Monthly Archives: December 2018

Sri Lankan leadership change should refocus Australia’s relationship

The surprise defeat of Sri Lanka’s longest serving leader should force Australia to review its immigration policies and “unprincipled and problematic relationship” with the country, human rights advocates say.
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On Friday, the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa was overthrown by his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena who made the shock decision to run against Rajapaksa in the election just six weeks ago.

Until now, Australia’s increasingly cosy relationship with Rajapaksa, who was in his 10th year of power, has been heavily criticised by human rights groups under both the Labor and Coalition governments.

In November 2013 the Abbott government gifted the country two boats to help stem the flow of asylum seekers and then refused to back an independent international investigation into the country’s alleged war crimes in February.

“As part of its one-eyed obsession with stopping the boats, the Australian government has ignored, condoned and even abetted human rights abuses in Sri Lanka,”  said Emily Howie, Director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“Hopefully a new president means a new start, but whether Australia will grasp that opportunity remains to be seen,” she said.

Australian director Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said Australia needed to now consider the voices of the Sri Lankan people rather than making “dodgy deals with authoritarian rulers”.

“For too long, the Australian government simply accepted and regurgitated the Rajapaksa line about improvements in Sri Lanka after the war. But this vote calls that into question, and provides an opportunity for reassessing issues that both governments should take advantage of,” she said.

The Tamil Refugee Council said Australia should shift its focus from “stopping the boats” to stopping the persecution of Tamils on the small island nation.

Tamil asylum seekers are one of the few groups of migrants who are subjected to “enhanced screening” if they arrive in Australia without a valid visa, meaning they are immediately returned back to the country.

“Up to now, Australia, under both Labor and Coalition governments, has backed Rajapaksa and his cabal of war criminals in order to bring an end to the flow of Tamil asylum seekers to our shores,” said the Refugee Council spokesman Trevor Grant. 

“If Australia really wants to stop Tamils fleeing in the long term, then the root cause must be addressed, which is the persecution. We can only hope that this forms part of the discussion in Abbott’s congratulatory phone call to Sirisena,” he said.

In July a boat load of 153 Tamil asylum seekers were intercepted at sea by Australian customs vessels and returned to Sri Lanka, while in late November another boatload of 28 Sri Lankan nationals were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.

The Abbott government has consistently deemed it safe to return Sri Lankan nationals to the country, saying the Civil war has now ended and the country is “at peace”.

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Western Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric on cusp of record transfer deal

Western Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric appears certain to break the Australian transfer record this summer after his club received a $2 million transfer offer from an unnamed Chinese club.
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Juric is in the final five months of his contract with the Wanderers, but may have played his final game for the club with Shanghai Shenhua and another Chinese Super League club submitting lucrative offers of $1.5 million and $2 million respectively to make him a January acquisition.

The 23-year-old forward will become a free agent when his contract expires in June, but the Wanderers could still land an incredible windfall with a late sale.

Regardless of which deal they choose, the club appears certain to create a new transfer record with both offers in excess of the $1.3 million Central Coast Mariners received from Guangzhou R&F for Rostyn Griffiths.

Juric was close to sealing a move to Shanghai in December before negotiations stalled, but the club has since submitted a renewed offer to the Wanderers with a transfer fee of $1.5 million.

The contract on offer to Juric would make him the highest paid Australian footballer; he could earn as much as $18 million over three seasons. The deal includes a minimum salary of $3 million, with bonuses and other benefits on offer.

Club sources suggest Juric is eager to finalise a deal with Shanghai despite a rival Chinese club – from a smaller city – offering a salary worth more than Shenhua’s proposed contract of more than $3 million a season.

However, the player could be set for a clash with the Western Sydney hierarchy, which is understood to be ready to accept the offer from the rival Chinese club, rather than Juric’s preferred destination.

The club has informed Juric’s representatives of their preference to accept the $2 million offer with no guarantee of allowing him to move to Shanghai.

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Emergency departments feel the new year pain

“The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir “The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir
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“The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir

“The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir

Five days after Christmas, the emergency ward at Royal North Shore Hospital was heaving.

More than 220 patients limped, lurched and wheeled through the doors. Ambulances piled up outside. One person waited at least 18 hours to be seen by a doctor. Others not much less.

A medico observing the packed waiting room was alarmed.

“It can’t go on like this,” he said later. “The system will implode.”

The fortnight over Christmas and New Year’s Day is notoriously busy for emergency departments. Boxing Day is the busiest day of the year.

General practices, pharmacies and all the places that people usually go for minor ailments are closed, so instead they drive out to the hospitals and perch on plastic chairs among the bleeding and rasping.

These patients build up like a dam in the emergency department, which has a reduced capacity to feed them through to specialists within the hospital.

Many of the wards have closed. Doctors, nurses and administrators have gone on holidays and there are fewer beds for the patients that need further care.

Those that move into the hospital take longer to be discharged. The entire system slows down.

Mona Vale Hospital’s director of emergency, Andy Ratchford, said the predictability of the Christmas crush did not alter its course.

“Even though we know it’s going to happen, we don’t increase our staffing because we can’t afford it,” Dr Ratchford said.

“We don’t open up more beds because we can’t afford it. So obviously if you’re going to have the same number of beds and the same number of staff and more people coming in, you’re going to run into trouble.”

Patients arriving at Blacktown Hospital on Monday felt the brunt of that trouble as they waited in corridors, on stretchers and waiting room beds as night turned to day and back into night again.

One 63-year-old woman, weak from days of vomiting, waited close to 40 hours to be moved into a ward.

During that time the paramedics who delivered her to hospital needed to be relieved by another team, because they are not permitted to leave patients until beds are found for them.

Health administrators declined to comment on reports that 60 beds out of a total of 450 at Blacktown Hospital were closed over Christmas. Other sources have put the figure at closer to 40.

One staff member says while this might be reasonable in a hospital with extra beds, Blacktown has no surge capacity to cope with the straitened resources.

“Closing large numbers of beds over the Christmas period was always going to result in [delays],” the source says.

Australasian College of Emergency Medicine’s Simon Judkins says trolley blocking – leaving patients on stretchers until they can be admitted – is less an emergency department problem than a hospital problem because it cannot be fixed without everyone working together to improve flow.

A 2013 analysis by the NSW Auditor General found it was increasing. An average of 20 ambulances spend their days in hospitals instead of on the road, the report found, a figure that has tripled inside a decade.

Some emergency physicians believe more surgeons should be encouraged to continue working over the summer to open more beds for people flowing through from emergency departments.

Evening the spread of elective surgery would also reduce pressure in the flu season over winter, when it often has to be cancelled for spikes in admissions from elderly patients, Dr Judkins says.

“They do save a hell of a lot of money at that time by putting people on leave and closing theatres,” Dr Judkins says.

“The problem with what happened at Blacktown is it probably got to the point where they just closed too many beds.

“And to try and ramp up the whole hospital machine, to try to get people discharged, is just impossible because all those people who would normally be there – the social workers, the pharmacists, the physiotherapists – are all on annual leave.”

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner is familiar with the argument that hospitals should not shut down over summer, as she made it herself in opposition. She says hospitals use algorithms to calculate the demand and ensure they have enough staff and the problems at Blacktown were caused by an unanticipated spike in demand.

“We’ve stopped the long, long shutdowns that Labor used to implement – eight to nine weeks,” she says.

“This Christmas New Year, most hospitals shut for two to two-and-a-half weeks and that’s just normal.”

One year she invited surgeons to volunteer to continue providing elective surgery over the Christmas period, but only two took up the call.

“I’m not going to force doctors to work when they want to spend time with their families,” she says.

As the population ages, emergency department presentations are forecasted to increase  10 per cent annually.

The scale of the looming influx has forced health administrators around the world to seek new ways of alleviating pressure on emergency departments.

Most hospitals now recognise that emergency department blockages are not just a problem for the emergency department, but that the whole hospital needs to work together.

NSW Health introduced the Whole of Hospital Program in 2012, which includes strategies such as ensuring that appointments are set aside for emergency patients to have x-rays and MRI scans, so they do not wait all day for appointments, and that beds are cleaned and ready.

One study identified 24 to 33 per cent of latent capacity in Australian hospitals.

Campbelltown Hospital, which is  upgrading its emergency department facilities, has reported huge improvements since it started on the program.

It now offloads 92 per cent of patients from ambulances within 30 minutes, compared with 60 per cent before it joined the program, and with 160 to 180 presentations per day, it is one of the busiest emergency departments in town.

Director of medical services, Sellappa Prahalath, said the hospital previously struggled to meet its key performance indicators.

“We wanted to get the whole of hospital involved in the process. The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved.

“Systems were put in place which expedited flow.”

Dr Ratchford said the Whole of Hospital Program had led to a huge improvement at Mona Vale Hospital, but the forecasted increase in emergency presentations loomed large.

“Whole of Hospital can help patients get through a bit quicker, but it’s never going to keep pace with that amount of presentations.

“There are definite improvements that have come about in the last couple of years, but in a way it’s just chipping around the edges.”

The scene at Royal North Shore Hospital on December 30 was not outside the usual range for the busy festive period. It took an average 29 minutes to be seen by a clinician on that day, a further three hours to be admitted and another hour before a bed was ready on the ward.

The local health service was not able to comment on the patient who waited 18 hours.

At St George Hospital, 250 patients swung through the doors on each of their two busiest days, Boxing Day and January 2, but in a sign that patients were flowing, ambulances were waiting only 15 minutes to transfer patients.

Campbelltown Hospital fielded 218 presentations on Boxing Day and a similar number on New Year’s Day, but nearly all of them were off their stretchers within 30 minutes.

Dr Judkins says sometimes closing down beds for surgery over summer means less competition for emergency patients.

“But it’s a fine balance. If you get the mix wrong, you end up with a situation like Blacktown.”

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The perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s vision

Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over KuwaitPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz KuwaitSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures
Shanghai night field

Ange Postecoglou has always hoped  that Australia would play a certain way but the process of regeneration – and a string of difficult opponents – has meant his vision has been a slow, often frustrating burn.

But on the first night of the Asian Cup on home soil, against an opponent of dubious quality – who sacked their coached after a 5-0 defeat to Oman only six weeks ago – the time for deliverance had come. They didn’t disappoint.

It must be frustrating for the coach to not have elite technical players like his predecessors but, regardless, he’s committed to forging ahead with his possession-based style until it becomes second nature.

Kuwait, finally, were a team that allowed the Socceroos to practise what they preach. They did not press, instead preferring to hanging as deep as the AAMI Park margins allowed.

Harder for Australia to break down, yes, but offering enough space for them to grow in confidence. Postecoglou has seldom been afforded that luxury. His players gobbled it up.

A 4-1-4-1 formation doesn’t sound attacking but it actually meant the Socceroos had five players pushing up at any one time – four attacking midfielders just behind Tim Cahill. And, almost every time you looked up, the players had rotated with each other without looking out of place.

Mathew Leckie and the sharp James Troisi swapped on the left, Robbie Kruse was mostly as a number ten but drifted wide or helped Tim Cahill if he so desired. Massimo Luongo was fairly committed to the right flank – and was probably Australia’s best – but Ivan Franjic’s energy gave him ample support.

What does all that mean? An avalanche of numbers in advanced positions, perhaps the most an Australian team has had in years. It can’t always be this way, certainly not against elite football nations, but Australia, at last, set out to dominate a team they should dominate.

It could have all gone to pieces, too, had they lost their heads when Kuwait went 1-0 ahead.

Herein lies the problem with man-marking. It sounds – to our traditional Australian sports mind – to be risk-averse. But if one defender makes even so much as a half-mistake, the attacking team has the upper hand.

Australia set up fine at the corner, but when two players went to same man, the Kuwaitis had a spare. That spare was Hussain Fadhel, who was lost by Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic. Mat Ryan was stranded as Fadhel scored the tournament’s first goal.

But the goal came so early that Australia had time to re-group. Overloaded with attacking players anyway, the Socceroos needed no tactical adjustment. They just had to stay composed and stick to the plan.

Mile Jedinak’s free kick, won after Kruse was brought down, was inches away. The interplay, back and forth, in the middle of the park and the edge of the box, only increased.

Fahad Al Ansari – the 195 centimetre man-mountain in the centre of the Kuwait midfield – did all he could to clog the space and organise his teammates. The wing-backs, Fahad Al Hajri on the right and Khaled Al Qahtani on the left, were fighting to stay above water. Something had to give.

Soon after, Luongo beat out three Kuwaitis to pick out Cahill, who stabbed the ball home with a Totti-like finish. You just cannot deny his ability to find an extra gear in the national shirt.

Now they wanted the lead before half-time and that’s exactly what they got. Franjic, who used to play down the road in a local competition until a few years ago, showed great ability by switching onto his left foot and delivering a cross that Luongo somehow rose to meet.

Mile Jedinak added a third from the spot in the second half but Al-Azraq were already beaten.

That gave Postecoglou the ultimate luxury as the game wore on, resting Cahill and Kruse, bringing on Tomi Juric and Nathan Burns. He then brought on the old stager, Mark Bresciano, for Luongo, for some feel-good home-town minutes. Troisi merely iced the cake in injury time.

The Asian Cup has begun, and for Australia, it couldn’t have started any better.

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Meet Luke Foley: Labor’s reluctant leader

Luke Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead. Photo: James Brickwood.
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Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Luke Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead. Photo: James Brickwood.

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Luke Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead. Photo: James Brickwood.

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Early last Wednesday morning, Luke Foley hit the footpaths of suburban Auburn, meeting residents of one of Sydney’s most culturally diverse communities in the rapidly rising western suburbs heat.

By day’s end he was rubbing shoulders with the city’s elite in the air-conditioned comfort of the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground, nestled in the affluent eastern suburbs.

Among those keen to congratulate the newly appointed NSW Labor Party leader were his friends, former National Australia Bank chief executive Cameron Clyne and John McCarthy, Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See.

“He brings Pope Francis’s best wishes to my leadership,” Foley jokes of McCarthy as he strolls around the SCG in a vain attempt, given the number of people congratulating him, to snatch a few hours watching Australia put India to the sword on day two of the Sydney Test.

Such is the breadth of experience for NSW’s new opposition leader, fewer than three days into the job.

In reality, Foley’s appearance in the members’ has little to do with his new status.

A cricket tragic, he has been an SCG member since 1991-92, after his mother, Helen, put his name on the waiting list when he was a child.

He has tried to attend all five days of the Sydney Test ever since that January in 1992, when he saw Shane Warne take his first Test wicket – that of current Indian team manager Ravi Shastri.

A day with the members is just part of who he has long been.

A day in suburban Auburn, it could be argued, is a comparatively new experience.

Foley, 44, his wife Edel and their children Aoife, 8, Niamh, 6, and Patrick, 5, live in Concord West, half a kilometre outside the boundary of the Auburn electorate.

Until now he has had little need to immerse himself in the neighbouring community, enjoying as he has a comfortable seat in the NSW Legislative Council, where members do not directly represent electorates.

That is about to change, after Foley  was preselected on Thursday as  Labor’s candidate for Auburn at the March 28 election, so he can   move to the lower house.

From now until polling day, Foley will need to devote a large chunk of his time to getting to know the people he hopes will make it happen.

After effectively having the decks cleared for him by ALP head office, he also needs to counter the impression Auburn is nothing more than a port of convenience for the new party leader and the Labor machine.

Fortunately for Foley, Auburn is a relatively safe Labor seat, because doing so would otherwise be quite an ask, given the pressure already building on him less than three months from polling day.

It’s all a far cry from how Foley envisaged his summer break only a couple of weeks ago.

“I was looking forward to a Christmas break and then John [Robertson] unexpectedly resigned two days prior to Christmas,” Foley says.

“That threw everything into a state of flux.”

Soon after Robertson quit as opposition leader – after it emerged he signed a letter of request for Lindt siege gunman Man Haron Monis as his local MP in 2011 – many eyes turned to Foley.

Would he finally succumb to two years of urging from his colleagues, who hoped he would take the leadership at some stage?

Foley says his immediate reaction was to feel “both sorry for John and immediately apprehensive that the party would turn to me”.

“Before December 23 all of the approaches were in the realm of the hypothetical,” he says.

“When John resigned suddenly it wasn’t hypothetical any more. It was very real, it was immediately real. And I knew I had a decision to make.”

Apprehensive. It’s not a descriptor you would expect from a career politician effectively being handed the leadership of the NSW Labor Party on a plate, thanks to the strong support – many would say intervention – of ALP officials in Sussex Street.

But Foley insists he has never coveted the leadership. Yes, he has “given it some thought”, but says he has long seen himself in something of a consigliore role, serving as an adviser at the right hand of the leader.

“I was happy to be an important figure but a step out of the limelight,” he says, much in the style of the man to whom he is closest in politics, the respected retiring ALP Senator John Faulkner.

“I just never thought [leadership] was me”.

This will come as an incongruous statement to anyone who has observed Foley at close quarters in his first few days as leader.

He exuded confidence at his inaugural news conference and ever since has carried a remarkable lightness of being.

“A wise man taught me the importance of flicking the switch to vaudeville when the time comes,” Foley jokes.

“Now that I’m doing it, it’s no holds barred. I’m out there. I know what it involves – living my life in the full public glare. And I will give it my all.”

The line, “flick the switch to Vaudeville” was of course famously uttered by former prime minister Paul Keating, who said it was required from leaders “every now and then”.

Keating, along with former prime minister Bob Hawke and the late former NSW premier Neville Wran, are three men Foley mentions as leadership role models.

This is because they “brought a breadth to Labor’s agenda”. Indeed, at that first news conference, Foley raised a few eyebrows when he announced he was “not an ideologue” when it came to privatisation of state assets.

He says it was a deliberate statement as part of an outline of his personal vision and values.

“I don’t want to run simply a narrow industrial agenda,” he says.

“I want to run a broad Labor agenda that talks about social policy, that talks about the environment, that talks about the arts and culture and that relates to business, supports private sector activity, with all of it underpinned by Labor values, in particular a compassionate heart.”

The privatisation statement will also be read, at least in part, as an attempt to deflect a label the Coalition government is already applying to Foley: just another union hack.

Foley spent seven years as an organiser and then secretary of the Australian Services Union.

This, and his subsequent role as assistant secretary of the NSW Labor Party, have been used to frame him as a party drone bereft of life experience beyond politics.

In contrast, Premier Mike Baird spent many years in investment banking before entering Parliament.

Foley rejects this as “a tired old refrain from the Liberals”.

“I’m very proud of the years I spent representing community workers,” he says.

“This is a workforce that is the lowest paid in the country. An 80 per cent female workforce in disability services, refuges, drug and alcohol rehab. These people work with the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised.

“I think it’s a strange old world when working with people in the welfare sector is marked down as not real-life experience but working for a merchant bank is.”

This is about as close as Foley has come to a chip at his new opponent, Baird – for the time being, at least.

“I respect him,” Foley says. “I have no dislike for Mike whatsoever. We’ve never exchanged a cross word – that will change. I’m determined that this will be an election contest about ideas without ever being personal.”

Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead, with fewer than 11 weeks before polling day and the task of convincing voters to dump a first-term government with a 68-seat majority in a 93-seat Parliament.

Like every leader before him he will not countenance defeat: “No team ever runs on to the sporting field aiming to lose. I have to aim to win.”

But he acknowledges it’s “a huge mountain to climb and I don’t underestimate the scale of the task”.

“But I enter the campaign with the good wishes of the entire Labor movement and I will proudly lead them into this contest.”



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Postecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz Kuwait

Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over KuwaitThe perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s visionSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures
Shanghai night field

Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou was all smiles after his side eased into Asian Cup reckoning with an opening night blitz of Kuwait, saying his team showed patience, maturity, discipline and no little skill to take control of the game after falling behind to a shock early goal from the visitors.

“I am pleased with the result, it was a great reward for the players’ efforts,” he said. “We conceded a goal we should never have conceded. There was really good energy and intent in the tempo we played. …we got the goals we deserved.

“Sometimes things don’t go to plan and it’s how you react that’s important. I would have preferred we didn’t concede (but) they didn’t go into their shells.”

Australia again conceded a sloppy goal from a set piece, but on this occasion Postecoglou was prepared to overlook the error.

“At the end of a 4-1 victory I am pretty sure that most of the emphasis will be on the positives.. That kind of goal was unacceptable, they were pretty disappointed, we need to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

“It was really self-inflicted. The positives far outweigh any negatives today. It’s not easy to play against an opponent who sits back in their own half. It can get frustrating and you have to be patient. I thought the quality of our goals was good and there were some well-constructed moves.”

Postecoglou said the equaliser was the critical goal even though he felt his side was getting on top before that. It gave his side the belief that they could go on and win a game he felt would be stretched in the latter stages as the Kuwaitis would struggle to match the pace and physical intensity of his side.

He was delighted with the showing of Massimo Luongo, who started because, said Postecoglou, Australia was always going to have a lot of the ball and he wanted a midfielder who would be a goal threat.

“Massimo was outstanding, there was some real urgency about what he did. He’s one of the guys we have blooded in the past 14 months, we have worked with him, perservered with him, put him into camps.

“I figured this game would pan out where we would have a lot of the ball and in those kind of situations he would be a goal threat. We wanted to win well tonight, it’s important, the first game is crucial.”

And, of course, Postecoglou could not hide his admiration for the contribution of the evergreen Cahill, who got the leveller, not with his head, as is so often the case, but with a shot from a pass by Luongo.

“Tim Cahill is still a fantastic player.. he’s still very dangerous in the box… the way the team plays suits him as well. There wouldn’t be a defender in the world today who would like to be one-on-one with Tim Cahill. It was also pleasing to see other guys get some goals tonight and get some confidence. It shows we have multiple threats.”

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With Luke Foley, another leader rises in Labor’s time-honoured way

No contest: Luke Foley is likely to stand unopposed in the ALP preselection battle. Photo: James Brickwood No contest: Luke Foley is likely to stand unopposed in the ALP preselection battle. Photo: James Brickwood
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No contest: Luke Foley is likely to stand unopposed in the ALP preselection battle. Photo: James Brickwood

No contest: Luke Foley is likely to stand unopposed in the ALP preselection battle. Photo: James Brickwood

Next Saturday, Labor branch members were due to gather at a venue in Auburn to cement Luke Foley’s future in the NSW Parliament.

There they would have been asked to decide who will be the ALP candidate to represent them and other Auburn residents at the March 28 state election.

The branch members were expected to endorse a man whom many of them have probably never met.

But in the end, there was no need for even a vote. When nominations closed last Thursday, Foley was the only candidate and officially preselected by default.

The whole exercise was a charade, undertaken for two reasons.

First, and most obviously, ALP head office wants to be sure their new parliamentary leader secures a safe seat in the lower house to take up the fight to Premier Mike Baird in the bear pit.

Auburn was the most suitable because Foley lives just outside its boundaries and – thanks to allegations of branch stacking – the preselection battle between sitting MP Barbara Perry and local councillor Hicham Zraika was not yet decided.

Second, and more pointedly, as the new leader Foley wants to keep his reputation intact.

As a leading member of the Left faction, Foley has spoken in favour of granting ordinary Labor members more say over who represents them in the parliament.

To allow himself to be forced upon branch members as their representative in Auburn would be starkly at odds with that position.

So when it became obvious a head office “parachute” was on offer that would have simply installed him as the candidate, Foley quickly declared he would not accept one and called for a rank-and-file preselection.

The party obliged. Its national executive cancelled the current preselection and called a brand new ballot for January 17.

Shortly afterwards Zraika and Perry miraculously announced they would not nominate against Foley, ultimately leaving him as the sole candidate.

Now, to anyone observing this process in the real world this was clearly a carefully crafted political fix. But not in the parallel universe of the NSW Labor party, apparently.

Foley continues to protest that because a rank-and-file preselection has been called he is prostrating himself before Auburn branch members and, ipso facto, his hands are clean.

But is this really how Foley’s role in all of this should be read?

Has he actually behaved genuinely as a man of principle? Or has he in fact turned a blind eye to the scheming of party powerbrokers (as a former party official he would know full well how these things are organised)?

It’s an important consideration, because as a keen student of ALP history, Foley knows only too well that the answer has the capacity to put an early spin on his leadership.

Any suggestion that he is indebted to the “faceless men” at head office undermines the idea he is his own man. Just ask Kristina Keneally, who struggled with being branded a “puppet” of Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi.

This also has the capacity to reflect on his subsequent approach to internal democratic reform.

Any future wavering in this area could be seen as pandering to the Sussex Street powerbrokers who remain opposed to key changes such as the introduction of direct election of upper house candidates.

It’s likely that the answer is: a bit of both. There is little to suggest Foley does not genuinely believe in the rights of ordinary branch members.

But he also appears to be holding his nose when it comes to acknowledging the unmistakeable odour of a fix emanating from head office.

Perhaps this is understandable. Foley and the ALP’s decision were all about expediency in extraordinary circumstances. John Robertson resigned two days before Christmas, leaving the party little choice but to move as quickly and decisively as possible.

But it’s also somewhat disappointing for a party that for the four years since its worst ever election loss has promised to be turning over a new leaf.

As Labor itself has stated on so often, the key to rebuilding its brand is to re-establish the trust of the community. It is also key to growing the party with concrete demonstrations that the concerns of ordinary members are looked after.

Being honest with voters – and members – about why the party provided Foley a parachute – to give him and Labor the best possible chance at the forthcoming election – would have gone a long way towards doing that.

Twitter: @seannic

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We can’t get carried away, claims Socceroos’ goalscoring hero Tim Cahill

Australian captain Jedinak suffers injury scareMatch report: Australia 4 Kuwait 1Socceroos perfect startPostecoglou has reason to smileANZ Stadium won’t won’t be ramped up
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Australia might have trounced Kuwait 4-1 in the opening match of the Asian Cup but the team’s talisman, Tim Cahill, believes the Socceroos will only improve as the tournament goes on – and says they won’t get carried away with their dream start.

Ange Postecoglou’s side fell behind to an early goal at AAMI Park in Melbourne but hit back in sensational fashion, blitzing the opposition with an attacking barrage that Kuwait’s defence couldn’t handle.

The result puts the Socceroos in the box seat to challenge for top spot in the group ahead of their upcoming matches against Oman in Sydney and South Korea in Brisbane but Cahill did his best to keep a lid on expectations, despite conceding it was “a great start to a big tournament”.

“We won’t get carried away. We’re going to go away and look at how we can play better,” he said after the match. “They frustrated us a little being behind the ball but we’re a fit team and we’ve trained and prepared for months and month for this competition. I’m just really proud of the boys.

“We just need to stay disciplined and reward ourselves with wins. That was the first mission, to win tonight, and the next is to prepare and get ready for a difficult game against Oman.”

Cahill reckoned the Socceroos “could have won that game 8-3” – but also suggested they’ve played better games in the past 12 months, despite hardly having won a match under Postecoglou.

“Listen, I think we’ve played way better than that and haven’t been rewarded, to be honest,” he said. “We’ve played so many games and lost but our football has been amazing. I wouldn’t say it’s our best [performance]. We’ve played better but conceded goals and lost but we knew the cherry at the end was to get ready for the Asian Cup.”

The 35-year old was full of praise for Massimo Luongo – who set Cahill up for the opening goal – and also for Mat Ryan, a pair he described as “exceptional”.

“Down 1-0, he [Luongo] was brave, he wanted the ball, he stood up on the big occasion with the way he was dribbling and holding off players,” Cahill said. “When he reversed it [the cross for Cahill’s goal], I was so happy, because I knew any good contact meant [the goalkeeper] had no chance.

“When you look at the saves “Maty” made at critical times, it’s a sign of the maturing of him as a goalkeeper and as a player. In these games there’s going to be long spells where there’s not much for him to do. But he pulled off two great saves from two goal-scoring opportunities.”

That equaliser rejuvenated belief in the team after Hussain Fadhel bagged the opener for the visitors. Cahill said he knew he had to do something to lift those around him.

“When the ball hit the back of the net, you could see the boys get confidence from that. We grew. It’s those occasions I thrive off,” he said. “I had to wait a long time to get one chance. I was holding back the two defenders, they thought they had me, but it only takes one second. I normally have three chances every game and I missed one which I was upset about but I got an important one that got us back into the game.”

Describing his own match as a “good little run [of] 60 minutes” after six weeks without a competitive match, Cahill was rested for the remaining 30 minutes by Postecoglou, giving Tomi Juric an extended run at the point of attack, with Nathan Burns also impressing off the bench.

“Tomi and “Burnsy” got a taste of it and now they’ve got to be ruthless and really take the opportunity,” Cahill said. “When you get a taste for it, you want more. It’s great because we want to bed the players in and the boss believes in youngsters. It’s not a bad time for me to be coming off.”

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Campbell Newman in the soup with Queensland election

Premier Campbell Newman is in the unenviable position of fighting for his own political life. Premier Campbell Newman is in the unenviable position of fighting for his own political life.
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Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the election would be a “David and Goliath” battle. Photo: Tony Moore

Premier Campbell Newman is in the unenviable position of fighting for his own political life.

Premier Campbell Newman is in the unenviable position of fighting for his own political life.

When Premier Campbell Newman announced a January 31 election only Queenslanders were surprised.

Few probably knew Newman had up until June to call the election but they certainly did know he had a lot of gall interrupting the cricket and the rest of summer with his campaign.

It was another reason for him to be disliked. Newman won a landslide victory in 2012 but his popularity and that of his Liberal National Party government is badly spoiled.

Labor and some of the commentariat are hyping Queensland election as a one-term government and a litmus test for Tony Abbott.

But the reality is that the abrasive Newman is his own worst enemy. While polls put the major parties neck and neck, there is little doubt that the LNP will win. Most interest is centred around Newman doing a John Howard and losing his seat.

Newman put a positive spin on calling an early election.

He has taken flak for tough anti-bikie legislation, for his controversial appointment of poorly credentialled Chief Justice Tim Carmody and for sacking 14,000 public servants. Meanwhile, Queensland’s resources boom vanished, unemployment became the nation’s equal highest and Newman’s “Can do” style has turned him into a “Can’t” for many voters.

“Queenslanders don’t want and don’t need months of endless politicking and uncertainty as people jostle up to an election date,” Newman said on Tuesday.

“We can’t afford to lose one day because that’s bad for the economy and bad for jobs. We simply can’t have the sort of political chaos that we have seen in other states. This is going to be a tight election. Labor, through the support of wasted votes going to independents and minor parties, could fall across the line. Annastacia Palaszczuk could be the next premier of Queensland if people buy some of the nonsense that the Labor party are spouting.”

Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team of eight MPs quickly recalibrated and got back to business as usual.

Australians care little about elections outside home states but Queensland’s rendition of politics continues to attract a kind of amused interest.

Perhaps it’s the bare-faced cheek. That was supposed to end when Queensland’s politics joined the mundanity down south at the end of the Bjelke-Petersen era. But it’s hard to keep a good man or woman down.

A Bjelke-Petersen has again entered the fray. John, son of Joh, is the leader of the Palmer United Party and is standing against Queensland’s deputy premier.

And Pauline Hanson has announced she will contest a seat near her old Ipswich stomping ground.

Both are counting on disenchantment with major parties and are campaigning against coal seam gas but they must hope Queenslanders have short memories.

John Bjelke-Petersen has long been a beneficiary of government largesse: In the early 1980s Joh Bjelke-Petersen bought a $1.45 million family cattle property, “Ten Mile” behind Rockhampton to set John up for life. Not content with partly paying for it with corruptly obtained funds, Joh then had Queensland taxpayers shell out $4 million for a bitumen road to the front gate. Another few million dammed the local river for John’s herd.

Hanson, a serial political failure who treats the Australian electoral system as her own personal piggy bank, wants to laugh all the way once more. Over the years she has pocketed some $200,000 a time from the public purse to cover the costs of several failed Senate campaigns. Her vote has declined in NSW and Queensland elections and she faces a Liberal National Party incumbent with a 15 per cent margin.

The LNP won 78 seats in 2012 after Anna Bligh and her state asset sales left Labor a smoking ruin, reduced to a desultory  seven seats. By-elections have since returned two seats.

Clearly influenced by Bill Shorten’s “zingers”, the plodding but credible Palaszczuk, daughter of a former Labor MP, said Newman had taken Queenslanders for granted and torn the state apart.

“This is going to be a very tough election … this is going to be a David and Goliath battle,” she said.

Meanwhile Newman is in the unenviable position of fighting for his own political life.

He was forced to stand for Ashgrove, a former Labor stronghold in Brisbane’s west until he took it from sitting member Kate Jones with a 5.7 per cent margin. Jones is running again.

“The trouble for Campbell,” says academic and historian Ross Fitzgerald, “is that Ashgrove is one of those leafy electorates full of civil servants, academics and Greenies – all the people he sacked or alienated.”

Nobody in the LNP will discuss what strategy is in place to replace Newman if he loses his seat. But power brokers are said to be considering making making another MP fall on a sword.

Fitzgerald, the author of a seminal Queensland history, said it one rumour had Liberal power broker and former senator Santo Santoro thowing his weight behind Lawrence Springborg.

“Lawrence led the conservatives to three defeats but he is safe, strong and respected,” Fitzgerald said.

“The old Nationals rump gave way to Campbell. If he fails, they have every right to demand their man gets the leadership.”

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Federal agency to prosecute ACT CFMEU for safety breaches

Six senior ACT union officials could be slugged with more than $1 million in fines for alleged breaches of safety laws on Canberra construction sites.
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But CFMEU ACT state secretary Dean Hall has labelled the allegations a “petty” stunt by those who “would rather put profits before safety”.

Fair Work Building and Construction last month filed papers in the Federal Circuit Court alleging 32 breaches of the Fair Work Act by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union and its officials between August 2013 and March 2014.

The officials involved include Mr Hall, assistant secretary Jason O’Mara, former Canberra Raider and now union organiser Johnny Lomax, and organiser Zachary Smith .

Documents reveal the FWBC – the federal government agency that enforces industrial relations laws in Australia’s building and construction industry – will allege 18 breaches by the union organisers and a further 18 breaches by the ACT branch.

The offences carry maximum penalties of $10,200 per breach for an individual, and $51,000 per breach for a union.

The alleged contraventions happened across three construction sites in Franklin, Harrison, and Wright – all large-scale apartment and townhouse developments – over a seven-month period.

They include claims the defendants failed to produce an entry permit for inspection when requested, did not follow occupational health and safety requirements of the construction sites, obstructed employees from doing their job, and misrepresented authorisation to be on site unaccompanied.

It also alleged the ACT branch, by the actions of its officials, contravened the Fair Work Act.

On one occasion, Mr Hall is alleged to have disrupted a concrete pour and threatened to stop another.

Mr Hall reportedly said to Mr Lomax: “Watch what happens when I stop their pour. There’s going to be a punch on here.”

Mr Lomax then allegedly told a subcontractor that the developers of the site had a “bad attitude and it needs to be fixed. They’ll get plenty of trouble when they start that Harrison site across the road as well.”

Another time, when told to obey site rules of being chaperoned by staff, Mr Smith allegedly yelled and pointed a finger in the site manager’s face, saying: “I’m here as a WH&S officer! You can’t f—-ing tell me what to do.”

When the manager then threatened to end the visit if Mr Smith did not rejoin the escorted group, the union official allegedly called the man a “f—— idiot”.

FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said the alleged offences showed an increasing trend of disregarding right of entry laws.

“Right of entry laws exist to minimise disruption to construction sites while affording union officials the right to do their jobs,” Mr Hadgkiss said.

“Reports that union officials continue to break right of entry laws and show no respect for occupational health and safety laws once on site are alarming.

“Safety is paramount on construction sites and it is frightening that some union officials appear to have no regard for safety rules designed to protect them and others.”

Mr Hall said the defendants would fight the allegations.

He accused the Commonwealth agency of provoking builders to be adversarial against unions, rather than working together to fix workplace issues and secure worker safety.

“The FWBC, for political reasons, is helping companies put profit before safety,” Mr Hall said.

“It shows they either have no understanding of the safety, don’t care about safety, or they’re solely politically motivated.

“If we can see clear breaches of safety we have a moral obligation to go and warn the person.”

Mr Hall said a defence would be filed in the coming weeks.

The court battle comes after the ACT Government spent millions to improve workplace safety across the territory.

The government was forced to take action because the ACT recorded one of the worst serious injury rates in Australia, with four men killed in workplace accidents in 2011 and 2012.

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