that the bank might go completely soft on rates and say, ‘right, we’re done’,” said Mr Shareef.

“That was the bit that didn’t happen, and that probably disappointed some in the speculative community which expected a much sharper sell-off.”

The RBNZ’s continued tightening bias runs counter to that of the RBA, which a growing band of economists expect to cut interest rates next year. At the very least, according to less bearish commentators, the cash rate will stay on hold until late next year or early 2016.

ANZ currency strategist Sam Tuck said the distinct policy directions reflected divergent economies.

“The RBNZ is still expecting a rate hike; they see growth on or above trend through 2016, compared with the market pricing in a full rate cut by the RBA,” he said. “A lot of people had been expecting a convergence in the outlook between Australia and New Zealand, and there was reasonable amount of positioning on that view which has been cleaned out,” he said.

Ultimate Art targets big picture after long spell

SHARPENING UP: Kirsty Formosa with Ultimate Art. TWO-TIME group1 winner Ultimate Art will complete a strange hat-trick if he can again win first-up from a spell at Menangle on Saturday night.
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The Michael Formosa-trained five-year-old stallion’s last run was a 12th in the group3 Four-Year-Old Championship on July 19, which came three weeks after his group1 NSW Breeders Crown win.

Ultimate Art will resume in race four at Menangle with Jack Trainor taking the reins in place of Formosa, who is serving a 21-day driving suspension for causing interference in the only race held at Newcastle last Friday.

It will be the third year in a row the Ellalong-based trainer has been suspended for his star pacer’s December return to the track, and Formosa will be hoping for the same result.

Ultimate Art won at Maitland in 2012 and at Newcastle last year first-up with Mark Callaghan and Robbie Morris respectively in the gig.

Formosa, though, was cautiously optimistic about Ultimate Art’s hopes on Saturday night as he builds him towards a shot at the Interdominion heats in February.

‘‘He’s probably going to need the run but he won’t be far off it,’’ Formosa said.

‘‘He’s come back good. He’s had three trials and done only what he’s wanted to do.

‘‘He was only really pushed in one of them and he’s come through well.

‘‘His best distance is over a bit of ground and 80per cent of the races at Menangle are over the mile, so he’s probably going to need a few mile races to sharpen him up, but he’ll come good.’’

Ultimate Art will meet Hunter-trained Shannonsablast (Darren Elder) and Aspiring Art (Shane Tritton) in the race.

■ Michael Formosa was one of the many trainers to shy away from entering a horse in the Newcastle Cup after the significant drop in prizemoney this year.

The cup, first held in 1954, was scheduled for Friday night but was postponed after receiving only six nominations.

‘‘I was actually aiming Ultimate Art for it, then about a month ago they said the prizemoney was going from $30,000 to $8000, so I didn’t bother about it,’’ Formosa said.

‘‘I’ve always wanted to win a Newcastle Cup and I thought I had the horse to do it, but anyway, that’s the way it goes.’’

Ultimate Art will race for $12,000 at Menangle on Saturday night.

Formosa will still have a strong team in at the eight-race Newcastle meeting.

He rated Sovereign Flight in race six and Miss Art Ranger in the first as his best chances.

He also has Mondo Courage in the first and Always Prompt and Constant Addiction in the race four.

Formosa said Always Prompt, which has won his last two starts at Newcastle, was ‘‘a dangerous little horse with the right run’’ and ‘‘a good place chance’’.

■ Shane Tritton-trained runners made up one-tenth of a record 150 nominations this week for next year’s Interdominion championships.

Tritton nominated 2014 sixth-placegetter Mach Beauty and Miracle Mile runners Suave Stuey Lombo and Easy On The Eye among 15 of his horses for qualifying heats on February 14.

Ardghal, Aspiring Artist, Chance, Fearless Leader, Latteron, Lombo Toscannini, Mark Dennis, Marty Monkhouser, Pas Ultimate Delight, Rathmore Lady, Saucy Legend and Shipwreck are the Keinbah trainer’s other hopefuls.

Heats will be held at Menangle, Addington, Melton, Albion Park and Gloucester Park for the grand final on Sunday, March 1, at Menangle.

Michael Formosa’s Ultimate Art is the only other local among nominations.

Suave Stuey Lombo was the shortest of the Hunter hopes in the opening TAB Sportsbet fixed odds market at $14.

Easy On The Eye and Mach Beauty were $21, while the others were $151 or $301.

Australian jihadists arriving and dying at same rate in Middle East: ASIO

Australians going to fight with extremist groups in the Middle East are dying as fast as they are arriving, meaning that the total number of fighters has remained stable at about 70, security agency ASIO has revealed.
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ASIO deputy director-general Kerri Hartland told a Senate hearing on Thursday that the organisation knew of at least 20 Australians who have now been killed in Syria and Iraq while fighting with groups such as the Islamic State.

“The overall number of Australians currently fighting with or supporting Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq has remained consistent over recent months,” Ms Hartland said.

“However, this does not reflect a reduction in the number of Australian travellers. Instead it reflects the relatively high casualty rate for Australians, with the numbers of new arrivals roughly keeping pace with the fatalities.”

Ms Hartland also revealed ASIO had recommended to the foreign minister the cancellation of nearly 100 passports of Australians they suspected of wanting to fight in the Syria-Iraq conflict, with about half of those cases this year alone.

The government’s policy of cancelling passports came under fire from Queensland Liberal-National Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who said most ordinary voters would rather the government let them go.

“If I’ve got a frustrated terrorist, my preference would be to have the frustrated terrorist somewhere else other than within Australia,” he told the committee.

Senator O’Sullivan said “most freethinking voters” felt that if people were suspected of being terrorists they should be arrested or, if there was not sufficient evidence to arrest them, they should be allowed to travel.

He said Australians were worried about “frustrated” extremists returning to the suburbs after being prevented from travelling.

“The average punter would be happy for you to let them go, in fact encourage them … That’s the mood down here in punter land,” he said.

But Attorney-General George Brandis said Australia was obliged to stop its citizens contributing to the swelling problem of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, who number about 12,000, including about 3000 from the West.

Australia had signed up to a United Nations resolution pledging signatories to “assume a common obligation to the passage across their borders of foreign fighters”.

“If all the nations of the world observed (this), then there wouldn’t be any more foreign fighters going to this war,” he said.

Senator Brandis added that some Australian fighters, particular younger ones, were similar to cult members who were being “ensnared” by a “death cult” like the Islamic State group.

“I myself don’t think that we should blithely let an Australian adolescent who is foolish enough to have been ensnared by a cult just go overseas where he might blow himself up and blow up another 20 people in Iraq. I think we should stop that.”

Storm season: NSW emergency services armed with new technology

Emergency services are now armed with new technology.As you’ve probably already guessed over these several unusually wet weeks, NSW State Emergency Service is expecting this storm season to be a particularly bad one and is arming itself with smartphones and tablets, and will get the help of a supercomputer.
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SES volunteers will for the first time be able to access the main system using smartphones and tablets while they’re out on the ground and respond to emergency calls as they come.

“I was out at Penrith a few weeks ago when the storm was happening and found the crew on the ground going ‘how good is this’. They had their tablet there and could see that they had a job here, two jobs around the corner, and exactly what they had to do,” NSW SES Acting Commissioner Jim Smith said.

The new beacon system, launched just in time for the worst of the storm season, has moved the service’s management system to the cloud allowing calls to be categorised by urgency and viewed and actioned in real time by the closest SES units.

The system has been successfully used by crews to provide more than 10,400 hours of assistance services since it became functional in October. During the next few months, SES is expecting to beat the 90,000 hours spent on the ground last storm season.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres said: “I think it puts NSW well ahead of the pack when it comes to utilising technology.

“What this means is we can get out there faster, we can respond more effectively and we can deal with more than we’ve been able to before.”

The new system was built in-house over 18 months for about $1 million and will replace the ageing RFA Online system that could no longer handle the increasing workload.

As well as improving response times, SES is also expecting to better detect emergencies with the help of a new Bureau of Meteorology supercomputer that will provide “much more accurate predictions of where storms are going to hit, which will allow [SES] to stand up specific units much quicker”, said Mr Smith.

“At present we often get maps showing that it’s going to affect all of Sydney, which is quite difficult for us to prepare for.

“I met with the head of the bureau last week and we’re hoping to get much better results for storms.”

The new supercomputer is expected to be in operation by mid-2016 and will also improve predictions for fires, floods and cyclones.

Local councillor Susai Benjamin wants the next step to be real-time information for the community.

“I think there should be some indication of how long someone will get there in,” Cr Benjamin said. “I think it’s important to keep the affected party informed.”

NBN gets an inner-city ring fence as rivals capped

No free lunch: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants developers and home owners to carry some of the NBN costs. Photo: David MariuzWould-be rivals to the government’s NBN wholesale broadband services will face a cap on the charges they can reap from internet retailers under new rules unveiled on Thursday.
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The rules were flagged in the government’s response to the Vertigan Review of NBN and will buttress the state-owned business from private sector attempts to cherry pick highly profitable locations such as inner-city apartment buildings.

The government is also doing away with cross-subsidies, which currently part of NBN Co’s wholesale pricing, and will force owners of high-speed networks, targeting residential and small business customers in commercially viable areas, comparable to NBN, to make contributions to help fund the less viable areas, such as regional and rural Australia.

Under a new carrier licence condition that will come into effect on January 1, 2015, internet service providers (ISPs) providing superfast broadband to residential customers will be forced to split their retail and wholesale businesses.

Those companies will need to “operate their networks and retail operations at an arm’s length”.

ISPs will also be able to charge no more than $27 a month for 25/5 megabits per second, 25 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload, to other retail providers through their wholesale business. This licence will remain in place for two years as a transitional measure.

The move is aimed at preventing ISPs such as TPG, which is building its on fibre-to-the-basement network in more profitable metropolitan areas, from cherry picking retail customers and locking out other providers.

NBN Co is required to provide broadband to all Australians, with emphasis on underserved areas.

TPG used a clause that allows ­networks built before 2011 to be extended by an extra kilometre to get around laws designed to stop NBN Co from having any competition.

TPG plans to connect 500,000 apartments and businesses to its FTTB ­network, offering similar services to the National Broadband Network.

The announcements are part of the government’s response to 53 recommendations made by the Vertigan Review in October.

At the same time proposed legislation was released that will see developers and home owners in new premises bear some of the costs of NBN installation.

The proposal would see the introduction of a $300 connection charge, which the government expects to be passed on to end-users, as well as a deployment charge on developers for infrastructure; $600 for single-dwelling units and $400 for multi-dwelling units.

The government is also proposing that property developers pay for pit and pipe infrastructure and a trial process where developers will sell the infrastructure back to NBN Co at “a pre-determined price”.

“NBN Co has been able to provide ‘free’ infrastructure in part because it recovers these costs later from access charges, but also because it is supported by taxpayers,” the government said in the draft policy paper.

“While NBN Co’s size and reach will always be advantages, the measures in this policy update will significantly level the playing field. Developers and end-users will both need to make larger upfront contributions.”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said in a joint statement that the charges were consistent with other charges for the provision of infrastructure in new developments.

“It will foster competition, which will benefit developers and consumers by increasing choice and putting downward pressure on costs,” the said.

Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said the move was an unfair hit to new home buyers.

“It means that if you buy an existing home you don’t have to pay anything extra for the NBN,” Mr Clare said. “Your taxes pay for it. But if you buy a new home, you have to pay for it twice.”

The infrastructure policy would come into effect on March 1, 2015.

Bird breaks down with knee injury

Bridal waltz: Greg Bird on his wedding day with new bride, Becky. Greg Bird’s week from hell just got worse after he broke down at training on Wednesday with a knee injury.
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On the same day he fronted a Titans tribunal to explain why he urinated on or near a car the day after his wedding, the Gold Coast co-captain raised fears at a regulation training session. Titans medical staff believe he has a minor strain to his medial ligament and will have precautionary scans.

Bird admitted his actions were “stupid” and he admitted he had put a “dampener” on wedding celebrations after receiving an infringement notice from police after leaving the Beach Hotel, where he was having dinner with his wife and friends. Bird and James Roberts faced the Gold Coast Titans’ disciplinary committee hearing on Wednesday. Roberts was arrested and charged with being a public nuisance following an incident in Surfers Paradise in October but the charges were subsequently dropped.

Bird is one of the highest-profile players in the game, finally tasting success at State of Origin level after his beloved Blues ended Queensland’s domination earlier this year. There has been speculation he may be stripped of the Titans’ captaincy following his latest indiscretion, but teammate Aiden Sezer hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“Birdy is one of our leaders, he leads from the front,” Sezer said at Auckland Nines jersey launch in Sydney. “The club obviously have their policies and procedures and we can’t do much as players. He wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s our captain and that’s the way it is until now.”

The Titans released a statement on Thursday night: “The Gold Coast Titans Disciplinary hearings for Greg Bird and James Roberts concluded a short time ago. The finalisation of the process will occur overnight where the Titans Board members will be contacted to ratify the recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee. The Titans will formally announce the outcome at some stage tomorrow.”

Peter Hoang: Vietnamese orphan, high-rolling gambler and crime syndicate money launderer

A small shared Bankstown apartment, an old sedan, a job as a waiter and dole payments– such was the world of Vietnamese refugee Peter Tan Hoang.
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Except for the $1 billion that he gambled at Australia’s biggest casino, Crown, in little more than a decade.

Hoang, 36, was shot in the face in September while waiting on a darkened Sydney suburban street. His murder has police baffled, but has also shone a light on a massive money-laundering scheme for a global crime syndicate with links across Asia and the Americas.

Hoang’s story, his rise from a Vietnamese-born orphan living on a refugee visa to one of Australia’s biggest gamblers and money launderers, also raises concerns about how he was able to rort the system for so long and for so much money – particularly at Australia’s biggest casino, Crown in Melbourne.

Court documents from a recent case reveal Hoang ran as much as $1 billion in black cash through Crown between 2000 and 2012. He also gambled under four different names and received perks including overseas holidays, cash gifts of as much as $100,000, and gambling “commissions” in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Australian Crime Commission estimates at least $10 billion a year is laundered in and through Australia; other estimates suggest it is higher. Much of that money is the result of drug trafficking. Most federal crime agencies in Australia acknowledge they face an increasingly monumental struggle against global crime groups seeking to launder their multibillion-dollar narcotics profits here.

Despite being targeted during a 2005 – 2006 Australian Crime Commission operation dubbed Operation Gordian, and with a series of intelligence reports revealing his role as a drug trafficker and money launderer, Hoang remained a fixture at Crown  until he was charged with money laundering in late 2012.

Hoang was also involved with several Vietnamese-Australian drug trafficking syndicates in Sydney and Melbourne. NSW police Homicide Squad commander, Mick Willing,  said there was little doubt Hoang’s background in Asian organised criminal syndicates played a role in his death.

“We have certainly considered that he was involved in drug trafficking and moving money through casinos. [That] may have been a catalyst for his death,” Mr Willing said.

Born in Vietnam in 1977, Hoang arrived in Australia in 1997 on a student visa and an Indonesian passport under the name Petrus Keyn Peten. Within months he had applied for refugee status, under the name Minh Tan Nguyen. By 2001 he had become an Australian citizen, and changed his name twice more.

By the time he had become a citizen he had already been banned from Sydney’s casino, The Star. Law enforcement officials speaking to 7.30 on condition of anonymity said he became a professional money launderer, gambling millions in the profits of heroin and other drug sales.

Intelligence gathered by state and federal law enforcement agencies during the mid 2000s suggests Hoang was involved with a group of Vietnamese-Australians that formed the Australian end of a Hong Kong-based crime group known as Ong Ngoai – or “grandfather” in Vietnamese.

Ong Ngoai is a global drug-trafficking syndicate with links across Asia and North and South America. Australian police have identified at least two dozen drug syndicates here with links to it.

Michael Purchas was the brains behind Operation Gordian and spent months watching Vietnamese-Australian criminals, including Hoang, sell drugs and launder the profits. “He was a known gambler at casinos., [Hoang] would certainly deal with other people’s money at casinos under instructions,” he said.

Gordian was hailed as a breakthrough investigation into money laundering and resulted in the convictions of members of a small group Vietnamese-Australians responsible for laundering about $93 million in drug profits in a year. At the time Hoang was only a peripheral figure and managed to slip the police dragnet.

He continued to be involved in heroin trafficking and other illicit drugs. The amount of money he laundered through casinos – primarily Crown – also increased.

His luck ran out in October 2012, when he was arrested in a high-roller room at Crown casino attempting to gamble with $1.5 million cash that police alleged  was the proceeds of crime. The court case revealed he had bought about $75 million worth of chips at Crown between 2000 and 2012, which equalled a gambling turnover of at least $225 million, possibly as high as $1 billion.

“This is an amazing amount of money,” said Deakin university social scientist and author of a book on Crown casino, Professor Linda Hancock.

“He would be accounting for a very high proportion of gambled funds. He would be what’s called in the business, ‘a person of interest’, so you would think that there would be a trigger between any casino and the police for such a person.”

While Crown did report many of Hoang’s transactions to federal authorities asitis required to, it also provided him a slew of perks and benefits not available tomost gamblers.

He was allowed to have four different identities at the casino – Pete Hoang, James and John Ho and Patrick Lu – and received free business class flights, accommodation, and alcohol, as well as cash gifts of up to $100,000.

The case also revealed his remarkable gambling patterns. A hearing in June this year received evidence that during the month of September 2012 he bought  more than $9 million in chips and played the card game baccarat at an average of $106,000 per hand.

The casino paid him a commission based on the amount he had gambled, and that month he earned $199,000 as a result of his high-stakes gambling.

Crown casino declined to answer specific questions about Hoang’s treatment, but did say: “Crown is and has been for some time assisting state and federal law enforcement agencies regarding Mr Hoang and we will continue to do so.”

For more on this story, watch ABC’s 7.30 on Wednesday.