Has Jason Day produced the greatest year by an Australian golfer ever?

Jason Day takes FedExCup lead
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“How long until he becomes No.1 in the world?”

Of all the questions during Jason Day’s commanding six-shot win at The Barclays, that is the one that occupies the Australian’s mind more than any other, for we know how badly he wants it.

He could yet do so by the end of this year, but according to the legendary Nick Faldo, the world No.3 has unofficially gone past the game’s marquee man, Jordan Spieth, who this week lost his No.1 mantle back to Rory McIlroy as the game’s “Big Three” continue their takeover.

“This guy is the best player in the world right now,” the six-time Major Champion said about Day during commentary of The Barclays, having posed the above question early in the round.

“Jordan was before, but right now and over the last month, this is the guy they’ve got to beat.”

And there are a couple of other questions worth asking right now, too.

For instance, has any Australian golfer had a better year than Jason Day’s in 2015?

The 27-year-old is on the verge of climbing a mountain no other golfer from this country has been able to. That is, winning the PGA Tour’s coveted US$10 million FedExCup – which is basically the end-of-season “premiership” for golfer’s on the world’s top circuit introduced in 2007.

In AFL terms, Day’s win at the Barclays on Monday morning, AEST, was kind of like winning a qualifying final in the first week of September.

He will now head into the remaining two events of the Tour Playoffs – the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships – ranked No.1 in the standings and in the box seat to stay there for the grand final the following week, which is the Coca-Cola Tour Championship.

If he were to win one, two or all three of those tournaments and lift the FedExCup, Day would set a new standard of excellence for Australian golf.

Our best of the modern era, Greg Norman, had a flagship year in 1986 when he won two PGA Tour events, one on the European Tour and of course his first major – the 1986 Open Championship – to go with second-place finishes at the Masters and PGA Championship that year.

He also won a bunch of minor events in Australia that don’t really come into the equation, because the Australian summer is much different now and Day has elected not to play our domestic events this year due to the birth of his second child.

This was the year of the “Norman Slam”, as he became the first player to hold the 54-hole lead in all four Major events, thus playing in the final group and having the greatest chance ever of achieving the Grand Slam that Spieth flirted with this year.

Day, in comparison, has now won four times this year – starting with his win at the Farmers Insurance Open in February – and three times in his past four starts – the Canadian Open, his breakthrough major title at the PGA Championship and now the Barclays.

It is the first time since Bruce Crampton in 1973 that an Australian has won four events on the US PGA Tour in one season.

So good has Day been that his play has forced the game’s leading judges to ponder another question they never thought they would bother asking: Has anyone had a better year than Jordan Spieth?

It seems implausible that a man who won both the Masters and the US Open could not win the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award.

However there is a real danger that Day could yet steal the award, becoming the first Australian to do so since Norman turned that trick in 1995 – in a magnificent year in which “The Shark” never won a major but became No.1 in the world.

Day is in a zone right now, one that Norman once had access to back in his heyday, if not similar to that which Tiger Woods use to frequent more than any other of recent times.

The Queenslander’s win at The Barclays was an encore to his history-making score-to-par in a major at the PGA Championship.

He went 63 and 62 over the weekend to blitz the field – making only one bogey along the way.

He is starting to create superstar moments, too, much like Spieth has done all year.

“Oh my goodness, this guy is sensational”: that was the call on commentary when Day rolled in a long, winding putt on the 15th hole that was so tough that the TV broadcaster’s predictor gave him just a six-percent chance of making it.

He pumped his fist and let out a big roar to match that of the crowd’s.

Since the US Open in late June, he has produced 20 straight rounds under par.

The toughness factor has played big for Day.

Not only did he guts it out to finish tied 9th at the US Open, overcoming a bout of vertigo that caused him to collapse, he came through at The Barclays despite having to withdraw from the pro-am with a back complaint.

Golf is such that one’s consistency of contending is not recognised until you stop contending and start winning.

That is true for Day, who has had five top 10s to add to his four wins this year – including a tied fourth at the Open Championship and the US Open finish.

Spieth, though, has been on another level in terms of consistency – completing 10 top 10 finishes to go with two other wins on the PGA Tour in 2015.

He also finished second (PGA Championship) and tied fourth (Open Championship) in the other two majors he didn’t win, all of which means Day needs to keep winning over the next three weeks to make those judging the Player of the Year award forget about the incredible body of work Spieth has put together.

Then, again, you wouldn’t put anything past Day right now.

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Farewell Joe, hello ScoMo? Abbott’s loyalty to be tested again

Prime Minister Tony Abbott … one of his finest qualities as a friend is loyalty. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer Tipped for the Treasuer’s job: Scott Morrison. Photo: Andrew Meares
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On the brink: Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Louie Douvis

Tony Abbott being urged to dump Joe Hockey

As anyone who knows Tony Abbott will tell you, one of his finest qualities as a friend is loyalty.

But in politics – unlike in life – loyalty is rarely rewarded.

In 2009, Mr Abbott demonstrated he understood the need for disloyalty when he joined other shadow ministers and tore down Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership to keep the Liberal Party from tearing itself apart.

Since then he seems to have forgotten the lesson.

Abbott’s loyalty to former speaker Bronwyn Bishop needlessly dragged that damaging scandal out for weeks; for years he was loyal to his signature paid parental leave scheme, despite the damage it did to him in the party room; and leading up to February’s spill motion, he stared down calls for Joe Hockey and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, to be moved on as a sign he had listened, learned and would change.

Now, once again, his colleagues are discussing whether the Treasurer – who Abbott has previously pledged will retain his job, come what may – will be moved on.

The trigger is the Canning byelection on September 19.

Some government strategists are briefing that any victory – remember, the margin is 11.8 per cent – will be good enough for the PM.

Others nominate a swing against the government of up to 6 per cent as acceptable.

But a big enough swing against the government, even if the seat is retained, could still be deadly for Abbott.

As the byelection looms, cabinet members are discussing a contingency plan which would see Hockey dumped and one of the government’s best communicators, Scott Morrison, promoted to explain the government’s economic message and restore its political fortunes.

A reshuffled frontbench would re-engage voters and get the government through to Christmas, when it could re-group.

Then, late in January, a double dissolution poll would be called for March – Parliament would not sit, a potentially tricky third budget would be avoided and Abbott would be freed up to campaign across the country.

The Prime Minister is convinced that, even if he begins an election campaign behind Bill Shorten in the polls, he will have the Opposition Leader’s measure on the trail – and he is probably right.

The fact that these confidential discussions – and they are only discussions at this stage – have leaked out is a measure of how badly the Abbott government is travelling.

And, if things go really badly, the Canning byelection will present another test of the prime minister’s loyalty.

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Napthine resigns as South West Coast MP

Former premier Denis Napthine with former transport minister Terry Mulder.RELATED:Napthine resigns | Career in picturesVOTERS across south-west Victoria will go to the polls later this year following the resignation of former premier Denis Napthine.
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The 63-year-old announced his retirement as South West Coast’s representative in Spring Street on Mondaymorning, bringing his nearly three decade-long political career to an end.

Dr Napthine’s resignation will trigger the first by-election in the region since 1983, when former prime minister Malcolm Fraser retired.

Polwarth MP Terry Mulder hasalso resigned, after representing the constituency since the 1999 state election.

The outgoing South West Coast MP toldThe Standardit had been an honour to represent the region in State Parliament.

“Twenty-seven years as local member is a long time,” Dr Napthine said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always put the interests of the electorate first.

“It’s been an absolute honour and privilege to represent this great area in the State Parliament.

“I’ve also had the honour of being the minister in two different governments (Kennett and Baillieu) and being premier of the state. But first and foremost, my fundamental responsibility has been to listen to the local community, work with the local community and seek to improve services, opportunities, the economy.”

The former premier toldThe Standardhis decision to stand down as South West Coast MP was taken after consultation with his wife Peggy and family. He also notified State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy some time ago.

“I’m now well into my 60s and I’ve served a long time,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate for south-west Victoria to have some fresh blood, somebody who is equally passionate, I hope, about our region, who loves our region as much as I do.

“Somebody who can work hard with the community in the lead-up to the 2018 state election.”

South West Coast is held by the Liberal Party on a margin of nearly 11 per cent while Polwarth is held by the same party on a 10.6 per cent margin.

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Labor calls on Auditor-General to investigate Australian Border Force

Police watch as protesters rally inside Flinders Street Station on Friday against Australian Border Force officers taking part in Operation Fortitude. Photo: MAL FAIRCLOUGHLabor has called on the Auditor-General to investigate what training Australian Border Force officials have been given since the agency was established in July this year and whether their legal powers extend to random visa checks.
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Opposition Immigration spokesman Richard Marles has written to Grant Hehir in the aftermath of Saturday’s aborted Operation Fortitude in Melbourne’s central business district.

Mr Marles said the Australian Border Force had been brought into ridicule after a press release was issued on Friday quoting Victoria and Tasmania regional commander Don Smith saying ABF officials would be positioned around Melbourne’s CBD “speaking with any individual we cross paths with”.

The government has blamed the incident and protest that followed on a “poorly worded press release” and says it was never the intention of authorities to conduct a visa blitz.

It emerged on Sunday that the media release had been sent to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office last week, but his office says no one read it because it was regarded as “routine”.

“What is concerning me is the lack of understanding about the legal powers of officials of ABF which these [Mr Smith’s] comments appear to betray,” Mr Marles says in his letter.

“Accordingly, I would request that you undertake an investigation in relation to the training that has been provided to officials of ABF as part of its inception, specifically as to: a) the powers that ABF officers possess and b) the circumstances in which these powers can be legally exercised.”

Mr Marles said it was critical there be a prompt investigation because of the “significant community anxiety” the incident had caused.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday he had received text messages from distressed multicultural community leaders for whom Friday’s events had brought back “some very stark memories of great tragedy and fear”.

Mr Andrews praised the response of the wider community’s action to the operation.

“You saw a very, very Victorian response as people literally took to the streets to protest against something that was ill-conceived and not something supported by my government, not something supported by Victoria Police and indeed not something supported by the Victorian community,” Mr Andrews said.

Fairfax Media asked Mr Dutton’s office whose idea it was for ABF officials to join the Victoria Police-led operation, and what training and powers officials have.

A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesman said their role in Operation Fortitude, if it had proceeded, was to be a small one.

He said the ABF routinely provided “low level support” to state and territory operations and “should operations result in doubts over visa compliance by particular individuals, they are referred to ABF officers for compliance checks”.

“In this operation, six ABF officers were to assist partner agencies in various locations by conducting background visa checks on individuals only in the event they were referred to us,” he said.

Labor and the Greens said it was an “astounding admission” that Mr Dutton’s office had not read the material it received, with both accusing the Minister of “incompetence”.

“Minister Dutton is showing himself to be a bumbling and incompetent minister who needs to step up or resign from his position,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.

Mr Marles told a later press conference the Minister needed “to take responsibility and explain to the Australian people what was intended with Operation Fortitude and who made the decision to abandon this operation”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was trying to “to “throw some middle-level bureaucrat in a uniform under the bus” rather than take responsibility for Friday’s chaos.

But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Network Ten’s Bolt Report Labor’s reaction was “completely and utterly over-the-top”, repeating the government’s position that the problem had been a “poorly worded press release”.

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Amal Clooney referred to as ‘actor’s wife’ in news agency tweet sparking outrage

International news agency Associated Press has been criticised for sending a tweet that referred to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney as an “actor’s wife”.
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The tweet concerned a story on Clooney’s comments following the conviction of Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were found guilty in a Cairo court of “spreading false news” and sentenced to three years’ jail.

Clooney has represented Fahmy, a Canadian national, since last year.

She said the verdict sent out a dangerous message. “It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news,” she said.

“And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.”

On Twitter, there were many critics of the AP tweet.

Radio host Dominic Knight tweeted “that’s Amal Clooney THE RESPECTED LAWYER”.

Celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton tweeted that “the AP might want to rethink how they refer to women on Twitter”.

Clooney — who married actor George Clooney in Venice in September 2014, and took his name — is a barrister with London’s Doughty Street Chambers. She specialises in international law, criminal law, human rights, and extradition.

She was a rapporteur for a report released in 2014 by the International Bar Association Human Rights Initiative that raised questions about the independence of judges and prosecutors in Egypt. *Amal bursts into room* “I’ll save you” “Are you a lawyer?!” “Better. I’m Amal Clooney. Actor’s Wife.” “Thank god!” pic.twitter上海夜网m/SoSihUPpJ1— Hari Srinivasan (@Hari_PR1) August 29, 2015

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Tony Abbott being urged to consider dumping Joe Hockey and calling a March election: cabinet ministers

Under the pump: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer The PM is being urged to dump Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Analysis: Farewell Joe, hello ScoMo? Abbott’s loyalty to be tested again

Cabinet ministers say Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being urged to dump Joe Hockey as Treasurer if the Canning byelection goes badly for the Liberal Party.

And an early federal election, to be held in March 2016, is also being considered at the highest levels of the Abbott government.

Fairfax Media has been told by two cabinet ministers that talks over axing Mr Hockey have been held, with a move to sacrifice the Treasurer designed to shore up Mr Abbott’s own leadership and quell a potential backlash after the September 19 poll.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, who is widely considered to be one of the government’s star performers, would likely be elevated to the Treasury post and Mr Hockey would be offered another portfolio.

The Liberal Party  holds the seat of Canning with a margin of 11.8 per cent, but recent polling in the seat shows it is now on a knife edge, with swings to Labor of as much as 10 per cent forecast.

One cabinet minister familiar with the talks said a swing against the Coalition of more than six per cent – which would still see the Liberal Party’s candidate Andrew Hastie win the seat -€“ would be bad news for the prime minister and more than 10 per cent would be “dire”.

“They are considering dumping Hockey post-Canning and believe that will get them to Christmas,” the minister said, with any move dependent on the result.

A second cabinet minister said  Mr Abbott was under “œenormous pressure” and  it was possible Mr Hockey would be “thrown to the wolves”€ to protect the prime minister’s leadership.

Two weeks ago, Nervous Liberal MPs told Fairfax Media that if the Coalition lost the Canning byelection it would be “all over” for Mr Abbott.

The move on Mr Hockey would be designed to reset the Abbott government’s economic messaging, direction and strategy, shore up the prime minister’€™s hold on the leadership just seven months after an extraordinary spill motion  and see the government through until Christmas.

Under the plan, parliament would then not return in February and instead a double dissolution election would be held in March.

A third cabinet minister approached by Fairfax Media about the prospect of Mr Hockey being dumped and a March poll being called said they “wouldn’t write that off as a theory”.

That minister said  a swing of less than six per cent against the Abbott government in Canning would be a good result.

And a fourth minister said  “if Canning goes badly, he [Mr Abbott] will have to do something dramatic, quickly” but played down the likelihood of Mr Hockey being dumped for Mr Morrison.

That minister said a March poll was “absolutely on the cards” and that Mr Abbott was expected to reshuffle his front bench by the end of the year.

This is not the first time there have been internal discussions about Mr Hockey’s future, with Mr Abbott promising in May that the Treasurer would stay in his job until the next election no matter how his second budget was received.

A decision to dump Mr Hockey would be politically risky as, despite having endured a difficult 15 months since handing down his first budget, the Treasurer has a loyal band of supporters in the party room.

It would be welcomed, however, by some in Coalition ranks who in part blame the Treasurer for the government’s current woes, including the fact that it has trailed in the polls since the May 2014 budget.

The leaking of confidential talks about the future of Mr Hockey and a possible early election could also stay the Prime Minister’s hand and ensure the Treasurer remains.

Last week, Mr Hockey was again criticised by colleagues for being distracted from his day job after signing up to co-chair a parliamentary friendship group for an Australian Republic and for a speech that again flagged personal income tax which was short on detail.

The Abbott government has been hit by a rolling series of crises and missteps including most recently the resignation of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and questions over the future of trade union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon.

A spokesman for Mr Abbott said he had full confidence in his Treasurer and  “the Prime Minister is on the record as saying he expects the Government to run a full term”.

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John Brogden speaks about his suicide attempt: ‘Experiences like mine show there is a way back’

Former NSW Liberal leader John Brogden. Photo: Brendan Esposito Then NSW opposition leader John Brogden resigns from the leadership in August 2005. Photo: Steven Siewert
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John Brogden resigned after a scandal over a racist joke about Helena Carr and inappropriate behaviour towards two female journalists. Photo: Steven Siewert

John Brogden at the National Reform Summit on August 26, 2015. Photo: Louie Douvis

Opinion: The national emergency we cannot ignoreNational campaign needed to raise awareness about suicide

One night in July 2005, then state Liberal leader John Brogden went for a drink at the Hilton Hotel. He was feeling good, “euphoric” in his words, and understandably so.

Plausible, articulate and popular in the polls, Brogden had reinvigorated his party after 10 years in opposition. Labor was on the wane; long time leader Bob Carr had resigned only days before. Now, at just 36, Brogden was widely regarded as the premier-in-waiting.

“I was on a high that night,” he says, “and very uninhibited.”

Arriving at the Hilton, Brogden went upstairs, where the Australian Hotels Association was holding its mid-year drinks, before moving down to the Marble Bar, where he stood holding court, surrounded by journalists and staffers. “I was dominating the group, very much the alpha male.”

But six Corona beers later, Brogden went from alpha male to rogue male. He pinched the bottom of a female journalist, Justine Ferrari, and propositioned another. He then called Helena Carr, Bob Carr’s Malaysian-born wife, “a mail-order bride”, yelling that she should get “back on the boat”.

Brogden was a married man, a young father, and a squeaky clean Catholic. His comments were potentially career ending, and yet, standing at the bar, riding on adrenalin and high-octane hubris, he was oblivious to the risk.

“Nothing struck me on the night,” he says, “which probably says a lot about where my head was at.”

***

Brogden had never thought of himself as mentally ill. His family had no history of depression, no genetic trapdoors waiting to swallow him up. What he did have, though, was a childhood of domestic violence.

“Mum and dad divorced when I was 13, and mum had a guy come into our house who was a violent alcoholic.”

His stepfather would drink, “glugging a bottle of Johnnie Walker like you’d drink a bottle of Coke”, and go on rampages. “He was so controlling that he bricked up the gate to our next door neighbours, to keep us locked in.”

Brogden became angry, but rather than talk about it, he channelled it into ambition. He became school vice-captain, then president of the Young Liberals. At just 21, he ran unsuccessfully for preselection. (“A 21-year-old running for parliament is a f—ing joke,” then premier Nick Greiner remarked.) He tried again at 24, and lost that, too.

He was elected, on his third attempt, to the seat of Pittwater on Sydney’s northern beaches, becoming at 27 the youngest member of the NSW Legislative Assembly.

He had it all: the safe seat, a beautiful wife, the beachside home in Bilgola. And yet he was deeply unhappy.

“I always saw myself as being on an escalator. I’d go up and get off at the next level, then go up again and get off at a higher level, and so on. But I was never satisfied. I always had to work harder, because that’s how I pushed the pain away.”

By the time he took the leadership, in 2002, he was working 16 hours a day, six days a week, “spinning like a record”, he says, “around and around, faster and faster”.

His energy was irrepressible, his temper incandescent. “There was a lot of screaming and swearing and kicking of things,” Lance Northey, his then media adviser, says. “John could be absolutely manic.”

Then came the Hilton Hotel. Rumours had surfaced about his behaviour that night, but Brogden always denied them. Then, three weeks later, while campaigning in Macquarie Fields, Brogden got a call from Glenn Milne, at The Sunday Telegraph.

“He told me he was reporting it all in the next day’s paper,” Brogden says. “I completely panicked.”

The next day was a disaster: Brogden was depicted as a sleaze and a racist. Bob Carr went to town, describing his former opponent as a “featherweight mediocrity” who had “insulted every woman of Asian background”.

Brogden apologised, profusely and unconditionally. He went on radio and was ripped to shreds.

“I felt a deep shame,” he says. “Shame for my wife, Lucy, shame for the party, and anger at myself. I had got us so close and had no one to blame but me.”

The next morning he resigned from the leadership. “After the press conference I walked into the lift to go up to my office, but the doors took forever to close, and there were all these cameras staring at me, and I waved at them like an idiot, with this stupid grin on my face.”

When he got up to his office, he burst into tears.

***

The next day, Brogden woke to find the media camped outside his home. “Cameras, reporters, the whole scene.”

He had resigned the leadership but was still the member for Pittwater, and so he resolved to go back to work. “I remember [attorney-general] Philip Ruddock called me in my office, and Alexander Downer.” When he got home that night, his mother was there to lend support.

At 6.15pm, however, Northey called him. “Lance said he had got a call from The Daily Telegraph saying they were going to run all this stuff the next day, a whole series of other stories, most of which were untrue or completely twisted.”

It was the end. “The minute I took that call, I knew I had to kill myself.”

A strange calm overtook him. “I now had an answer. I knew how I could fix it all.”

He grabbed a carving knife and a bottle of gin and put them in a bag. He said goodbye to his wife and mother, telling them he had “some work to take care of”. He drove to Woolworths at Mona Vale and bought a garden hose, clippers and face masks.

On the way he rang a friend, who was a priest. “I wanted to give him my confession, but he said he couldn’t take it over the phone, that the Vatican hadn’t caught up with the 21st century.” Instead he gave it to the priest at the Sacred Heart Church across the road from Woolies.

“My plan was to go into the bush and gas myself,” he says. “But the media were following me, so I went to my office, locked the door, went upstairs and got into the shower. I drank the gin and started cutting my wrists.”

As he cut himself with the blunt knife he could hear the media, banging on the door downstairs.

As it happened, one of Brogden’s staffers was in a restaurant nearby, saw the commotion and called the police. “I remember the policeman coming in and grabbing the knife,” Brogden says. “I knew him – he was the local inspector.”

He was rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital and was promptly scheduled. (“They asked if I still wanted to harm myself, and I said ‘yes’.”)

Such was his shame that he couldn’t bring himself to look at Lucy. “I had wanted to kill myself, I hadn’t killed myself, and it hadn’t gone away.”

The next day he was transferred to Northside Clinic in Greenwich, where he was put on suicide watch.

The media were relentless. They staked out his home and the hospital; a journalist even tried to impersonate a family member in order to see him. Told to go away by the hospital staff, one of the reporters yelled, “Hey John, better luck next time.” He left a week later, smuggled out in the back of a friend’s station wagon with a blanket thrown over him.

***

There was no silver bullet, no magic cure. Brogden’s “re-entry”, as he calls it, was slow and painful, “one step forward, two steps back.” There was paranoia, agoraphobia.

“I just sat at home, too scared to leave the house.” But there were also moments of beauty. “One day, about three months after my suicide attempt, I was in Newport, buying a loaf of bread, when this guy stopped me. He physically grabbed me, because I still couldn’t look people in the eye. And he said, ‘John, it’s wonderful to see you!’ That was so important to me.”

Brogden was diagnosed with depression in early 2006 and has been on medication ever since.

“I still have my moments,” he says. “I hate going to Parliament House – that’s the dark side for me. I have to from time to time, for work, but I get in and out as quickly as possible.” And while his depression is still there, “it’s well managed. It’s like surviving cancer. It doesn’t dominate, and I don’t dwell, but it’s always there.”

Thanks to his profile, Brogden’s breakdown marked a turning point in the understanding of mental illness and reframed the discussion around depression.

“Experiences like mine show there is a way back,” he says. And yet suicide, he points out, still remains off-limits. “About 25,000 people have killed themselves since I tried. If 25,000 people had been killed in domestic violence or on the roads, we’d be doing something about it, and we’re not.”

The way we talk about suicide – the hushed tones, the oblique asides, the euphemisms – isn’t helping anyone, he says.

“One of my great revelations in the past 10 years is that most people think if you have a friend who is suicidal, you shouldn’t talk about it. But the reality is, you should. All the evidence is that you should bring it out, and ask that incredibly direct question, are you suicidal? We should never glorify suicide, but we have to bring it out.”

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National campaign needed to raise understanding about suicide

The stigma of mental illness and suicide is preventing people from seeking help.Comment: John Brogden on his attempt to take his own lifeBrogden: ‘Experiences like mine show there is a way back’
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A national education campaign is needed to address misconceptions about suicide, according to recommendations in a report into the experiences of people who attempt to take their own lives.

Lessons for Life, a joint research project between SANE Australia and the University of New England, found that judgment from both health professionals and friends or family hindered the recovery of people who had attempted suicide.

SANE Australia’s suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker said people interviewed for the project overwhelmingly felt the stigma of mental illness and suicide prevented people from seeking help.

“They were very keen to reduce the stigma about suicide so people feel more comfortable talking about when they are not doing well,” she said.

“If they are having thoughts of suicide they won’t be too scared to say that because they are worried about how people will react.”

A number of participants, who ranged in age from their teens to their 70s, pointed out that a suicide attempt is wrongly trivialised as a cry for attention.

“They wanted to get quite a strong message across that the attempt was not attention-seeking, that suicide is not a selfish act,” Ms Coker said.

“Unfortunately, these people feel like a burden on others and that by removing themselves they are doing others a favour. It is distorted but they are in such a bad way, that is the way they were thinking at that time.”

The report and accompanying video provides an rare glimpse into the recovery process for people who have survived a suicide attempt.

Ms Coker said participants volunteered to take part because they felt it was important to show there can be a way forward.

“Nearly all the participants came back afterwards to say they found the process to be quite a cathartic experience,” she said.

“They were overwhelmingly motivated by the desire to help others. They wanted to turn something that had been a very negative experience in their life into a positive experience.”

Participants said their recovery was aided by finding effective professional help as well as support from friends and family.

Difficulty in finding appropriate help was the most commonly reported barrier to recovery, with 80 per cent of participants describing negative experiences with the hospital system. One-third said they felt they were not taken seriously or misunderstood and a large proportion reported having difficulty being admitted or being discharged too early.

The report recommends improving professional services by educating health workers about the importance of supporting people who have attempted suicide and working with hospitals to raise the standards of admission and discharge procedures.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians under the age of 44, claiming 2,535 lives in 2012.

Support service Lifeline is raising awareness about suicide with a series of public walks on September 10, Suicide Prevention Day.

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Public servants go thirsty as depts’ budgets dry up

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Public servants in Canberra have been told to bring their own tea and coffee to work as the Abbott government’s cut continue to bite.

As agency budgets dry up, thirsty bureaucrats at the Industry Department have been told that tea and coffee for office kitchenettes will not be supplied at departmental expense.

But coffee beans for the taxpayer-funded coffee machines that proved so controversial under the previous Labor government can still go on the company credit card.

Bosses at Industry have also been warned not to bill taxpayers for boozy senior executive service get-togethers and permission for high flyers to bring along their husbands or wives must come from the top, the rules say.

The latest instructions from Industry’s finance unit lays down the law on what can and cannot be bought with departmental funds.

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Flowers for the office and alcohol, in most circumstances, are on the banned list.

A departmental spokesman said the orders went out in early August so that public servants drafted in from other departments in “machinery of government” changes would have no doubt about the spending rules.

A cup of tea or coffee for a departmental staffer is not considered “business catering” at Industry.

“The following examples are not considered appropriate, and would be a personal expense: coffee, tea and sugar supplies purchased for use by departmental officials (e.g. for the department’s conference/meeting/training rooms or kitchenettes)” the instructions say.

“This excludes the provision of milk.”

But coffee beans for department-issued coffee machines for use by departmental officials are considered “business catering” and will be paid for out of official funds.

Cups of tea for volunteers who work for free at the national science exhibition centre Questacon are also safe from the bean counters, the guidance makes clear.

But coffee and tea at team meetings at cafes also make the banned list, along with gifts for public servants moving on or retiring from the department and pot plants or flowers for the office come under the heading “personal decorations” and are not to be billed to the taxpayer.

The department’s elite SES are not above the rules, the instructions make clear, and alcohol served at their forums, networking events and other functions are not to put on the departmental credit card.

The 16-page guidance note from the finance unit contains some strong advice for public servants on their duties when accepting or offering hospitality.

“The provision and/or acceptance of hospitality requires careful judgment, due to the possible perception of undue benefit or conflict of interest which in turn can have a significant effect on the reputation of the integrity and impartiality of the department, the Australian Public Service and/or the Commonwealth,” the note says.

“Employees must exercise due care and diligence when providing or accepting hospitality.”

An Industry Department spokesman said the new guidance was produced so everyone in the department, including new recruits, knew the rules.

“The department has reviewed its policy following multiple machinery-of-government changes over the last few years,” he said.

“The guidance is provided to staff to ensure a consistent approach is adopted across the department.”

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Inspired by Warren Buffett, Perpetual’s Garry Laurence is flying high

Garry Laurence Perpetual’s head of global equities has read every single one of Warren Buffet’s famous newsletters dating back to the 1970s. Photo: Peter RaeA lot of kids would have been happy to pick up the pocket money and think of something else to do with their life – but not Perpetual Investments portfolio manager for global equities Garry Laurence.
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So intrigued was he with the way his family’s printing business was run, that the young Garry looked beyond his after-school and weekend work putting pages together to the nuts and bolts of balance sheets, suppliers, customers and market trends.

When his father, sensing the ramifications of the digital revolution, sold the company and bought a software venture, Laurence ran his slide ruler over that one, too. His love of the minutiae of cash flow, interest coverage, leverage and profit margins was born – as was his suspicion of cyclical industries.

And both have endured. Today, Perpetual’s 34-year-old strategist travels the world, talking to senior executives from some of the best-known companies on the planet while weighing up geopolitical concerns, market trends and capital flows. At home, he also helped set up his wife’s online fitness business, and never tires of getting to know the DNA of companies.

With about $670 million under management in the firm’s Global Share Fund, Laurence and his team have a portfolio crammed with some of the biggest corporate names in the United States, along with stocks from China, Japan and Europe. The fund was relaunched last year to broaden the horizons of the traditionally domestic-focused fund manager.

Current holdings include NASDAQ OMX Group, Bank of America, Verizon Communications, General Electric, eBay, Oracle Corporation, China’s Zhaopin and Qihoo and Deutsche Börse and BBVA from Europe.

The  line-up is US heavy but the stock-picking criteria transcend geographical boundaries. The team looks for strong cash-flow, cash-heavy balance sheets, low price-earnings ratios with growth potential and favourable situations such as monopolies and oligopolies.

“The great thing about Perpetual is that it has this very strong focus on strong balance sheets and we have strict metrics on what a good balance sheet means,” says Laurence.

“For us, we look at interest cover.

“I look at the free cash flow and make sure that free cash flow can pay down the net debt very quickly, and can meet the interest costs,” he says

“What that means is that during periods of weakness and fear, the companies that will fall the most are the ones that are highly indebted. By steering clear of that, you tend to outperform in a falling market.”

And so the statistics attests. According to Perpetual’s own calculations, the net debt-to-equity ratio across the fund’s holdings is an average 12.7 per cent, compared with the benchmark index’s 51.2 per cent. Interest cover is 26.5 per cent, compared with 10.4 per cent for the index.

Laurence likes sharemarket companies such as NASDAQ OMX and Deutsche Börse because there are high barriers to competition and the technology is already in place, making it easier to grow earnings.

Legendary stock-picker Warren Buffett has always advocated buying into this sort of market dominance.

Laurence is a fan, having read every single one of Buffett’s famous newsletters dating back to the 1970s.

“Basically, I like to buy businesses,rather than stocks,” he says, “and I’ve been doing that from a very young age.”

At university, where he completed bachelors degrees in law and commerce, he still had time to build his own, successful equity portfolio. His first job in the business was an internship at Morgan Stanley, before he moved on to PM Capital as an analyst and then Perpetual.

There, this back-to-basics approach to share selection, supported with forensic financial assessment of the companies, appears to be working.

Since its creation in January 2011, the Perpetual Global Share Fund has outperformed the MSCI World Net Total Return benchmark every year, by an average of 2.8 percentage points after fees.

Absolute return after fees has averaged just over 19 per cent.

“Our approach is basically to buy these high-quality businesses that, through the cycle, grow their earnings consistently, and buy them at attractive prices,” says Laurence.

“And we’ve got a concentrated portfolio, so with all these movements in markets, what you’re seeing are valuations going up and down but the core businesses and high-quality ones should continue to grow their earnings.”

Nor does this bottom-up focus preclude continuous study of the big global trends that can spark routs and corrections, or alter a company’s outlook over the mid-to-long term.

On his latest visit to Europe, in June, Laurence attended a round of macroeconomic and investment conferences to hear the views of European Central Bank board members, politicians and the like. This was on top of the always-crucial meetings with the chief executives and chief investment officers of the companies that Perpetual holds.

And how much detail is he trying to extract from senior executives when he sits down with them?

“Because we are long-term investors, we are not really trying to find out how the next quarter’s going,” says Laurence.

“It’s more of just getting a sense for strategically what they are doing with the business, insuring that they are staying competitive, that the actual industry is still growing and that there aren’t any structural issues.

“Also, we try to really understand the management team and insure that they’re managing the business for the best interests of shareholders.”

Perpetual’s global equity fund is underweight in Europe, having sold down a lot of “expensive industrials” when their prices started to look frothy.

However, it still holds pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi Aventis, Spanish bank BBVA and Ebro Foods, also of Spain. In the first case, Laurence likes the range of products, earnings growth rates and the company’s successful push into emerging markets.

The Spanish selections, meanwhile, reflect the country’s recent recovery from the ravages of the global financial crisis.

“We are slightly overweight in Spain, because we think the economy is improving,” says Laurence.

He also likes financial stocks in the US because the economy is ticking along nicely and interest rates are about to rise for the first time in almost a decade.

Laurence is also happy to hold China Life, the US-listed insurance group, because of the extremely low rates of insurance product penetration in the world’s most populous nation, and hence the company’s growth potential. Online job search company Zhaopin and mobile security group Qihoo 360 Technology are trading on low price-earnings ratios and will grow along with China’s middle class.

He is unperturbed by recent market gyrations in the country, and its move to devalue the currency.

“The companies that we own that are exposed to China are companies that are in the services or consumer-related spaces, which are continuing to grow their earnings quite strongly, and in sectors where the penetration rate of their products are very low,” he says.

“We don’t think any of these movements in currency or gyrations in the markets are really going to have an effect on those trends.”

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