The Gods of Rugby Heaven: The fullbacks

Safe pair of hands: Matthew Burke. Photo: Allsport Can you match the experts?
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Matthew Burke. Photo: Tim Clayton

Matthew Burke (Australia) A versatile back and an accomplished outside centre in his youth, Burke made the fullback position his own at the 1999 World Cup where he scored 101 points. Safe under the high ball, a good defender and powerful runner, Burke was also an accomplished goalkicker and this ability was crucial in the Wallabies’ second World Cup triumph. While Stephen Larkham’s drop goal in extra time in the semi-final against the Springboks is oft remembered, Burke’s eight penalty goals from as many attempts proved far more valuable.

Gavin Hastings. Photo: Getty Images

Gavin Hastings (Scotland) Arguably Scotland’s greatest ever player. It is no coincidence the men in dark blue’s greatest moments at the World Cup occurred when Hastings was at the back. Hastings was in the thick of it when the Scots tied with France in the first World Cup in Christchurch in 1987; his prodigious boot and prolific scoring led Scotland to a semi-final appearance in 1991, while his 44 points against Cote d’Ivoire in 1995 was a World Cup record. He could read the game in attack and defence and could time his run into a hole perfectly. He was among the top three scorers in each of the three World Cups he featured in.

John Gallagher (right). Photo: AP

John Gallagher (New Zealand) At the inaugural World Cup in 1987, the All Blacks were barely challenged as they steamrolled their way to their first title. Gallagher made his debut in the opening game against Italy and became a key player in one of New Zealand’s greatest teams. A running fullback, Gallagher could chime into the backline and wreak havoc at will such as when he scored four tries in a pool game against Fiji. His speed and sense of timing made him a dangerous player and the All Blacks were undefeated in all 18 Tests he played. Gallagher switched to rugby league club Leeds shortly after being named IRB player of the year in 1990.

Serge Blanco. Photo: Quentin Jones

Serge Blanco (France) France’s greatest fullback. In an age of attacking mavericks, Blanco was the magician. He was not a renowned defender or kicker but his unpredictability in attack brought fear to the opposition. One of the iconic images of the 1987 World Cup was during the semi-final against Australia, when a tired Blanco was slumped in the corner of Concord Oval, overcome by emotion, after he beat a horde of Wallabies defenders to the left corner to score the winning try in the dying seconds. He went on to captain France at the 1991 World Cup where he played the last of his 93 internationals against England in the quarter-finals.

Percy Montgomery. Photo: Getty Images

Percy Montgomery (South Africa) An oft-maligned player early in his career, Montgomery’s performances at the 2007 World Cup, where he was the tournament’s leading scorer, added class to longevity on his resume. He was the first Springbok to reach 100 caps and although he was a handy goalkicker, it was his flamboyant running that provided flair to a team that was more renowned for its toughness and pragmatism. Montgomery played in the 1999 World Cup, but missed the 2003 tournament because he did not meet the Springboks’ eligibility criteria.

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The Gods of Rugby Heaven: The inside centres

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Felipe Contepomi. Photo: Richard Cosgrove

Felipe Contepomi (Argentina). After representing his country at under-19 and under-21 level, as well as sevens, it was obvious Contepomi was always destined for the top tier of the international game. A classy playmaker as well as goalkicker, he began his career at No.10 before finding a home at inside centre. He would feature for Los Pumas in four World Cups, captaining them in his final tournament in 2011. By the end, he would amass 651 points through 87 caps and was one of the men that put modern Argentine rugby on the map.

Jean De Villiers. Photo: Reuters

Jean de Villiers (South Africa). The imposing centre, now 34, will captain the Springboks in what will be the last of his three World Cups. Injury has slowed him in recent years but he has been a dominant force in the South African back line since he first appeared in 2002. Some 107 Tests later, de Villiers has a World Cup victory (2007) to his credit, while his direct and confrontational running has seen him rumble over for 27 tries. If he stays healthy, expect him to be a handful once again.

Tim Horan. Photo: Colorsport

Tim Horan (Australia). Horan regularly gave away size to his opposite number but could find space on a football field like few others. His wins in the 1991 and 1999 World Cup put him in elite company and he became known as one of the true greats of centre play throughout his 80 Tests for the Wallabies, in which he started on each and every occasion. His centre pairing with Jason Little was brilliant and Horan would be named the player of the tournament in the 1999 World Cup.

Ma’a Nonu. Photo: John Selkirk

Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand). Think Nonu, think brute power. The huge All Blacks battering ram with the fearsome dreadlocks only knows one way to the tryline. Stopping him is another issue entirely. His crash-ball running off the hip of Dan Carter can ring the bell of any defensive line. He’d crossed 29 times in 97 Tests by the start of the World Cup and has hit form just at the right time. His World Cup record? Nine matches for nine victories.

Jamie Roberts. Photo: Andrew Gorrie

Jamie Roberts (Wales). At 193cm and 110kg, Roberts might just be the most imposing centre in world rugby on his day. Since making his debut in 2008, he’s had a virtual mortgage on the Welsh No.12 jersey, capping it with a storming performance in the 2011 World Cup as Wales finished fourth. He scored a try in the series-winning game of the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia and is a clear match winner on his day.

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Border Farce: eight ways the government and bureaucratic spin is riddled with holes

Protest against the Australian Border Force in Melbourne last week. Photo: Joe ArmaoThe Immigration and Border Protection portfolio hinges on secrecy and a tightly curbed flow of information, which makes the statements of public officials critically important.
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Australian Border Force’s blighted involvement in a Melbourne police operation last Friday was triggered by what Prime Minister Tony Abbott called a “badly worded” press release.

But the confusion, abstraction and contradiction proffered by official sources did not stop there, leaving many unanswered questions and creating doubt about who, and what, the public should believe. Below are some examples.

Amid the bungling, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not make a single public appearance. On Monday morning he explained his absence to 2GB host Ray Hadley, saying he was sick and “didn’t get out of bed yesterday”.

1) What was the Australian Border Force even planning to do in Melbourne?

The controversy began with a now-infamous press release issued at 9.16am on Friday, in which Don Smith, ABF Regional Commander for Victoria and Tasmania, warned “ABF officers will be speaking with any individual we cross paths with” during a crackdown on visa fraud.

At 1.46pm, following public outrage and protests, the ABF clarified it “does not and will not stop people at random in the streets”.

2) Was media misreporting to blame for the controversy?

Scrambling to hose down the story on Friday, the Australian Border Force issued a statement saying it “will not be ‘stopping people at random’ in Melbourne to ‘check people’s papers’ as reported in media”.

This statement implied the media had misreported the stated intent of the operation.

ABF Commissioner Roman Quaedvleig later conceded the press release “incorrectly construed what our role was … it should have been better explained, it was clumsy.”

3) Was the press release cleared by those in the Border Force’s upper ranks?

Mr Quaedvleig said the press release was “released at the lower levels of the organisation”, indicating that he and other senior officials were not to blame for the farce.

But he confirmed Mr Smith signed off on the quotes attributed to him. Mr Smith is the head of the Border Force in Victoria and Tasmania – surely not someone considered to be at the “lower levels of the organisation”.

The Guardian Australia has reported that the border force assistant secretary for communications and media, Mark Jeffries, also cleared the statement.

4) Was Mr Dutton involved in issuing the press release and did he have prior knowledge of the Melbourne operation?

Mr Quaedvleig said Mr Dutton’s office was “not involved” in issuing the press release, which was “circulated at a regional level in the state of Victoria”.

On Friday Fairfax Media asked Mr Dutton’s office if he knew in advance of the operation. The reply? “Ministers don’t direct operational matters”.

On Saturday Mr Abbott sought to distance the government from the press release, saying it went out “at arm’s length from the executive government”.

“All sorts of press releases go out all the time – but they go out under the authority of the relevant officials, they go out under the authority of the relevant agencies and that all happens at arm’s length from ministers,” he said.

But later that day it emerged the press release was sent to Mr Dutton’s office on Wednesday as an attachment to a briefing note about the operation. It was not opened because it appeared “routine”

The Guardian Australia has reported that a shorter briefing note, with the press release attached, was also sent to Mr Dutton’s office on Thursday morning.

5) How extensive was the operation meant to be?

In its original press release, the ABF said the operation would focus on “people travelling to, from and around the CBD” and officers would be “positioned at various locations”.

In its clarification, the ABF played down the extent of its involvement, saying while the operation would occur at numerous locations, its officers would be stationed “at only two” of them

6) Was the operation a genuine “first”?

The ABF initially trumpeted the operation as a grand premiere in which “officers will for the first time join forces with a diverse team of transport and enforcement agencies”.

On Saturday, Mr Abbott conceded “there was no additional involvement of Australian Border Force in this than is customary in any number of other routine operations” – which begs the question as to why a press release was even issued.

The department also conceded “joint operations of this type are common and were previously conducted by departmental immigration officers”.

However the department is yet to answer questions from Fairfax Media about where operations of this type were previously conducted, and if they are planned in future.

7) Has this type of Border Force operation happened in Sydney?

Asked about the Melbourne operation on Friday, NSW Police Minister Troy Grant said “the Border Force already engages in NSW”.

“Not just on that issue [visa fraud]. They also go into work places, they also target prostitution et cetera. So they do a range of stuff. So it’s just Victoria catching up.”

After the operation was cancelled, Mr Grant’s office clarified that he was referring only to joint raids of premises such as brothels that have been carried out by NSW Police and immigration officials for many years.

8) Did Labor support the Border Force’s powers being used in the way planned for Melbourne?

Asked about the operation on Friday morning, Labor leader Bill Shorten did not immediately condemn it.

“Labor obviously believes in targeting crime,” he said.

“I do hope that any of these actions are done to try and protect Australian laws, to make sure that people are not overstaying their visas, to make sure that temporary guest workers are not being exploited.”

On Saturday, following the dramatic fallout, Mr Shorten described the operation as “one of the most catastrophically silly ideas I’ve seen this government do”.

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‘Little boy ran out in front, and bang’, inquest into Ryan Leo’s death told

There were photos of Ryan Leo as a baby in a Santa Claus suit, as a toddler at the beach, and as a young boy laughing on his father’s shoulders.
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But the picture that marked Ryan’s seventh birthday was a photograph of a small grave, covered in cards and flowers.

Ryan died in St George Hospital on July 28, 2014, after he was hit by a car on Durham Street, Hurstville, on his way to a taekwondo class.

An inquest to examine the circumstances of the Oatley Public School first grade student’s death opened on Monday morning with a slide show of photographs chronicling Ryan’s short life.

His family, court staff, members of the public and Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott quietly wiped away tears as the video, prepared by Ryan’s father Ben Leo, was played in Glebe Coroner’s Court.

“He was obviously a very loving son, but also extremely loved,” Ms Truscott said.

In his opening address, advocate assisting the coroner Durand Welsh said Ryan arrived for his taekwondo class with his nanny, Saiyun Shan, about 4.40pm that day.

Ms Shan parked and Ryan got out of the car, ran around the front, and on to the street, where he was hit by an oncoming car.

The cause of his death was a massive head injury.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Senior Constable Robert Street, said there was no evidence the driver, Xue Ying Lin was distracted at the time of the crash nor that she was driving dangerously.

Constable Street said he saw Ms Lin on the kerb soon after he arrived at Durham Street that afternoon, and he sat down with her.

“I observed her to be shaking uncontrollably and she was crying hysterically,” Constable Street said, reading from his statement.

“I said, ‘Are you able to tell me what happened?’ She said, ‘Little boy ran out in front, and bang.’

“[She said], ‘Is the boy OK? If the boy is not OK my life is over.’ “

A witness to the crash, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the court that, as he saw the boy get out of a black car, he got the impression a woman in one of the front seats said something like “don’t run”.

He said he saw the boy run past the front bumper bar and out on to the road, where he was hit.

The young man told police he “thought [the car that struck Ryan] could have been driving a little fast, but I really don’t know”.

The inquest will examine road safety issues, how Ryan got out of the car and went to the street, and whether his nanny was experienced and supervising him appropriately.

The inquest, which is set down for three days, continues.

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Wes Craven, director of Nightmare on Elm Street, dead at 76

Director Wes Craven accepts the Visionary Award at the Scream Awards on Saturday Oct. 18, 2008 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzell0) Photo: Chris PizzelloHorror movie icon Wes Craven has lost his battle with brain cancer, aged 76.
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The writer, director and producer is best known for the Nightmare On Elm Street films which were credited with re-invigorating the teen horror market in the 1980s, passed away on Sunday.

After the phenomenal success of the first Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, which introduced the iconic character of Freddie Krueger (played by Robert Englund,)  Craven went on to create four sequels, a video game, two spin-off Nightmare television series – 1988’s Freddy’s Nightmares and Nightmare Cafe in 1992) and even a horror crossover with Freddy V Jason, pitting Kruger against another horror film icon, Jason Vorhees, from the Friday The 13th franchise.

Craven also created the Scream franchise in the 1990s, mashing up black humour and horror, and referencing and satirising horror film tropes, including his own.

Craven’s earlier films though, were more straight-up horror, often combining deformed or monster-like (but human) bad guys and social and political issues. He was also been credited with featuring strong female characters in his films.

Born in Ohio, Craven was a teacher before turning his hand to low-budget filmmaking.

His first film was 1972’s Last House On The Left, a controversial ‘rape-revenge’ story, which, while outraging many, was a success – unlike some of his other slashers like The Evolution of Snuff and Swamp Thing.

His 1979 exploitation slasher The Hills Have Eyes (remade in 2006), about a suburban family whose road trip goes horribly wrong when they find themselves stranded in the desert, was an instant cult classic.

Among his other titles are the decidedly weird zombie flick Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), The People Under The Stairs (1991) and a raft of made-for-television films.

Although Craven enjoyed mainstream fame with much of his output, his awards have always come from festivals dedicated to his genre – most recently, in 2008 when he was awarded the Visionary Award at the Scream Awards.

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Socceroos: Milicic has fond memories of WA and backs Perth match

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To truly be Australia’s team, a team has to play all over the country.

The Baggy Greens play in all mainland states during a five Test series in their own backyard, but their travel diary is matched by few others.

The Socceroos are arguably the only team aside from the cricketers that really can claim to be representing a sport that is popular throughout the entire nation. But they are acutely aware that they need to appear more often outside of their eastern seaboard strongholds in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Hence their first trip to Western Australia in a decade this week when they take on Bangladesh in a World Cup qualifier at Perth Glory’s neat, trim, 20,000 capacity nib Stadium on Thursday evenng.

Its a good move; the Western Australians, along with fans in Adelaide, missed out during the Asian Cup, and, according to FFA officials, have responded well. Over 17,000 tickets have been sold and the remainder are expected to go in the next few days, ensuring a sell out and a hostile environment for the visiting Bangladeshis.

Socceroo assistant coach Ante Milicic has fond memories of Perth from his time as a player. Although the ex international striker spent the bulk of his career in his native Sydney, along with spells in Brisbane and Newcastle as well as in Europe,  Milicic made quite a splash in WA on his brief visits there.

He scored the only goal of the game _ and won the Marston Medal for best on ground _ when Sydney Olympic defeated Perth Glory in the 2002 NSL Grand Final, and recalls a match seven years before that when the nascent Glory took on Italian side Sampdoria in an exhibition game.

“Myself and Kimon Taliadoros (ex Socceroo frontman and now Football Federation Victoria  president)  got called up as guest players for that match. I was staying in the same hotel as Sampdoria, and got all kitted out with the gear after, ” he reminisced at a training session the national team coaches hosted with several WA youngsters at the match venue on Sunday afternoon.

“Its a great opportunity for the Perth public to come out. We really want to get around the whole country. We didn’t have the chance during the Asian Cup, but the opportutnity now is for  the whole country to see the squad, the way its developing and coming forward with the young players.

“The pitch and the surface is great. This is what you need at international level. The pitch and the facilities, the grandstand here is great and the crowd will be close to the pitch. These are the kind of venues that the Socceroos enjoy playing at.”

Milicic said there had been no overnight reports of injuries, and that while Austalia would go into the game against Bangladesh as hot favourites, they certainly would not underestimate their opponents.

“We respect every opponent and Bangladesh is no different. We have chosen a full strength side from everyone who is available. We have done our homework, we know what to expect. “

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Tony Abbott to sack ministers for backgrounding? Not bloody likely!

Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos. Photo: Cole BennettsSinodinos slams ‘political sabotage’
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The call from a respected senior Liberal, Arthur Sinodinos, ostensibly for Tony Abbott to sack cabinet ministers for backgrounding against Joe Hockey and Abbott himself, seems extraordinarily decisive, as far as it goes. But let’s be honest, it is not going anywhere.

Plainly, this a rhetorical rather than a literal call for the Prime Minister to use his most severe rebuke.

The call by press release is in fact a symptom masquerading as a remedy, and is itself, part of the gathering symphony of dysfunction now drowning out the government’s official message of “jobs, growth, and community safety”.

It barely requires stating. The very essence of backgrounding is that it is anonymous. It is both unnamed, and unprovable. A minister suspected of backgrounding would never admit to it, and a journalist/beneficiary of said leaks would never give up their source. The wiley Sinodinos knows this, and thus knows that no ministers could or will be sacked. Even more, the ex-chief of staff for John Howard knows that in the fractious condition the government and its leadership now find themselves, the percussive dismissal of a senior minister or ministers for alleged “disloyalty” would almost certainly prompt a crisis of its own resulting in internal collapse.

Frankly put, Sinodinos knows Abbott is in no position to sack anyone.

Which is not to say there isn’t some frustration evident in Sinodinos’s words, given his Liberal Party is fighting a do-or-die byelection in the WA seat of Canning.

Party loyalists are concerned that talk of losing, or, of the serious ramifications of a violent anti-government swing, increases the danger of self-fulifilling prophesies.

Yet politics being what it is, Canberra watchers are caught somewhere between bemused and befuddled by the Sinodinos snipe.

No blind adherent of the current leadership, nor particularly of Abbott’s uber-powerful chief of staff Peta Credlin, Sinodinos is widely thought to be a supporter of the popular alternative to Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull in turn would be the big winner of a change of leadership – a change that is more likely, not less, if Canning goes bad.

All of which has some conspiracy-minded theorists wondering what Sinodinos is doing. On the face of it, he is strafing leakers. Yet he knows they will not be identified and then ejected.

Which leaves us contemplating the sub-surface meanings. First, that any public attack on “backgrounding” inevitably draws attention to that backgrounding and thus kicks the story along for another day at least. Even assuming this was not his primary purpose, it is an outcome of which the experienced Sinodinos would have been well aware.

Second, that pro-Turnbull forces are worried that in a final desperate play, Credlin might advocate throwing Hockey overboard, to forestall her own removal, and they want to expose that option and thus kill it off.

Or third, that previous assumptions of allegiances within the NSW Liberal caucus, are out of date and that Turnbull may have lost supporters, such as Sinodinos himself, to the up-and-coming Scott Morrison.

Either way, it is a curious contribution.

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China stockmarket: why fears of a collapse are overblown

A total collapse of the Chinese property market is unlikely, says Gavekal’s China research director Andrew Baston.China’s allegedly imminent recession has become a popular topic recently after the plunges of its equity markets and the devaluation of the renminbi currency sent tremors through the international investor community, but a leading economic researcher says most of these fears are overblown.
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While there are many legitimate concerns about China’s inevitable slowdown, Gavekal’s China research director Andrew Baston says, fears China is teetering on the verge economic collapse are misguided.

“Such fears are exaggerated; China’s economy is not collapsing. But it is slowing,” Mr Baston said in a research note.

The note details how investors are rightfully concerned about the rising domestic debt, the government’s recent failures to steer the economy coupled with the slow down in investment as well as in heavy industry and commodity sectors, but ultimately concluded an economic collapse was unlikely.

With construction stagnating and investment at its weakest in 10 years, Mr Baston said Beijing deploying looser monetary policies would have limited impact so the slowdown was inevitable.

But this looser monetary policy will be hard to implement because the level of domestic debt is so high.

“With total debt at 250% of GDP, China today is far more leveraged than in 2009 when Beijing last launched a major monetary expansion. Today, such a debt-fueled stimulus program is out of the question, given the high starting point. As things stand, the combination of very high total debt plus deteriorating economic growth will push up the level of bad debt,” Mr Baston said.

However there were four commonly discussed issues where Mr Baston said fears of economic fragility are excessive. 1. Renminbi devaluation is not part of a currency war

The incident that caused the tides of concern to begin to rise was the devaluation of the renminbi in early August.

The renminbi fell 3 per cent after the People’s Bank of China lowered its trading midpoint and investors are concerned it could have another 5 per cent or so to fall.

This sparked concerns the PBoC was not just preparing for lower domestic growth but potentially positioning for a currency war that would slash billions from global budgets, particularly throughout Asia and commodity driven economies such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

However, Mr Baston said the fear the devaluation would launch a foreign debt crisis were overblown.

“China is well insulated from the sort of foreign currency debt crisis that has struck other emerging markets in recent decades,” Mr Baston said. 2. Market volatility won’t trigger a broader meltdown

The Shanghai stock market experienced significant plunges last week that brought the total value lost since the volatility began in June to almost 45 per cent.

While investors and economics remain riveted by the market’s tumultuous trading, Mr Baston said the sell-offs impact on the broader economy would be limited, as equities make up no more than 5 per cent of household wealth.

“Although a continued slump from current levels would generate plenty of hyperbolic headlines about a crashing China, even a further sell-off would have a limited spillover effect on the real economy,” Mr Baston said, adding the Chinese banking system had little exposure to the stock market volatility.

“So, although wealth management products linked to the stock market may sustain big losses, and while it is possible some brokers could fail, it is highly unlikely that a further slump in equities will trigger a systemic crisis.” 3. Deep collapse of property prices unlikely

While Chinese household equity exposure may be low, property investment is far more common and the local appetite for property has pushed prices to dizzying heights.

Mr Baston said the widely held view that the Chinese property market would collapse under the weight of an enormous speculative bubble fuelling high prices was out of step with the two key drivers of the housing price rise: expanding urban population and rising incomes, both of which are set to continue.

“That does not mean everything in the garden is rosey: these fundamentals indicate that housing demand is close to its peak, and that the sector has gone from being a growth driver to a drag on growth, a shift with huge knock-on effects for the rest of the economy,” Mr Baston said.

“But the maturation and decline of housing demand is a very different thing from the unwinding of a massive speculative bubble.”

In the last six months, the Chinese government have lowered interest rates and relaxing regulations that operated as restrictions to property purchasing to support continued buying and still has plenty of room for further cuts or policy changes. 4. Unemployment surge to be limited

A slowing economy is rarely good news for unemployment numbers and there are widespread concerns unemployment in China could trigger tranches of newly unemployed workers, which would cause a significant blow to already weak consumer demand.

But Mr Baston said the fact the major slowdowns had occurred in state-owned enterprises, such as heavy industrial and commodity management sectors, meant a record waves of redundancies were unlikely as these companies had far less flexibility to cut jobs.

“Even in the private sector, firms have balked at making mass lay-offs, with mining companies choosing instead to reduce working hours and award employees more holiday.”

Mr Baston said while work hours and wages had declined, unemployment would remain relatively stable.

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Murray Goulburn says farmer payout ‘affordable’, sales drop 1.5 per cent

“We’re paying our farmers… what we can afford to pay them, and this year [FY2015] it was $6 plus net profit after tax of $21 million.”: Murray Goulburn’s managing director Gary Helou. Photo: Jason SouthAustralia’s biggest dairy processor, Murray Goulburn, has warned farmers of possible milk price cuts this season amid a souring environment for global dairy markets.
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The co-operative’s managing director, Gary Helou, reiterated its previous guidance of $6.05 a kilogram milk solids for this season on Monday. But he warned that could slide to $5.60-$5.90 a kilogram if global prices for key dairy commodities did not improve as expected.

“Murray Goulburn will continue to monitor the situation closely and will update the market as soon as circumstances materially change,” the co-operative said in a statement.

Murray Goulburn’s $6.05 a kilogram price forecast formed a key part of the listing of its non-voting trust on the ASX last month. The trust’s dividend is tied to the milk price, therefore if the milk price tumbles, so does the investor payout.

The world’s biggest dairy exporter, Fonterra, told Fairfax Media last week Australian farmers were being paid too much for their milk. Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said the Australian farm gate price did not reflect the global dairy rout and called for an “honest debate about what is being earned in the market”. Price defended

Murray Goulburn set the farm gate price in June, opening the season with $5.60 a kilogram milk solids, which Fonterra and others have matched.

Mr Helou defended the price and the co-operative’s $6.05 forecast – which if realised will be the first time farmers have been paid more than $6 a kilogram of milk solids for the three years straight.

“We’re paying our farmers … what we can afford to pay them and this year [2014-15] it was $6 plus net profit after tax of $21 million,” he said.

“Our gearing is conservative at 14 per cent, pre IPO, which is comfortable given this business is in an investment cycle.”

At midday, Murray Goulburn’s shares had jumped 5.8 per cent to $1.96.

While most dairy processors have opened with what they say is a “strong” price at $5.60 a kilogram, dairy farmers are still hoping for step ups, or price increases throughout the season. Costs of production

Australian Dairy Farmers president Noel Campbell told Fairfax Media last month that most farmers operated on a $5 to $5.50 a kilogram milk price to cover their costs of production.

“As a dairy farmer, we have got to be careful in the next 12 months as to how we operate our business,” Mr Campbell said.

“There isn’t much of a buffer there. What happens in the next 12 months in respect to international prices will dictate if there is any possibility of step ups for the year.”

In New Zealand – where Fonterra has a monopoly and up to 95 per cent of its total milk production is exported – the farm gate price has plummeted from an average of $NZ8.65 ($7.81) to $NZ3.85 in the past two seasons.

At the same time, whole milk powder prices have dived from $US4999 ($6957) to $US1856 a tonne, while skim milk powder has plunged from $US4780 to $US1521 a tonne, according to Global Dairy Trade figures. Russian trade sanctions and weakening demand from China has led to an oversupply of dairy products on global markets. Shift in focus

Mr Helou said Murray Goulburn was “achieving strong growth in the face of a strong decline” in commodity prices. He said this was because the co-operative was shifting away from producing commodity products, which now account for about 30 per cent of its total production, and had not sold anything on the Global Dairy Trade auction since 2013.

Murray Goulburn’s revenue fell 1.5 per cent for the 12 months to June 30 to $2.87 billion. Mr Helou said growth in dairy foods, such as UHT, consumer cheeses and fresh milk, partially offset a decline in commodity prices, with sales rising 29 per cent. Its nutritionals business, which includes infant formula, meanwhile surged 34 per cent.

The company spent more than $120 million in the past year upgrading its factories so they could produce more value-add consumer products and less bulk goods.

“All our dairy foods assets, UHT, fresh milk, cheese, consumer powders, nutritionals are flat chat producing value add to capacity, as well as disciplined cost control in the business. That leads to the $6.05 forecast for this year.”

Murray Goulburn’s net profit for the year, although ahead of its prospectus estimates, fell 27.5 per cent to $21.2 million. Lift expected

Mr Helou predicted global dairy prices to lift in the year ahead, as big exporting countries New Zealand and the US reduced supply.

“We think the market has bottomed,” he said, adding that he expected a modest lift in the next six months.

“As well as that, foreign exchange has worked in our favour. It’s dropped to a lot lower than expected.”

Murray Goulburn will pay its farmer shareholders a dividend of 9¢ a share, a 12.5 per cent increase on 2014. Unit holders in its listed trust will not be eligible for the payment.

“If declared, the distribution to unit holders with respect to the first half of FY16 is expected to be paid in March 2016,” the company said.

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Productivity Commission’s mostly sound industrial relations advice falls short on public sector pay

Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris launches the draft report on industrial relations last month. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen “The Productivity Commission could well ask Henry Ergas (pictured) if he has the intellectual decency to correct the false claims he has made against it.” Photo: Nic Walker
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“The development of policy is never helped by the likes of Don Argus (pictured) throwing dead cats into the ring.” Photo: Arsineh Houspian

The Public Sector Informant: latest issue

Two independent, expert and thorough reports on Australian industrial relations, one under the last government and one under the present one, have come to broadly the same conclusions: that the country’s labour market performance and flexibility are relatively good and that, while some alterations to federal laws are warranted, wholesale changes are not.

As with the one to the previous government, the Productivity Commission’s draft report, released last month, has been greeted with squeals of protest from those who seem to think Australia’s economic salvation requires replacing existing laws with ones allowing an expansion of management powers and significant reductions in pay for those now on minimum rates.

Such protests sit uncomfortably with the generally accepted view of the well informed that, in the words of the commission: “there is little robust evidence that the different variants of workplace relations systems over the last 20 years have had detectable effects on measured economy-wide productivity”; andevidence from diverse sources, including the Employment Department, “could not show that the current minimum wage process delivered significant negative employment outcomes”. Indeed, the commission’s head, Peter Harris, is happy to quote The Economist magazine, saying international debate about minimum wages is “now largely between those saying that there are small negative effects and those who say that there are none at all”.

More than this, the protestations of some in the ranks of the bitterly disappointed don’t stack up in their own terms.

Let’s start with the Murdoch correspondent, Henry Ergas. He bases his “analysis” on an allegation that the commission’s report “opens with the claim that there is a serious imbalance between the bargaining power of employees … and employers”. The report does no such thing. Ergas’s claim is just not true; he’s made it up. The commission says: “Without regulation, employees are likely to have much less bargaining power than employers.””While there are hot spots … [there is] a reasonable balance between the relative power of the parties.””Bargaining is not always in the hands of employers.”

The commission is absolutely right. In most instances, the balance between employers and employees is probably reasonable but relative power can vary between industries and firms. Cleaners will generally be in a weaker position than workers in, say, coal-fired power stations, who are able to dramatically affect electricity supply. If Ergas has any doubts about that, he should try his hand for a couple of months at tidying up hotel rooms and then shovelling coal into power station furnaces – if he thinks he’s up to it, of course.

Anyway, after asserting the commission said something it didn’t, Ergas has the front to accuse it of “making mistakes” and questioning if it has the “intellectual honesty” to correct them. The commission could well ask Ergas if he has the intellectual decency to correct the false claims he has made against it. There’s no need, really, for it can take comfort that, on many matters, there’s a certain reassurance in being on the other side of the fence from any Ergasian stance.

Next comes Don Argus. He’s been a chairman of BHP Billiton and chief executive of the National Australia Bank. He’s quite properly called for a “rational debate” about industrial relations. Then he cruels his pitch by saying “if we don’t, we will finish up like Greece”.

It’s hard to know what Argus means. If he’s saying that industrial relations in Australia are headed in the direction of Greece’s, that’s rubbish. And it’s not a great way to try to contribute to a rational debate about anything.

The causes of Greece’s problems are complicated, some going back to the abuse of public sector employment shortly after the country shook itself free from the Ottoman empire in the 19th century and which has endured over the decades since. Australia has avoided these and other perils, like governments of colonels, that have landed Greece in its present predicament. Australia satisfies none of the preconditions necessary to turn itself into another Greece and it’s irresponsible to suggest it’s a realistic possibility.

Australia’s labour market is far freer than Greece’s and there’s no significant risk of Australia’s seizing up. It’s worth noting, however, that in Europe the Greek labour market is more flexible than those in France, Norway and Germany, and a little behind Italy’s. Working hours in Greece are among the highest in the OECD and higher than in Australia.

The problems of the Greek economy are irrelevant to industrial relations in Australia. The development of policy is never helped by the likes of Argus throwing dead cats into the ring. That’s no way to conduct an argument. The former businessman needs to lift his game or he’ll be left with no standing in the debate that the Productivity Commission wants on its report.

The prospects for that debate also have been damaged by the Labor Party and a few of its unions, which, quite without justification, have seized on the commission’s proposals about penalty rates and individual employment contracts to raise the political spectre of WorkChoices. In turn, this has sent shivers down the spines of Tony Abbott and his ministers as they fumble with their dot-point briefing notes instructing them to say “this is a report to government, not a report from the government”.

It looks as if the gradualist recommendations from the commission may well run into some heavy weather from a government presently as immobilised as a possum in a spotlight.

The good thing is that the commission’s draft report is sound. It has absorbed a whole range of opinions it has received, its analysis is rigorous and balanced, and it is now seeking comments on what it has laid on the table before issuing a final document.

Surprisingly, the commission’s report is far less convincing on bargaining in the public sector. This is its backyard. While it avoids comment on the current pay round in the Commonwealth, it says it “seeks to identify a preferred approach to future public service workplace arrangements”. It does not do so to any significant extent.

The report makes a good start saying “there are fundamental impracticalities in strongly linking pay and productivity in the public sector”. That’s right and, in most Commonwealth agencies, productivity simply can’t be measured.

The report goes on to say that, in any event, there “are several general concerns associated with directly linking pay to increases in productivity”. That’s right, too. While in an economy-wide sense it’s important to maintain a reasonable relationship between wages and productivity, linking pay and productivity increases at the firm or enterprise level is economic lunacy. Among other things, it rewards unproductive industries and their staff, and puts productive ones at a disadvantage because they will be less able to keep staff remuneration competitive; it may even threaten the viability of critical firms. It creates incentives to build up restrictive practices able to be used in bargaining and it encourages a union/staff view that no improvement can be made without a pay increase, a horrifying consequence for those keen to expand management powers.

The Productivity Commission says that reducing conditions of employment or longer hours have nothing to do with productivity and that “paying an employee to work more could harm” it. Exactly so. Public service agencies now engaged in such folly should give it away.

So the commission has made the federal government’s IR bargaining guidelines mandating a link between pay and productivity look as foolish as they deserve to be.

Yet, having successfully lined up the ducks on public sector bargaining, the commission’s analysis falls away to the extent that it makes no recommendations about it. The promised “preferred approach” is not identified.

A problem may be that the commission seems to be unaware of what is still the most sensible, convincing and intellectually rigorous document on public service remuneration: the early 1950s Priestley royal commission report in Britain. Over the past 60 years, there’s been nothing to surpass this report and the Productivity Commission should now get onto it. There should be a copy in the Public Service Commission’s library, where it could be either gathering dust or placed on an index prohibitorum of documents banned because they are inconsistent with prevailing ideology and dangerous because their logic is irrefutable.

Priestley thought pay and conditions in the public service should be such that “the interests of the community in general, of those responsible for administering the civil service and the individual civil servants themselves should be kept in balance”. Priestley says “a correct balance will be achieved only if the primary principle of civil service pay is fair comparison with the current remuneration of outside staffs employed on broadly comparable work”.

Such an approach, Priestley asserts, “looks after the ordinary citizens’ interests as a taxpayer” because if public servants are paid “what other responsible employers pay for comparable work, the citizen cannot reasonably complain that he is being exploited”. Similarly, Priestley says that as the public “casts a jealous eye on public expenditure” an official “is entitled to some guarantee that his just deserts will not be sacrificed to political expediency”.

Priestley also recommended that account be taken of internal relativities, both horizontal and vertical, including where outside work comparisons could not readily be made.

Both of these principles, designed to achieve a proper balance of competing interests and promote the efficiency and productivity of the public service by contributing to effective recruitment and motivation, have been thoroughly trashed in the Australian Public Service and wider Commonwealth employment. It’s more than time for these principles to be brought back and that’s what the Productivity Commission should be recommending.

When the Finance Department’s secretary, Jane Halton, can describe working an extra six minutes a day and removing the Christmas shutdown as “productivity measures” and try in part to justify a pay increase for her staff on the basis of moving into a flash new office, citizens can know that pay and conditions bargaining in the APS has hit rock bottom.

Adopting the Priestley principles would bring an end to such nonsense. It would enable the better realisation via a single enterprise bargain of the “One APS”, whose promotion always now rings hollow. It would allow the gradual evening-up of pay disparities between agencies that have arisen for no reasons other than chance. It would save tens of millions of dollars now wasted in the pointless transaction costs of agency-based bargaining. And it would bring better order to the mish-mash of classifications and levels across the public service now bedevilling its effective management.

The government need not wait for the Productivity Commission to do all these things. Their merits speak for themselves and they should be done now. As that’s unlikely, the commission’s final report must take up the cudgels.

Paddy Gourley is a former senior public servant. [email protected]上海夜网speed上海夜网

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