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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.

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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

Kevin Andrews calls on colleagues to unite

Kevin Andrews in his ministerial suite in Parliament House. Photo: Andrew MearesSocial Services Minister Kevin Andrews has dismissed speculation that he will retire next year to make way for the Prime Minister’s chief-of-staff Peta Credlin as “total nonsense,” while urging his Coalition colleagues to maintain unity and discipline.

Mr Andrews, who has held the seat of Menzies since 1991, has also hit back at suggestions he should make way for newer faces, saying it is “not a matter of age” but “enthusiasm [and] ability” when it comes to prize positions in politics.

His comments, in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, follow speculation within the Liberal Party that Ms Credlin could leave her role as Tony Abbott’s top adviser ahead of the 2016 federal election. Amid tensions between Mr Abbott’s office and government MPs, it has been suggested that Ms Credlin could take Mr Andrews’ safe Melbourne seat of Menzies, among other positions in the lower and upper houses.

The Victorian-born and raised Ms Credlin has previously made it known in Liberal circles that she would be keen to stand for a Victorian spot.

On Tuesday, when asked about Ms Credlin’s parliamentary ambitions, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: “Peta Credlin has no intention of running for Parliament at this time – state or federal, House or Senate,” fuelling speculation that a parliamentary career was a live option.

On Wednesday, Mr Andrews said it was “total nonsense” and “baseless speculation” to suggest that he would leave parliament. He said his plans for welfare reform, which are slated to involve overhauling the payment system and a complex new IT infrastructure, were a “two-term project”. “I’m enthusiastic to carry it through,” he said.

Mr Andrews added that Ms Credlin had “made it clear” that she did not want a parliamentary position, not just to the media but to “many people in the party”.

“My sense is that Peta is totally committed to the job that she’s doing. She’s doing a bloody good job. It’s not the easiest job in the world. Especially [in a] first-year, first-term new government.”

Mr Andrews, 59, believes that continued talk about his future, despite his firm plan to stay put, is being fuelled by ambitious younger MPs.

But the Social Services Minister dismissed the idea that he should stand aside from his seat in the interests of party renewal, even though earlier this month he talked of the need for “renewal” in the Victorian Liberal Party after its election loss.

Mr Andrews, who held senior ministerial positions during the Howard government, said the government needed “a combination of experience, plus newer, younger people coming through”.

“It’s not a matter of age,” he argued. “It’s a matter of enthusiasm and a matter of ability.”

Mr Andrews stressed that, at a meeting of Liberal members in his electorate on Monday night, there was “warm” applause when he said he intended to stay put, adding he had the “confidence” of his local electorate council.

Speculation about Ms Credlin’s potential parliamentary career has been accompanied by reports of friction between the Prime Minister’s chief-of-staff and senior ministers, including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. This follows ongoing complaints from government MPs that Ms Credlin is too controlling.

Mr Andrews issued a warning to his colleagues, urging them to stay “united [and] disciplined” as the Coalition ends its first full year in government.

“My only message to anybody who wants to hear, is to repeat what Benjamin Franklin told his fellow revolutionaries: ‘If we don’t all hang together, we’ll all hang separately’.”

When asked if he thought Liberal MPs were “hanging separately”, Mr Andrews replied that “the Prime Minister said himself ‘we’re a bit ragged’. That’s a reasonable observation.”

He added that recent announcements about paid parental leave and the GP co-payment showed the government was keen to refocus on policy matters.

Cancer Council: fruit and vegetable claims on some packaged foods debunked

Processed food and drinks that carry fruit and vegetable claims on their packaging contain as little as 13 per cent real fruit and many have negligible nutritional value, a study has found.

The less healthy the food, the more likely it was to enthuse about its fruit content.

A NSW Cancer Council analysis of 762 fruit and vegetable snacks, soups and juices stocked in supermarkets found that only a third passed the nutrient profiling criteria that would enable them to make health claims under the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code.

But fruit and vegetable claims are not regulated under the code because they refer to specific ingredients rather than nutrients.

Study author Clare Hughes said the claims deliberately misled consumers about the nutritional value of the product.

“Our concern is that fruit and vegetables are ingredients that, when put on labels, would sway people’s food choices and give the impression that they’re a healthy product,” Ms Hughes said.

“Some of the claims being made on snack foods would lead parents to think, ‘Maybe this is a good thing to put in my kid’s lunchbox’.”

Almost half the products in the fruit snacks, soups and fruit and vegetable juices and drinks surveyed carried a claim about their fruit and vegetable content.

Those that made the claims had more energy, sodium, saturated fat and sugar and less fibre than fresh fruit and vegetables.

Uncle Tobys Roll Ups, which proclaims among its “nutritional benefits” that it is “made with real fruit”, contained only 25 per cent fruit.

Charlie’s Old Fashioned Quencher had just 13 per cent fruit, and 14 teaspoons of sugar per serve.

More than 80 per cent of the fruit and vegetable drinks and 79 per cent of the fruit snacks did not meet nutrient profiling, according to the study published in Public Health Nutrition.

Juices and fruits were more likely to have nutritional value, with only 10 per cent of the soups and less than 1 per cent of juices failing to meet nutrient profiling.

A spokesman for the Australian Food and Grocery Council said 90 per cent of the surveyed products met the researchers’ and government’s standard for healthiness.

Charlie’s Old Fashioned Quencher rated 4.5 stars on the federal government’s Health Star Rating system, he said.

“These claims provide important information for consumers who want to know the ingredients are sourced  from fruit and veg, as opposed to flavouring for instance.”

A spokeswoman for Nestle, which manufactures Roll Ups, said “made with real fruit” was a content claim rather than a health claim.

“Roll Ups contain concentrated puree from real fruit as clearly stated in the ingredient list on the back of the pack,” she said.

“Roll Ups are a fun, portion-controlled treat.”

But University of Wollongong senior lecturer Bridget Kelly said manufacturers could create a “health halo” over their products by promoting particular ingredients.

“We’ve been advocating for a number of years now to get that loophole closed, so that to make any nutrition claim it has to be a healthy product, because at the moment it’s really a marketing strategy.”

Experts tip multiple rates cuts next year

Experts are tipping mortgage repayments to drop further next year. Photo: Glenn HuntLeading economists are predicting rates could fall three times, or by as much as 75 basis points, next year if unemployment rises and the economy continues to decline.

Domain Group* senior economist Dr Andrew Wilson said cutting interest rates would be the only tool left to help boost the economy, and could occur as early as February.

“We have a very high Budget deficit, so there’s no prospect of stimulating the economy through government spending,” Dr Wilson said.

“We will continue to see the government cost cutting, so the heavy lifting has to be done by interest rates. It’s the only tool left in the kit bag.”

National economic growth, or GDP, increased by just 0.3 per cent in the September quarter, for an annual rise of 2.7 per cent.

“We need three per cent at least, to have jobs growing,” Dr Wilson said.

“We’re also seeing a concerning trend in falling participation rates. People have either given up looking for work, or been discouraged.”

However, the NSW economy was much stronger, increasing by 1.3 per cent over the September quarter, for a rise of 4.7 per cent over the year and a contribution to national GDP of 0.4 per cent.

Domain Group figures to the September quarter show the Sydney median house price now sits at a record high of $843,994.

Dr Wilson said although Sydney had been the outperformer, other states hadn’t experienced the same growth.

There were also some signs Sydney’s incredible boom was slowing down, with auction clearance rates starting to fall, down to 70.5 per cent last weekend.

“It’s a boom economy in NSW but we can’t have interest rates set on just one economy,” he said.

“The other economies are really struggling.”

Dr Wilson was one of the first economists to predict a rate cut.

NAB senior economist Alan Oster is also predicting rates will fall and believes there will be at least two rate cuts next year.

But Mr Oster said there was also a 30 per cent chance of three cuts by the end of 2015, because a ‘surprise’ was needed to boost the economy.

“The first cut will be March, but 25 basis points isn’t going to be enough. They have to surprise the market. If two doesn’t do it, maybe three will. We say a 30 per cent chance (of three cuts) but we don’t put it in our forecast unless it’s 50 per cent (chance).”

Mr Oster previously said there would be a rate rise in late 2015.

However, he said commodity prices have since dropped and as a result, $25 billion would be wiped from the economy next year.

This would lower GDP, and would increase the national unemployment rate from its current level, 6.2 per cent, to 6.75 per cent.

And finally, a NAB business survey showed confidence was eroding.

“We’re now down to levels that are the same as the back end of the Rudd/Gillard years,” he said.

“A lack of confidence says people will be reluctant to employ, reluctant to hire. If you’re sitting in the middle of next year saying unemployment is high and we have undershooting inflation, unless the currency completely drops, you have to do something.”

* Domain Group is owned by Fairfax Media.

Older men are financial advisers’ best customers

Leave it to me, Honey: Older men are twice as likely to seek advice as women, new data shows. Leave it to me, Honey: Older men are twice as likely to seek advice as women, new data shows.

Leave it to me, Honey: Older men are twice as likely to seek advice as women, new data shows.

Leave it to me, Honey: Older men are twice as likely to seek advice as women, new data shows.

Australians’ interest in financial advice soars substantially when they hit their mid-40s, and older men are twice as likely to seek advice as women, new data shows.

Baby boomers are the biggest users of financial advice in Australia, representing about 34 per cent of those actively talking to financial planners as they gear up for retirement.

Women aged 50 and older accounted for 10 per cent of those baby boomers seeking advice, according to BT Financial Group’s Adviser View website that compares customers’ rankings of Westpac-aligned advisers.

But that gap closes sharply as men and women head towards retirement age, according to BT Financial Group general manager of advice, Mark Spiers.

“What we see is more women wanting to take charge of their own financial future, and I would say it’s a growing market,” he said.

Mr Spiers could not pinpoint exactly why there was such a wide divide between the number of baby boomer men and women seeking advice. Australia, however, has a persistent gender pay gap since 1990 at between 15 and 18 per cent, which could indicate a disparity of wealth and the management of their assets including when they seek out financial advice.

Fewer than 10 per cent of clients aged between 35 and 44 years old were interested in obtaining advice, BT’s research showed. “It validates again that as people get to their mid 40s, they start thinking about how they look for advice, [how they can] access that advice and providers,” Mr Spiers added.

BT Financial Group, the wealth arm of major bank Westpac, unveilled its Adviser View register last month to help customers rank and research their advisers. It follows a number of scandals involving dodgy advice at companies such as Commonwealth Financial Planning and Macquarie Private Wealth that tainted the industry.

The federal government is also aiming to introduce a public register for financial advisers next year, as pressure mounts for the planning industry to clean up its image and be more accountable for the advice they give to clients.

Last week, former Commonwealth Bank of Australia boss David Murray handed down his final recommendations in the financial system inquiry report. He asked the government to strengthen product issuer and distribution accountability by ramping up the risk management during product designs.

Advisers have also been put on notice after Mr Murray asked the corporate regulator for more powers, including the ability to bank products when there was a risk of significant consumer detriment.

Mr Spiers said the Future of Financial Regulations (FoFA), which were recently wound back to their original Labor terms and conditions, was a “good thing” for consumers as the industry continues to rebuild trust among disillusioned clients.

“Anything in FoFA that improves the standards for consumers has to be a good thing,” he said.

The wealth group has fielded more than 21,150 searches from Australians on its website, and had more than 32,000 visits.

Ocean plastic count in the trillions

Marine debris in Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize. Photo: Marine Photobank’The ocean is broken’

The first estimate of plastic afloat on the global oceans is a “highly conservative” 5.25 trillion pieces.

The count, which only measures surface-floating plastic, finds itstotal mass would weigh around 268,940 tonnes – though the vast majority of pieces are smaller than a grain of rice.

Spinning out of gyres – rotating ocean currents that act as shredders – tiny plastic has reached all the world’s oceans, according to the study in the journal PLOS One.

“This means marine life is more vulnerable to ingestion through filter feeding and the toxins that come with that,” Marcus Eriksen, of the U.S. 5 Gyres Institute, told Fairfax Media.

“I think it’s safe to say that microplastics impact the entire marine ecosystem,” Dr Eriksen said.

Many studies have found plastics kill or injure marine life. Turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish, seals tangle in straps and nets, seabirds and fish eat fragments thinking them prey.

The UN Environment Program calculates the total natural capital cost to marine ecosystems of plastic littering at $13 billion per year.

The PLOS One study draws together the results of 680 surface net tows and 891 visual surveys around the world, including extensive measurements around the Australian coast.

Co-author Julia Reisser, of the University of Western Australia, said microplastics were very common in our waters – even though they lie outside the great gyres where “garbage patches” of plastic concentrate.

The study calculated around 490 billion pieces are bobbing on the South Pacific’s surface, compared to 1.3 trillion in the Indian Ocean.

“We identified the Indian Ocean as the major source of plastics in the region, with the load coming from the coastal populations and shipping,” Ms Reisser said.

“In my surveys around Australia I also found more plastics floating closer to cities such as Sydney and Brisbane,” she said.

Recent work by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science collected microplastics from sediments throughout Sydney Harbour, and a pilot investigation by the Port Phillip EcoCentre found high levels in surface trawls of Melbourne’s Yarra river.

The trade organisation, Plastics Europe, reported 288 million tonnes of plastic was made worldwide in 2012, meaning the sea surface weight was only 0.1 per cent of annual production.

“We stress that our estimates are highly conservative, and may be considered minimums,” Dr Eriksen said.

He said it was wrong to see the “garbage patches” as final resting places for the plastics. The 5 Gyres Institute study did not count potentially massive amounts of plastic floating deeper in the water column, lying on the seabed, or cast ashore.

Despite the extent of the pollution, Dr Eriksen said he was was optimistic that if people stopped adding to the problem with throw-away plastics, the oceans would clean themselves.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” he said.

Labor elder John Faulkner to resign from Federal Parliament

Senator John Faulkner will announce an early departure from Parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares Senator Faulkner, pictured with current Labor leader Bill Shorten earlier this year, honouring the late Gough Whitlam. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senator John Faulkner during his time as Sports Minister in 1994.

Labor elder John Faulkner will on Thursday announce his plan to bring forward his resignation from Federal Parliament, a move that paves the way for new blood in the Senate but leaves the party deprived of one of its most respected figures.

Senator Faulkner, who is widely lauded within Labor and the Coalition, announced in April this year that he planned to leave Parliament when his term expired in 2017.

“I will not be putting my name forward. A quarter of a century is a long time, and my current term still has three years to run. To seek a further six-year term would be an indulgence,” he said in April.

But Senator Faulkner is now expected to announce he is departing Canberra sooner than expected bringing his 25-year term in Parliament to an end.

ALP president Jenny McAllister is likely to fill the vacancy created by Senator Faulkner’s earlier than expected resignation.

Ms McAllister had already been preselected as Labor’s number two candidate to replace Senator Faulkner.

Senator Faulkner was well known for his role in shepherding former Labor leaders Mark Latham, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard during their election campaigns.

In a sign of his role as guardian of the caucus, he was in the prime minister’s office on the night of June 23, 2010, when Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd brokered a deal on the Labor leadership.

More to come

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