Call for new approach to Asia relations

AUSTRALIA’S political leaders have been criticised by some of the most senior foreign policy advisers for clumsy handling of relations with Asia and slavish devotion to the US alliance.
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A conference held in the NSW Parliament yesterday by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, a federal government chartered and assisted body, heard calls from eminent diplomats for a more balanced approach to the rise of Asia.

The institute’s national president, John McCarthy, who has been Australia’s envoy to Washington, Jakarta, Tokyo and New Delhi, said Australians should not let themselves be led to think they have to choose between new ties with China and the military alliance with the US.

Most thinking Australians supported the ANZUS treaty alliance with the US, making it difficult to change ”even if we personally disagreed with aspects of it”, he said.

”But there is a lot to be said for paying our alliance dues only where it is strictly necessary in terms of the alliance – we don’t necessarily have to please the Americans, as it is often put,” he said. ”We have to honour the terms of the alliance, as a responsible ally will do [but] not say things or offer things that really aren’t necessary.”

He said the the announcement last November that the US would station 2500 marines in Darwin for six months every year was an example of what could have handled better. ”The Chinese and the Indonesians could have been forewarned, very seriously, two or three days before, and explained very very carefully at a very senior level what it all meant. None of that was done.”

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Still in the dark, with governor on the defensive

Defensive … the Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, before the House of Representatives economics committee in Canberra yesterday.THE testimony given yesterday by the RBA governor, Glenn Stevens, about the Reserve’s handling of the bank-note bribery scandal was faltering, defensive and, at times, evasive.
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It was in keeping with Mr Stevens’s past appearance at the committee and highlighted again the need for a proper inquiry into the affair.

Mr Stevens was asked about briefings given to senior officers of the RBA in 2007 about bribery and corruption in its subsidiaries.

The facts are clear. A briefing was given to the RBA deputy governor Ric Battellino by Brian Hood, the company secretary of RBA firm Note Printing Australia. The briefings raised serious allegations of bribery and corruption, including the claim that a Malaysian agent was paying off politicians.

Earlier this month, the federal police told Parliament it expected serious bribery allegations received by a Commonwealth agency to be reported to police.

But the RBA didn’t call in the cops in 2007. The AFP were only called after it was reported by the Herald and The Age in 2009. Even then, the RBA didn’t immediately hand over a damning 2007 memo written by Mr Hood.

And, for the past five years, the RBA has chosen not to tell the public or Parliament about the 2007 briefings, even when the opportunity begged.

Instead, Mr Stevens has stuck to the line that the RBA was in the dark about the alleged bribery in its subsidiaries until the 2009 media expose´.

This week, the Herald and the ABC demolished that claim by publishing the contents of the 2007 briefings. The revelations expose a major corporate governance failure at the top of the RBA, as well as an inability to be open about this failure.

At the economics committee yesterday, the Liberal MP Tony Smith asked Mr Stevens when he’d read a 2007 corruption memo addressed to his then deputy, Mr Battellino.

Mr Stevens said that, according to his memory, he didn’t read it in 2007 but may have later.

He thought Mr Battellino “may have been shown a copy at some point”, despite the fact that the memo was addressed directly to him. But Mr Stevens said he couldn’t be “certain of that.” Despite the intense media pressure surrounding the issue earlier this week, Mr Stevens said he hadn’t spoken to Mr Battellino in the last few days.

Mr Stevens couldn’t recall if he was told about Mr Hood’s 2007 meeting with Mr Battelino prior to it occurring. Asked if he had read the memo in the lead-up to his February committee appearance, Mr Stevens couldn’t recall.

When asked by Mr Smith if it would have been in the “interests of openness” for Mr Battelino (who retired in February) to have told the committee during previous hearings about the explosive 2007 briefings, Mr Stevens answered: “I didn’t myself feel that that particular event was of the importance that you seem to feel it is.”

This was a remarkable answer: the “particular event” Mr Stevens felt was unimportant involved a senior company executive exposing details of the most serious scandal to hit corporate Australia in decades.

After just several minutes of questioning by Smith, Mr Stevens was thrown a Dorothy Dixer that would make any backbencher proud. Committee chair and Labor MP Julie Owens clumsily tried to give Mr Stevens an out by stating that his past claim that the RBA knew nothing about corruption prior to 2009 had been misrepresented.

Ms Owens claimed that because the RBA corruption briefings in 2007 dealt with Note Printing Australia and not Securency – and because Mr Stevens was responding to questions about Securency when claiming the RBA knew nothing – he was in the clear.

But Mr Hood’s 2007 briefings to the RBA dealt with NPA and Securency. His memo clearly stated that both firms were using a potentially corrupt Malaysian middleman.

Mr Hood’s briefings also stated that Graeme Thompson, the chairman of NPA, had authorised a payment to this middleman despite probity concerns. Mr Thompson was also the chairman of Securency. The 2007 briefings also accuse Chris Ogilvy, who was the chief executive of NPA and a director of Securency, of malfeasance.

But, instead of ensuring Mr Stevens faced appropriate oversight in her role as committee chair, Ms Owens went in to bat for him. In doing so, she appears to have followed the lead of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, whose three-years-and-counting response to this growing scandal has been to say nothing and do nothing. By not confronting the unpleasant questions about the RBA and other government agencies that flow from this scandal, the Gillard government is rapidly becoming part of the cover-up.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

PM tries to tame beast risen from the grave

“Indeed, every union has what it refers to as a re-election fund, slush fund, whatever, which is the fund that the leadership team … puts money so that they can finance their next election campaign” … Prime Minister Julia Gillard.What’s in a name, Shakespeare’s Juliet doth often ask. For shaken Julia, it seems, the answer is quite a lot. Indeed, just what is in the public understanding of ”re-election slush fund” may well determine whether the Prime Minister can extricate herself from swirling allegations that she acted improperly while a solicitor two decades ago.
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If she cannot, her critics will claim vindication in their portrayal of Gillard as a person of questionable trustworthiness and poor judgment. Her electoral stocks will further suffer. If she can knock the allegations into a cocked hat, Gillard will get her head above the parapet probably for the first time since the equivocal election, although she and Labor won’t be out of the woods.

Until a week ago, with mixed success, Gillard employed stonewalling, indignation, intimidation and haranguing to keep her accusers mostly quarantined to internet blogging in the matter we will attempt to outline here. Last year, she scored a humiliating triumph over mainstream journalists who attempted to report suspicions against her. But she didn’t count on her sacked attorney-general Robert McClelland opening old wounds about the extent of union corruption and recent corroboration from people well placed to challenge Gillard’s clean-sheet approach.

As a Slater and Gordon solicitor in Melbourne, Gillard advised her then boyfriend – an Australian Workers Union rising star, Bruce Wilson – on constructing a union facade, the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, from which Wilson and his AWU sidekick Ralph Blewitt allegedly misdirected hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The association’s stated purpose – at least according to a 1992 public notice – was to promote and encourage ”workplace reform” in construction and maintenance. But it wasn’t used for workplace safety and training. Gillard acknowledged this week she thought it was intended as a union leadership re-election fund where levies on union officials, and the proceeds of fund-raising dinners and so on, could be safely deposited.

In 1995, she confided to senior colleagues that the association was a ”re-election slush fund”. ”It’s a common practice,” she told them. ”Indeed, every union has what it refers to as a re-election fund, slush fund, whatever, which is the fund that the leadership team … puts money so that they can finance their next election campaign.”

On Thursday, Gillard conceded her slush fund reference, uttered in the context of a casual and jovial conversation, ”wasn’t the best form of words”. ”But I’d ask people to assess the form of words in the context in which it was being used in a sentence where the description of the purpose of the association, as I understood it, is exactly the same as the description I’ve given you here today,” she told journalists.

Gillard said her description was not inconsistent with workplace safety aspirations because they were key goals of the union leadership ticket.

Instead, Wilson and Blewitt extracted big deposits from construction and resource companies employing AWU members. Initially, the national AWU knew none of their activity but subsequently notified police of its suspicions and went so far as demanding a royal commission, a call that fell on deaf ears in the Keating government.

Wilson and Blewitt allegedly used the money as a sort of private bank account, buying a house in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, after Wilson moved from Perth, and spending on other activities unrelated to the association’s given purpose.

Wilson, who works as a part-time club cook on the mid-north coast of NSW, and Blewitt, who fled Australia for Indonesia (where he is accused of a land swindle) and Malaysia, have been investigated by police in Perth and Melbourne. Documents reveal Perth detectives wanted them charged but could not convince the builder Thiess to co-operate. Wilson and Blewitt have not been charged but the latter has told The Australian newspaper that ”sham” transactions took place and that he will tell all in return for indemnity from prosecution. An AWU civil action against Wilson went nowhere.

Gillard claimed on Thursday her role was limited to advice and not to execution, that she did not know what improper use Wilson and Blewitt would make of the entity she helped establish, and that she severed the relationship with Wilson in 1995 when ”I became aware that I had been deceived about a series of matters”.

Much of the more salacious, zany and explicitly offensive commentary (and invention) has been restricted to internet ranting – to what Gillard called misogynists and nut jobs. That is not a description neatly befitting Peter Gordon and Nick Styant-Browne, two former senior partners at Slater and Gordon, however.

Together, they are the source – intentionally or otherwise – of much of the fresh revelation. Gillard’s handling of the AWU matter angered some of her senior colleagues and she was interviewed on September 11, 1995, by Gordon and another as part of an internal investigation.

According to a transcript of the interview, Gillard conceded the renovations to her inner Melbourne home might unintentionally have benefited from the rorted union funds, although she doubted this. She provided receipts to show the renovation work was paid by her.

In a Peter Gordon-leaked draft statement, the former Slater and Gordon principal said last week the firm considered terminating Gillard’s salaried partner position but accorded her the benefit of the doubt and accepted her explanations. ”Nevertheless, the partnership was extremely unhappy with Ms Gillard, considering that proper vigilance had not been observed and that [her] duties of utmost good faith to [her] partners, especially as to timely disclosure, had not been met. Ms Gillard elected to resign and we accepted her resignation without discussion.”

But a statement by Slater and Gordon’s managing director Andrew Grech said Gillard took leave of absence at the time to contest unsuccessfully a Senate election and, in May 1996, resigned to become chief of staff to the then Victorian opposition leader John Brumby. Said Gillard on Thursday: ”It had long been an aspiration of mine to move to a political career so I made the determination to resign from Slater and Gordon.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Fallen star quits the ride of his life

HE quit. Lance Armstrong, who never gives up, gave up.
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The man who refused to give in to testicular cancer, refused to be defeated by his own frailty or any drug-boosted rival in the Tour de France – and so won it seven times in a row – and refused to cow before persistent drug-taking claims against him by opponents, teammates, media and the US Anti-Doping Agency, yielded.

A last option, to go to arbitration, remained, but Armstrong declined. Most likely, he will be stripped of his Tour titles, but he said he would always know he won them, and so would the cyclists he beat. So he put a stop to what he said was a long and insidious vendetta. He had a life to lead, and causes greater than himself to champion, such as his cancer charity. ”Enough is enough,” he said.

Tacitly, his surrender could be read as self-incrimination, though his lawyer vehemently threatened action against anyone who took this view, including the USADA.

Armstrong laboured his innocence, again. But World Anti-Doping Agency president, Australia’s John Fahey, said Armstrong now had lent substance to the charges against him.

The trouble for Armstrong – and for cycling generally – is that the fight he has just walked away from was against a ghost.

He could feel the cancer and see his rivals, and be pretty certain of the moment when they were beaten, and so did not relax until they were. But drugs? Invisible, odourless drugs, almost untraceable if administered expertly, which meant he could no more prove he had not taken them than authorities could prove that he did. In sport, the presumption of innocence was forfeited long ago.

Slowly, a body of damning circumstantial evidence built up against Armstrong. Threading it was a certain disbelief that in a sport more and more exposed as dirty in the Armstrong era, one squeaky clean rider kept beating the cheats anyway, over and over.

Bitterly, he protested each new claim, saying it was insupportable, or sketchy, or sinisterly motivated – jealousy, vindictiveness, money, grubby plea bargaining. A US judge sided with him to the extent that he sensed the USADA was acting from less-than-noble motives, but said he did not have the power to intervene.

Armstrong’s bottom-line defence always was that he had been tested hundreds of times in dozens of ways and never failed. But everyone knows that might mean only that the tests failed. They had often enough before.

As long as Armstrong stood his ground, at last half the world was prepared to stand with him. He was and is a charismatic figure, an apostle of cycling and, for cancer sufferers, a celebrity. He was above suspicion because we wanted and needed him to be.

Now, all will review their positions. Armstrong said the system was loaded against him and he could never hope for a fair outcome. That was why he was calling off the fight.

But it accords with no other pursuit in Armstrong’s driven and fanatical life that he would give up just because it seemed he couldn’t win.

About Lance Armstrong, one incontestable fact will remain: he quit.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Scaled back: dying skill a note of concern for pianists

AUSTRALIA has a million pianos, but sounding the right note is an increasing problem because of a drastic shortage of qualified piano tuners.
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At least 65 per cent of Australia’s 250 piano tuners are older than 50, about 95 per cent are male and the industry has not trained a new generation of tuners for 18 years.

Many pianos last for a century or more with tuning and care. Nobody throws them out because not much has changed in piano technology since a century ago.

”You don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to work out that we have far more pianos than piano tuners,” said Brent Ottley, the director of the only place in Australia to offer formal training in tuning. Mr Ottley’s Australasian School of Piano Technology in Melbourne trains about six to eight tuners a year, and gets applications for more than it can handle. ”Sadly, not many people wake up one morning and think, gee, I’d like to be a piano tuner,” he says.

Even if they did, they would find it hard to find a course, even harder to get into one, and impossible to find an apprenticeship. In their heyday, all the big retailers offered apprenticeships and serviced pianos in their workshops. While imports of upright, grand and second pianos jumped 11 per cent this year to 8642, not one retailer offers an apprenticeship.

Ara Vartoukian, a piano tuner and director of Theme and Variations in Willoughby, says Australia desperately needs new training facilities, and there is nothing except Mr Ottley’s private training. He taught piano tuning at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney from 1974 until 1988 when the course ended. The only other course in Australia, at Preston TAFE in Victoria, closed a few years later. That created an 18-year vacuum when no training was available in Australia until four years ago, when Sydney’s conservatorium started a course, only to axe it after a year because of funding cuts.

Mr Vartoukian says Australia needs at least 10 new technicians a year if it is to develop a broad base of technicians, with a percentage who want to train and ”excel into” servicing major concerts and visiting artists.

”For every concert performance you have three tunings. And there’s about 100 parts for every note, and 25 adjustments you can make to every note to get it to work at its best efficiency, he says.

While some untrained tuners rely entirely on electronic tuning devices, he says the craft is part art and part science.

”Plenty of instruments can help with the science bit but they can’t help with the art part,” Mr Vartoukian says.

When it comes to major concerts, he says the ”ear is the most accurate instrument for preparing a piano for a concert”. That’s how he tuned pianos for artists such as Harry Connick jnr and the pianist Stephen Hough.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Bluebloods through the ages

Carlton’s Levi Casboult has risen to prominence in recent weeks.LEVI Casboult was a keen Carlton fan long before he joined the Blues, but he was unaware that he had a family connection to the club.
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During Carlton’s demolition of Essendon last Saturday the TV commentators came up with a statistical quirk. The half-time margin of 52 points equalled the record for the biggest mid-game lead Carlton has ever had over Essendon; the previous instance had been back in 1913, they added.

But there is an intriguing link between these two victorious Carlton sides a century apart. Among the Blues’ best last Saturday was emerging forward Casboult, and he has a family connection with an ill-fated former star who was prominent when Carlton defeated Essendon in 1913.

Casboult was unaware of the connection, although he has been a fan of the Blues from an early age, and was ecstatic when Carlton selected him as a rookie.

The former star was George Challis, a brilliant and popular wing/half-forward who had four splendid seasons with the Blues before he was killed at the Western Front in 1916. When The Australasian football columnist appraised Carlton’s victory over Essendon in June 1913, he observed that Challis had “passed cleverly and accurately, doing good work all day”.

The columnist was a well-credentialled analyst — he was none other than the then Essendon coach, Jack Worrall. He knew both teams well. Having coached Carlton to three consecutive premierships from 1906, he found himself embroiled in bitter internal strife at the club, and resigned. Snapped up by Essendon, he proceeded to coach the Dons to successive flags in 1911-12.

Worrall’s success at his new club reinforced the sadness and sourness associated with his departure from Carlton. Matches between these rivals took on an extra edge. A notorious clash in 1914 was especially violent.

Victory against the Dons became a priority for Carlton fans. “If we don’t win the flag we’re satisfied with beating Essendon,” an ardent Blues partisan told a reporter on July 13, 1912, which became a special Saturday for Challis, and his admirers.

Having started slowly in 1912, his first season with the Blues, Challis gradually found his form. The pace, grace and superb disposal that had attracted Carlton recruiters became increasingly evident. The culmination was his stunning virtuoso display in the victory over Essendon on July 13.

According to the 1912 Football Record, Carlton’s vociferous barrackers articulated their advocacy “in a voice like that of the man who has swallowed the claw of his crayfish in the boozers’ express at midnight”.

Their boisterous intensity when Challis dazzled Essendon on that memorable afternoon was “extraordinary”, an eye-witness declared.

“Carlton simply wiped the floor with Essendon,” wrote Worrall, the vanquished coach.

“Challis was the best performer on the ground, excelling in every department, the ease and grace of his movements exciting universal admiration. He was the fastest man on the ground, and his beautiful, accurate passing while going at his top was marvellous.”

Later that year, though, Essendon defeated Carlton in a thrilling final by four points — Worrall described it decades later as his most unforgettable final of all — and the Dons went on to win the premiership. Challis had announced himself spectacularly in the VFL, but he and his teammates had fallen short when it mattered most.

In 1913 Challis confirmed his ability, but the Blues missed the finals for the first time in more than a decade. In 1914 he had a fine year again, but ill-fortune struck at the worst possible time — he was out injured when his teammates won the grand final.

In 1915 it all came together for Challis. He capped off a superb season with a starring role in another Carlton premiership. If the Norm Smith Medal had been awarded back then, he might well have received it.

Identifying equivalents of Challis a century later is difficult because the game has changed so substantially. Challis stood out because of his exceptional pace, skill and disposal. He was, it seems, similar in style to Adam Cooney or Brent Harvey (though not as small as Harvey).

Another comparison concerns an earlier decade. Challis at his best could be likened to the dash and flair of a Western Australian who was awarded the Norm Smith in 1992 — Challis was perhaps the Peter Matera of his era.

What Challis did on the field ensured that he became popular. But the way he did it was also significant. He had an attractive personality and approach. His sunny nature was evident — during matches he was often seen smiling. Challis wanted to compete and succeed, but spectators could tell that he enjoyed himself doing it. Football reporters referred to him as “genial George” and “Cheerful Challis”.

The 1915 grand final was his last VFL match. He was 24 and in his prime, but he left Australia aboard a troop ship soon afterwards. Sergeant Challis ended up in the 58th Battalion. After months of training in Egypt, he was conveyed to France with his unit in June 1916.

Challis went forward with his battalion to the front line near the village of Fromelles during the night of July 10-11. It was supposed to be a quiet sector, but the Australians found themselves thrown into round-the-clock preparations for an imminent assault towards the trenches opposite (which was carried out, disastrously, on July 19).

The Germans, for their part, were not inactive, either. They launched a raid on July 15, supported by a severe bombardment, and inflicted 160 casualties in the 58th Battalion. Challis was killed by a direct hit.

The news of his death reached Melbourne shortly before the 1916 football season ended. It was officially confirmed in a defence casualty list published on the day before the grand final. The timing seemed uncanny.

Hearing just before the grand final of the distressing death of a popular champion who had starred in the previous premiership decider symbolised for many the dreadful times they were enduring.

“Expressions of regret were heard yesterday all over Melbourne when it became known that George Challis had fallen in France,” the Adelaide Advertiser reported. In fact, he was widely mourned not just in Victoria.Challis was born and raised at Cleveland in the Tasmanian midlands. Awarded a scholarship to Launceston High, he later became a popular teacher at the school. He had been recruited to Carlton after the 1911 interstate football carnival, when he was given a medal for being the best Tasmanian player.

In July 1915, when Challis returned to Tasmania for the last time before he went to war, he caught up with relatives and friends at Cleveland and Launceston. He paid a visit to the little school at Cleveland, and all 20 or so of its young students were assembled to hear him speak. Football inevitably featured in his remarks:

“When I come back I’ll teach you boys the finer points of the game,” he said.

His death was deeply felt in Tasmania. Profound grief gripped the Cleveland community. Many homes in these districts retained a photo of Challis on a wall or mantelpiece for years.

He was the eldest of eight siblings. His brother Archie, who was also a talented footballer, settled at Scottsdale (north-east of Launceston), where he worked for the Commonwealth Bank. One of his daughters, Roberta (Bobbie), married Graeme Casboult in 1953. Graeme’s first cousin Lance Casboult was to become Levi Casboult’s grandfather.

Levi has inherited size and football ability from the Casboult clan.

Graeme, for example, was invited by Essendon recruiters to try out at Windy Hill. But he couldn’t see himself living in Melbourne and stayed at Scottsdale, where his family had a garage/petrol station business for decades. Bob Chitty, the legendary Carlton enforcer, lived nearby after becoming Scottsdale’s playing coach.

Charlie Casboult, Graeme’s brother, was pursued by Geelong, and did a pre-season there in 1965. But it was a tall order for an 18-year-old forward to usurp stars such as Doug Wade and Bill Ryan, especially when his opponents in the practice matches were classy defenders who represented Victoria, Peter Walker and Roy West.

Getting injured didn’t help either. Charlie ended up playing for Geelong West, and lives at Corio today. Levi Casboult, like Graeme and Charlie — and George Challis — was born and raised in Tasmania. His early allegiance to Carlton was influenced by relatives on his mother’s side. For years his preferred football code was soccer, and it was not until he was 16, after his family moved to Melbourne, that he found himself drawn to making Australian rules his priority. He has had to work hard to absorb what Challis referred to as the finer points, and ill-fortune with injury has at times delayed his development. But his rapid emergence in recent weeks has been a revelation.

While his contested marks and a freakish snap from the boundary have attracted attention, no doubt his coaches have also been highlighting his team involvements — the hit-outs to advantage, and the stirring chase and tackle that created a goal for a teammate.

Graeme and Charlie Casboult have enjoyed following Levi’s progress.

George Challis would have, too.

Ross McMullin’s biography of George Challis is included in his latest book Farewell, Dear People: Biographies of Australia’s Lost Generation. He is talking about the book Saturday August 25 at the Melbourne Writers Festival (10am, BMW Edge).

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Stosur looks on bright side

FOR all the obstacles littering Sam Stosur’s path to a second consecutive US Open final, one stroke of good fortune is Serena Williams’ presence in the other half of the draw. Stosur is the defending champion, but has hailed Williams as the rightful favourite for the women’s title when the year’s final grand slam starts on Monday.
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“Outside of that first-round loss at the French and a couple of others, she’s been the player to beat all year,” Stosur said from New York.

For the full US Open draw: click here

“She’s played some flawless tennis throughout the Olympics and Wimbledon, and they’re the biggest events that we’ve had so far going into this. She’s, for sure, the player to beat. You can’t deny that, I don’t think.”

Williams’ recent quarter-final loss to German Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati was her first, and only, stumble in 20 matches since May, and she dropped just 17 games in six matches in a dominant Olympic performance. The 14-time major winner has beaten Stosur in six of their nine career meetings, although the Australian has a 2-1 advantage in slams, including that 6-2, 6-3 triumph in New York last September 11.

Her return match will be against Croatian Petra Martic, the world No.65 who pushed Stosur to a third-set tiebreaker in their only previous match, on clay in Madrid in May.

“That was a very close match,” Stosur said after Thursday’s draw.

“She’s young, she’s got a good game. She does everything well and she’s got a good serve.”

The Australian, who has not won a title since leaving New York almost 12 months ago,  could meet the in-form Li Na or the retiring three-time winner Kim Clijsters in the fourth round, world No.1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals and either Maria Sharapova or Petra Kvitova — against whom she has a combined 1-14 record — in the semis.

Casey Dellacqua will face a qualifier and Jarmila Gajdosova plays 19th seed Nadia Petrova. Among the men, Bernard Tomic opens against unseeded Argentine Carlos Berlocq and could oppose American Andy Roddick in the second round, while 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt drew Germany’s world No.92 Tobias Kamke.

Hewitt could then meet 28th seed Mikhail Youzhny for the second time in three weeks, having beaten the Russian in Cincinnati.

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Debra’s not messing about in TV comeback

THE US sitcom Will & Grace is increasingly remembered for its relaxed attitude to the fact its main character was gay. The US Vice-President, Joe Biden, cited the show as helping the nation grow more tolerant when he came out in favour of gay marriage in May.
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For Debra Messing, it was a satisfying moment. ”We had no idea what the show would become,” she says. ”When Joe Biden referenced [the show] the way he did, it was maybe the proudest moment of my life besides the birth of my son.”

Six years after that show’s cancellation, Messing, now 44, joins Anjelica Huston in Smash, a high-concept drama about the making of a Broadway show based on the life of Marilyn Monroe.

When Smash launched in the US earlier this year, its network, NBC, was desperately in need of a hit.

Bob Greenblatt had just taken over as network president, having previously been head of cable channel Showtime, home to Homeland and Dexter. He had developed Smash there with Steven Spielberg and decided to take the show with him to NBC.

Moving the show to a mainstream network required compromises. It would be less edgy, the season would be longer and the budget higher. ”The show’s whole landscape changed,” says Messing, who was the first actor cast.

”I’ve been open about my desire to keep my personal and professional life balanced. I have an eight-year-old son and I want to be as involved as possible in his life. But they did a great job scheduling so I could be at school for my son’s plays and things like that.”

Spielberg was hands-on in the show’s excellent pilot, which screened on Foxtel earlier this year and airs on Channel Seven this week. ”It was his baby, his idea,” Messing says. ”During the pilot, he actually had a camera placed on set that would let him watch everything that was being done here in New York from his LA office. He would give notes and adjustments from there.”

This season tells the tale of the musical Marilyn and the two actresses vying for the lead role. Messing’s character is a Broadway veteran who co-writes the musical. As the season progressed, critics grew restless with Smash’s soapy diversions from the Broadway storyline. Did that criticism affect the production?

”I like to keep that talk at arm’s length,” Messing says. ”It can distract your focus. But I’m sure the writers and producers were aware and more reactive to what was being said.”

Messing is now filming season two. Four of the show’s key cast members have departed, as has the show runner, Theresa Rebeck. ”I’m someone who doesn’t love change in general,” Messing says. ”So when all those changes happened, it felt chaotic. But because the decisions were made so quickly, it decreased the level of anxiety. Not knowing what’s going to happen is the scariest thing. Everybody involved in the creative trajectory of the show is now very excited.”

For Messing, season two will also mark a mini-reunion. Sean Hayes, who played Jack McFarland in Will & Grace, will join Smash.

”I made them promise that we would be able to act together and do scenes together,” Messing says. ”I’m giddy about that happening.”

SmashTuesdays, Seven, 9.30pm

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Red Sleeper to the red centre

Sean Mooney and his children enjoy a ‘cubby house’ on rails.
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When it comes to beating boredom on long family trips, you can usually count on animals. The tally from our creature-spotting session through the train window is 62 cows, 43 sheep, 17 birds of prey, 12 kangaroos and one goat. The last fellow looks a bit lonely, but he doesn’t hang around as 700 metres of the Ghan hurtles past. Perhaps he had heard what occurred after the old Afghan Express was stranded in the 1930s: when the food ran out, the engine driver began shooting feral goats to feed his passengers.

Baluchi, Pashtun, Punjabi and Sindhi cameleers once transported goods along a track connecting the South Australian coast with the towns of Marree, Oodnadatta and Alice Springs. What began as an overland camel-train route has became one of the world’s great rail journeys.

Up to 1500 tonnes of modern rolling stock take travellers from the shores of the Southern Ocean through deserts, past lakes and over rivers to the edge of the Timor Sea. Passengers have comforts unimaginable to those Afghani pioneers: soft beds, en suites, well-stocked bars and restaurant-quality dining. The toughest challenge the modern traveller faces is choosing from the menu.

We’re travelling about 3000 kilometres from Adelaide to Darwin, a trip that will take more than 50 hours (two nights, three days), including whistle-stops at Alice Springs and Katherine. The allure of transcontinental train travel attracts about 60,000 people to the Ghan each year, from backpackers to seniors to those of us raised on Paul Theroux-style stories of chance encounters with eccentric fellow travellers riding the railways of the world.

But where are the families? Surely crossing the country without the tedium of day-long drives and dodgy motels at night should be great fun. After our first night on the Ghan, I’m convinced it is – and the children, aged seven and nine, love it. Their compact cabin becomes a cubby house with hide-away sink, chairs that convert to bunk beds and a big window that they call the TV. Then there’s a relaxed lounge car to explore, fellow passengers who are up for a chat and toilets that flush with a satisfying roar.

We pull out of Adelaide just after noon and spend the remaining daylight hours watching settlements flash by, framed by hills that seem to rise like loaves of bread from chocolate-brown soil. A day later we’re crossing the sandy bed of the Finke River, which runs through a landscape of dry earth and tough shrubs. We pass sheds that run so red with rust they seem to bleed into the ground. We’re already deep in the heart of the continent, in the Northern Territory, with Alice Springs just a few hours down the track.

My wife and I nurse cuppas in the lounge car and, as the kids count critters nearby, it occurs to me we might have stumbled on the secret of a successful family train trip by travelling in the Red Sleeper, the cheapest cabin category. Here’s my theory: It seems that about 60 per cent of Ghan passengers opt for Gold or Platinum services with en suites, upscale dining cars and roving entertainers. Most of the remaining passengers are backpackers with rail passes, sitting in Red Service day/night seats.

However, almost all the children who travel on the Ghan can be found in the Red Sleeper, where cabins are small but comfortable, the (surprisingly spacious) showers and toilets are shared with other passengers, and the ticket price doesn’t include meals. All of which contributes to a more economical and laid-back experience. In short, a perfect choice for families.

We enjoy the relaxed vibe of the recently renovated Red Gum Lounge, the public carriage for Red Sleeper passengers and for those in the day/night seats who pay a bit extra for entry. With chairs, lounges, tables and power points, this is where we spend most of our time. We eat when and where we like. The train’s Matilda Cafe has a simple selection of salads, wraps and hot meals. The fruit, nuts and snacks we have brought with us turn out to be a great idea – it’s hungry work watching the world go by.

Lunch on day two is at Alice Springs, and the third and final day features a stop in Katherine after breakfast. There are short tours at both stops; we choose the camel trek in Alice Springs, on well-trained beasts led by a local camel man, Marcus Williams. In Katherine, we join a cruise through Nitmiluk Gorge, short enough to keep youngsters interested but long enough to take in freshwater crocodiles and indigenous rock art.

The remainder of our final day takes us into the tropics, past rows of mango trees, over fast-running rivers and through a lush landscape that’s a world away from our starting point.

Our arrival in Darwin at dusk has us imagining that we’re riding the sunset express into the great red ball of fire sinking below the horizon. It’s an appropriately dramatic way to complete the crossing of a continent.

Sean Mooney travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.


Getting there

The Ghan leaves Adelaide on Sunday at 12.20pm and arrives in Darwin on Tuesday at 5.30pm. It departs Darwin on Wednesday at 10am and arrives in Adelaide on Friday at 12.30pm.

A Red Service Sleeper cabin accommodates two passengers and costs $1469 an adult and $902 a child, one way. However, children can travel free (one per adult passenger) before January 31 if the booking is made before September 30. Phone 13 21 47; see greatsouthernrail南京夜网.au.

While there

The Pyndan Camel Tracks ride in Alice Springs costs $50 adults, $30 children. See cameltracks南京夜网. The whistle-stop Nitmiluk Gorge tour in Katherine costs $96 adults, $76 children. See nitmiluktours南京夜网.au.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Air India on the runway

The airline’s new planes appear to be one step closer to delivery – and flights to Australia, writes Ben Doherty.
Nanjing Night Net

The oft-promised, oft-postponed arrival of a new Indian plane on an Australian runway appears to be one small step closer. At present, there are three new, ready-to-go Boeing 787 Dreamliners – painted in Air India’s red and yellow livery – at Boeing headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina.

Air India wants to put these long-haul craft into service flying to Australia, or on another route that would free up planes to make the trip to Melbourne or Sydney.

“We are scheduled to receive three Dreamliners this month,” the Civil Aviation Minister, Ajit Singh, said in June.

“The Australia operation will commence in August-September.”

But that deadline is unlikely to be met, because the planes aren’t moving – yet. Boeing and the Indian government are said to be finalising a compensation package offered by the plane manufacturer, a package considerably smaller than India wants.

India ordered 27 Dreamliners from Boeing in 2005, with the first due to arrive in 2008. Boeing, though, has been hit hard by strikes at its production plants and had trouble sourcing parts, so the planes’ delivery has been delayed and delayed.

Earlier this week, Qantas announced it was cancelling its own order for 35 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in a bid to cut costs, though it still plans to go ahead with 15 of the aircraft for budget offshoot Jetstar.

India has sought about $710 million in compensation for the lost potential revenue from the Dreamliner delays; Boeing has offered about $145 million. The matter then went to the Indian cabinet. “It has to be approved by the cabinet,” Singh said. “In that process, we have to take comment from every ministry. Some ministries have not given comment; some have raised some questions.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, India’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has given the green light to Air India to take delivery of the first round of 787 Dreamliners after progress was made on a compensation agreement. However, a timeline for delivery is still unclear.

Despite the slow pace, there is considerable enthusiasm on both sides of the Indian Ocean for restarting direct flights between Australia and India.

Air India says an Australian service will be quickly profitable and help drag the embattled government carrier from its current economic morass.

The Australian High Commissioner to India, Peter Varghese, has said direct flights from India would boost trade, tourist and student links and are a priority for the Australian government.

Both the Victorian and NSW governments have offered significant concessions to Air India planes to land at Melbourne and Sydney airports. Fairfax Media, which owns The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, has seen an unofficial proposed draft timetable, featuring seven direct Australian flights a week – four to Sydney and three to Melbourne – as well as flights between Melbourne and Sydney.

And there appears to be demand.

Last year, for the first time, India was the largest source of permanent migrants to Australia, with 29,018 of the 185,000 places in Australia’s permanent migration scheme going to Indians. India surpassed China and Britain as the largest provider of permanent migrants. And a recently released Tourism Australia report suggests up to 300,000 Indians could visit annually by 2020 if growth in tourist numbers continues to accelerate.

Ben Doherty is the south Asia correspondent.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.