The US election: what you need to know

THE RACE TO 270
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The president is not elected by popular vote but by the Electoral College. The number of Electoral College votes per state is roughly proportional to the population of that state. There are 538 votes in total, so to secure the White House a candidate must win 269 votes plus one for a majority.

The Democrats began the election with an advantage because many of the most populous states are strongly Democrat. According to analysis by the Real Clear Politics website, Democrat President Barack Obama began the campaign with 201 likely votes, Republican challenger Mitt Romney with 191.

SWING STATES

By the measure above, this leaves 11 states as contestable; of these, the most valuable are those with the most electoral votes in which the contenders are closest. This year, Ohio, Florida and Virginia are the most crucial, along with North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire.

SPLIT VOTE

This also means it is possible to lose the popular vote and win the election. With Mr Obama leading in the Electoral College count so far, but tied in the national polls, many suspect this could happen this year.

CONGRESS

Americans are not just voting for their president today. About a third of the Senate is up for election, as is all of the House of Representatives. Early predictions suggest Democrats will maintain their control of the Senate, Republicans the House, prompting fears of further gridlock, whoever wins the White House.

TRANSFER OF POWER

If Mr Romney wins the 2012 presidential election, he will immediately become the president-elect, but will have no formal executive powers until he is inaugurated. He will be inaugurated and take the oath of office in Washington, DC at noon on January 20, 2013. Between the election of a new president and the inauguration, the president-elect will traditionally name a transition chief to manage the administrative tasks of the transition of power. A White House Chief of Staff will be named and cabinet secretaries will be nominated, though they must be approved by a majority vote in the US Senate, which cannot happen until the new year.

STATE BY STATE

Americans will also be voting on various referendums, as well as for state, county and even school board positions. For example, Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpio, famous for his enthusiastic targeting of suspected illegal immigrants and fondness for chain gangs, is up for election.

It is estimated it will take some people 45 minutes just to fill in their ballots.

LOCAL LAWS

Each state has its own election laws and regulations, some which make it quite difficult to cast a ballot. Lawyers are already circling in Florida and Ohio, where early voters have been waiting in lines for hours only to see doors closed ahead of them.

VOTER ID

New voter identification laws that critics claim benefit Republicans (because voters from minority groups, who are more likely not to have photo ID, are also more likely to vote Democratic) have also caused controversy.

Defending the laws became harder after the Pennsylvania state House Republican Leader Mike Turzai listed as one of his achievements: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

EARLY VOTING

In Iowa, where this election began with the Republican caucuses in the snows of January, the counting of early votes began in late September, followed days later by other swing states, such as Ohio. Iowa began counting absentee ballots on Monday, the day before the national election. Well over 600,000 Iowans have already voted, a new record for the state, with a plurality of those votes coming from registered Democrats.

POLL OPENING TIMES

Each state sets its own hours for when voting polls are open, but the earliest will begin at 6am in Maine, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Virginia on the east coast. Polls typically close between 6pm and 8pm (Iowa closes voting at 10pm), though judges will order polling places to remain open for longer if there are delays in voting, such as very long lines or malfunctioning equipment.

ANNOUNCING RESULTS

The media will not announce the winner of a state until the polls in that state close and exit polls should not be treated as reliable – they have missed badly in the past. Considering how close many states are – and the embarrassment media organisations have suffered from calling a state early and then having to rescind that prediction – expect to not know who has won the election until late into the night.

Most likely, there will be no announcement until after 10pm Eastern US time, and it could be much later – perhaps into the next morning.

GAY MARRIAGE

Gay marriage is a hot issue in the US. Four states – Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington – will have that issue on the ballot tomorrow as state referendums. Gay marriage is already legal in Maryland, but the referendum could overturn it. Maine is voting on whether to allow gay marriage for the second time in just a few years and Minnesota is voting on whether to adjust the state constitution to make marriage strictly between a man and a woman.

KEY CONTESTS

Key Senate races to watch are in Indiana, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Missouri. In Indiana, right-wing tea party favourite Richard Mourdock ousted moderate conservative Richard Lugar, a Republican icon, in a bitter party primary months ago. Had Lugar won the GOP nomination he would have held this seat for the Republicans easily, but Mourdock is considered too extreme by many, even in this conservative state.

In Connecticut, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon is a conservative Republican trying to win the seat of the retiring Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. Democrat Chris Murphy is trying to hold the seat for the Democrats and is now favoured slightly.

In Maine, the Republican and the Democrat are both trailing Angus King, an independent candidate and former governor. Although King has no formal ties to either party, he is generally considered more liberal than conservative and the Democratic candidate, Cynthia Dill, running a very distant third place because so many Democrats are voting for King.

In Missouri, Republican Todd Akin, a darling of the tea party and an ardent opponent of abortion, was favoured to take this seat away from the incumbent, moderate Democrat Claire McCaskill. However, Akin turned the race upside down when he defended outlawing abortion even in cases of rape, declaring that the female reproductive system has ways of preventing a pregnancy in case of rape. This is a conservative state that will go for Mitt Romney, but McCaskill is now favoured to keep the seat for the Democrats.

In Massachusetts, moderate Republican Scott Brown won a special election in 2010 to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy, younger brother of the former president and an icon of American liberals. In this deeply blue state, even a moderate Republican like Brown was always going to have trouble and he’s found it in Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor and sharp critic of Wall Street shenanigans. Brown led in most polls throughout the summer, but Warren has now pulled ahead in most surveys and is favoured to win a narrow victory, returning this seat to the Democrats.

SITES TO WATCH FOR NEWS

You will be able to read constant updates from this website’s live election coverage starting at 5am. Alternative sources in the US for specialist coverage include:

Good websites to use to follow the U.S. election are Real Clear Politics, Politico, Associated Press, and CNN.

POINTS OF DIFFERENCE

What are the major policy differences between the candidates?

Taxes and budget

Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes 20 per cent across the board and pay for the measure by closing unspecified tax loopholes. Barack Obama wants tax rates for wealthy Americans to rise, returning to the levels they were at during the Clinton administration, but keep the tax rates for everyone else stable. Mr Romney wants to cut the budget deficit through massive cuts in government spending, though he has not said what he will cut. Mr Obama wants “shared sacrifice”, which means a mixture of budget cuts and tax increases for the wealthy to reduce the deficit.

Defence

Mr Romney wants to increase defence spending – about the only part of government that he thinks is under-funded, while Mr Obama wants a gradual reduction in defence spending as he continues his plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Mr Romney opposes Mr Obama’s plan to end the war in Afghanistan, just as he opposed Mr Obama ending the war in Iraq.

Social issues

Mr Romney opposes abortion rights and gay marriage and promises to use the power of the federal government to limit or end them. Mr Obama has come out in support of gay marriage and promises to protect abortion rights and contraception. Since the president appoints Supreme Court justices – and those justices decide on the constitutionality of laws covering abortion, gay marriage and many other issues – a president has the ability to shape national policy in those areas for many years after he leaves office.

Health care

Mitt Romney opposes the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency and one that will guarantee health care access to almost all Americans. Obamacare is modelled very closely on a similar law in Massachusetts signed into law by Mr Romney when he was governor of that state, but Mr Romney says what was suitable for his state is not suitable for the nation as a whole. He will make it his first priority to undo the law.

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No change in interest rates

The Reserve Bank has left interest rates on hold following a robust inflation reading in September, marking the first Melbourne Cup day in six years that rates will remain unchanged.Home loan guide: What it means for youChronology of interest rate moves since 1990
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The cash rate was held steady at 3.25 per cent today, the level it moved to when rates were cut by 25 basis points in October.

The decision to delay further interest rate relief will surprise the majority of economists who anticipated a cut, and disappoint borrowers who were hoping for a rate reduction.

The Australian dollar rose on the decision, moving from $US1.0368 in the moments before the announcement to about $US1.043.

Inflation flagged

The RBA flagged said a rise in inflation during the September quarter, in part due to the introduction of the carbon tax, was one of the factors in today’s decision.

“With prices data slightly higher than expected and recent information on the world economy slightly more positive, the board judged that the stance of monetary policy was appropriate for the time being,’’ said RBA governor Glenn Stevens in the accompanying statement.

“The introduction of the carbon price affected consumer prices in the September quarter, and there could be some further small effects over the next couple of quarters.”

Rochford Capital managing director Thomas Averill said the Reserve Bank was playing “wait-and-see” game by delaying a decision to cut.

“The RBA want to keep some bullets in the gun,” he said.

“If they cut too aggressively and things start to deteriorate, then you have same situation as you have (overseas) where central banks have cut rates so much that monetary policy has become a blunt instrument.”

 

He said the next decision in December would be another 50-50 call.

Surprise decision

National Australia Bank group chief economist Alan Oster said he was surprised by the RBA’s decision.

‘‘They seem to be saying the world is a bit better, inflation is a bit higher and growth is around trend,’’ he said.

‘‘My initial reaction is that the RBA is going to sit and wait for a little while. I still think they have one more cut to come,” said Mr Oster.

ANZ head of economic research Ivan Colhoun agreed that the Reserve Bank was factoring in previous rate cuts into its decision.

“They are looking at how their past decisions are flowing into the data, which suggests they will be somewhat gradual (with their decision-making),” he said.

He said the bank hinted at the need for other sectors of the economy to pick up in order to offset the decline in resources.

“Reading between the lines, it looks like, if they don’t  get signs that they are picking up, then they would be prepared to ease some more,” he said. “But that would probably be later next year.”

RBA: Benefits to come

The RBA also stressed that the full effect of the 150 basis points in cuts its made since November 2011 had not been be felt by consumers and businesses.

“Further effects of actions already taken to ease monetary policy can be expected over time,’’ said Mr Stevens.

“The Board will continue to monitor those effects, together with information about the various other factors affecting the outlook for growth and inflation.”

With Georgia Wilkins

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House prices struggling

House prices inched higher last quarter and annual growth was barely positive, a sign past rate cuts are having only a tepid impact and an open door to more easing ahead of the Reserve Bank’s rates decision today.
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The Australian house price index rose by just 0.3 per cent in the third quarter, following a 0.5 per cent rise in the second quarter, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Over the year to September, they grew 0.3 per cent following a 2.1 per cent drop.

Economists polled by Bloomberg expected a 1 per cent rise in the quarter, amid firmer auction clearance rates and lower interest rates. In the year to September, analysts forecast a 0.8 per cent rise.

The housing market has sent mixed signals in recent months, with auction clearance rates in Sydney and Melbourne rising, but demand for home loans remains at a 35 year low and new home sales have fallen.

Meanwhile, capital city homes prices fell 1 per cent in October, following a 1.4 per cent increase in September, according to RP Data. In October, home prices fell 0.9 per cent in Sydney and 1.1 per cent in Brisbane.

Commonwealth Bank chief economist Michael Blythe said the market was starting to reflect rate cuts from the middle of the year, but that things were still very patchy.

“There are lags in these sorts of things, so the September quarter data will reflect decisions made mid-year, when latest round of rate cuts began,” he said.

“Then we can expect that improvement in affordability to flow through more clearly.

But he warned that the property outlook was unclear.

“It’s still a very uncertain environment. You still have a range of fears out there about, for example, job security, and global issues are still in the background,” he said.

“Sentiment is still pretty fragile overall. And as we have seen, things can change pretty quickly.”

Macquarie economist Brian Redican said weaker housing growth showed that rate cuts were not having as much of an impact as in the past.

“The Reserve Bank cutting interest rates has removed some of the downward pressure from the housing market,” he said.

“But without investors coming back and looking to re-gear, and indeed with banks reluctant to lend, I don’t think you’re going to get the very strong increases you’d typically have when the Reserve Bank cuts interest rates significantly.”Comment at BusinessDay

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EDITORIAL: Time for council reform

AS a concept, council amalgamations are a perennial part of the political debate. They are often proposed at times of financial trouble, or as a means of driving efficiencies from the smallest of Australia’s three tiers of government.
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Historically speaking, many of this state’s existing 152 councils were formed during earlier rounds of amalgamation. But in recent years at least, mergers such as the one that formed Upper Hunter Shire Council in 2004 have been the exception rather than the rule in NSW.

Now, however, a draft discussion paper by an independent review panel appointed by the state government proposes a potentially substantial series of council amalgamations as part of a broader program of local government reform.

If carried to fruition, the panel’s program could cut the number of councils by a third.

Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils would merge, as would Wyong and Gosford, while Cessnock, Dungog and Maitland would combine to form a ‘‘central Hunter’’ council. Port Stephens, on the other hand, is regarded by the review panel as ‘‘likely to remain sustainable in its present form well into the future’’. So, too, would Muswellbrook, Singleton and Upper Hunter, with potential for a new type of ‘‘county council’’ to provide common services to all three.

As things stand, the Local Government Act requires extensive community consultation before amalgamations can proceed, and the review panel’s findings take the Coalition’s 2011 election policy of no forced amalgamations into consideration. The panel fears there is ‘‘little likelihood’’ of many voluntary mergers in the current climate, so it is proposing a ‘‘substantial package’’ of incentives to help incumbent councillors accept the need for change.

In 1993-94, then premier Jeff Kennett took the axe to Victorian local government, forcibly merging more than 200 municipalities into fewer than 80. In Queensland, Labor pushed through its own controversial program in 2008, although some of these amalgamations are being unwound after new Liberal Premier Campbell Newman offered ratepayers a vote.

Now, it’s NSW’s turn. Each locality must be looked at carefully and dispassionately, with no room, as the review panel notes, for ‘‘self interest’’ or ‘‘special pleading’’ from individual councils. Ratepayers should make their opinions known.

But given the problems facing the sector as a whole, the time for substantial council reform, mergers included, is surely overdue.

ICAC: Feast before mine deal

ENTREPRENEURS pushing a training mine proposal in the Hunter took one of Ian Macdonald’s former staffers out for an $850 steak dinner that included expensive wine, seafood and goat cheese souffle, a corruption inquiry has heard.
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The Independent Commission Against Corruption is probing a coal exploration licence at Doyles Creek in the Hunter Valley, granted by Mr Macdonald to former CFMEU boss John Maitland and his associates in December 2008.

The ICAC heard on Wednesdayfrom Craig Munnings, a former departmental liaison officer in Mr Macdonald’s office, who allegedly met with Mr Maitland and entrepreneur Craig Ransley for dinner at Sydney’s Prime Restaurant in April 2008.

The $850 bill for the meal, shown at the inquiry, includes $484 for two bottles of Kilikanoon Q wine, three $46 steaks, $28 in water, a $100 tip, and $65 for a private room at the ritzy venue.

The meal also included scallops, goat cheese souffle, seafood salad and sauteed mushrooms.

Mr Munnings said three people were probably at the dinner because three steaks had been consumed.

‘‘The suggestion has always been Mr Maitland, Mr Ransley and you,’’ said the counsel assisting the commission, Peter Braham.

Mr Munnings rejected suggestions that he drank ‘‘rather a lot of red wine’’ at the dinner, saying he would have imbibed one glass at the ‘‘absolute maximum’’.

‘‘If I did drink … I would have no more than one glass,’’ he said.

Earlier, Mr Munnings denied that he had been the ‘‘principle conduit’’ between Mr Macdonald and the proponents of the training mine proposal.

He also dismissed a suggestion that he was Mr Macdonald’s ‘‘right-hand man’’.

‘‘That’s someone else’s view,’’ said Mr Munnings, who described himself as a ‘‘post box’’ in the minister’s office.

Mr Munnings said he had ‘‘a certain disquiet’’ about the granting of the Doyles Creek licence, saying it ‘‘wasn’t the best political look’’.

However, he had organised letters supporting the training mine plan for the minister in mid 2008.

He said the letters had been discussed in the minister’s office in relation to how ‘‘some political cover would be best by having … third-party endorsements’’.

He told ICAC he then had a phone discussion with Mr Maitland about how the letters would ‘‘assist their cause’’.

The letters in favour of the proposal were later received by the minister’s office and forwarded to the department of primary industries, ICAC heard.

The inquiry before Commissioner David Ipp continues on Monday.

AAP

IAN MACDONALD

OPINION: Wounds we don’t see are hardest to heal

‘‘IN the trenches.’’ This phrase means something to most Australians. It means doing it tough, working hard, relying on people left and right.
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Australians’ first real experience with life ‘‘in the trenches’’ started on April 25, 1915, in the chaos and carnage of that first landing at Gallipoli. Those ashore started to dig frantically to gain cover from the troops, which Eric Bogle in his song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, described as ‘‘Johnny Turk’’.

More than 8700 Australian deaths later, our country left those bodies and our military innocence, in the rocky soil of that Turkish peninsula.

For most of the AIF who survived, it was then off to the killing fields of France and Flanders for three terrible years ‘‘in the trenches’’ again there.

When World War I ended, our countrymen and women came home to families and friends in 1918 and 1919, to resume their lives. While the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief, there was an urgency to get on with lives that had been put on hold.

But there was also a prevailing culture among the overwhelmingly male veterans, to internalise a great deal of what had happened to them ‘‘in the trenches’’. A sort of ‘‘don’t dramatise, don’t skite, don’t whinge’’ attitude. Helpless families became used to ‘‘Bill’s having one of his moods’’ or ‘‘Jack’s taken to drinking very heavily since he got back from the war.’’

It was called ‘‘shell shock’’ back then, a vague term which covered dealing with the horrors of war.

Fast forward to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when, for the first time, Australia started to field psychological health programs – not just for veterans returning from combat but also within the ranks of those serving while on operations.

You might think, ‘‘We have known since World War I – nearly 100 years – about mental injuries such as ‘shell shock’, or ‘war neurosis’.’’

But by and large we used these conditions to describe people who were catastrophically affected – basically incapable of functioning.

Many others had been affected; those who were not obviously affected ‘‘soldiered on’’. To use a sporting analogy, it resembled the notion of ‘‘playing injured’’. You’ve all seen these soldiers on Anzac Day.

When these psychological programs and protocols were first introduced into the Australian Defence Force, I was sceptical.

I was then a colonel, the director of infantry, in some ways a spiritual head of that core component of the Australian Army. I worried that psychological-based interventions on troops involved in combat would be very destabilising.

I have changed my mind, because what the evidence shows is the earlier the intervention and support given to any soldier diagnosed with a psychological problem, the better the chance they have to minimise its effects.

Some military men and women return to duty quite quickly after counselling. Some never return. But all of those suffering the consequences of trauma will be better in the long run because of the treatment. The key is the availability of, and access to, experts in post-traumatic stress. You and I can see a wound or a broken bone, but an injured mind is another matter.

Complicating the issue is the fact that frequently, people in uniform will ‘‘crack hardy’’, and put on the brave face of their calling.

I see this frequently within the ranks of the Vietnam veterans.

I hear from the likes of Pat Cleggett, from the Partners of Veterans (a group largely made up of families of Vietnam veterans), who speaks lovingly but sadly, of the burden the families of all the ‘‘Bills and their moods’’ carry.

I listen to men like Professor Max Bennett of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, and start to understand that some chemical changes in the brains of traumatised people are profound.

But today an extraordinary amount of help is available.

I’ve stood at Lone Pine, an emblem not just for Gallipoli but for Australians at war on land, at sea, or in the air.

If those Australian men buried in the ground could have spoken to us over the past 98 years, they would want us to understand the ‘‘Bills’’ and ‘‘Jacks’’ (and now the ‘‘Sues’’ and ‘‘Janets’’) traumatised by war.

They would demand we provide the help their mates ‘‘in the trenches’’ could not get.

Retired General Peter Cosgrove is the former Chief of the Defence Force.

OPINION: Saluting our heroes

OUR history books describe the Gallipoli landing as the day Australia came of age.
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It was not our first foray into battle but our first as the Australian Imperial Force.

Despite the devastating toll, our Diggers fought with distinction and left a deep and profound legacy. We now commemorate Gallipoli, and Australia’s subsequent wartime experiences, acknowledging how they have shaped our nation and become an integral part of describing who we are.

But on Anzac Day even the most eloquent find it difficult to define the essence of the word ‘‘Anzac’’.

We painstakingly search for the right words in an effort to do justice to more than 102,000 Australian lives lost.

I have been asked to present my views on why Anzac Day has re-emerged to be such a significant national occasion.

I have delivered these views in many Anzac Day addresses at home and abroad. Following the anti-war sentiment surrounding the Vietnam War, Australians drifted away from Anzac Day commemorations.

They began to return in the 1990s driven by bipartisan support for our troops. Regardless of any political beliefs, the Australian community has shown unwavering loyalty towards the men and women deployed on operations creating an avenue for greater public attendance and support for Anzac Day.

There are however many other views, so perhaps it is time to listen to some other voices.

To gain a better understanding of what Anzac Day means to Australians in 2013 I turned to social media last week and sought perspectives from my Twitter and Facebook followers.

Overwhelmingly, Australians see Anzac Day as a time for reflection: to reflect on what the original Anzacs did for values of King and Country that seem strange to us today, and on the work that the Australian Defence Force undertakes today to protect our way of life.

“The day I ask if I would make a mark in their shoes and vow to do better with what I have” (Steve Barrett, Twitter).

We recognise the hardships our servicemen and women have endured and continue to endure today and we pay tribute to the families who support them.

There is enormous pride among the descendants of our veterans and the families of Australia’s current serving military personnel for their loved ones’ selfless work.

“ … Anzac Day is not just a day for heroic deeds and bravery in light of adversity, but rather a time to appreciate those without a chest covered in medals, the ones who did their job when a job needed doing” (Jeremy Gadsden, Facebook).

We pay tribute to those who have served and to thank those who serve today.

More than 3000 Australian Defence Force personnel are deployed today in Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Solomon Islands.

We are on duty in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian and Pacific Oceans and on border protection operations.

These men and women know the challenges of active duty.

Importantly, they accept the responsibility to continue to display the Anzac spirit and, like their forebears, they demonstrate courage and compassion under the most difficult and dangerous conditions.

They are heirs of the legacy and they embrace it with great respect and dignity.

Some “wear their grandparents’ service medals as proudly as they wear their own” (Andy Stuht, Facebook).

For our former and current serving members, Anzac Day is about mateship. Those we served alongside, the mates we lost, and those who stand beside us today.

We draw strength from those who have known operations or combat and celebrate the extraordinary bonds that are fundamental to our military service.

We acknowledge the battlers and the heroes and salute the hundreds of thousands of Australians who paid with their lives in the service of our nation.

A renewed appreciation for the significance of Anzac Day has led to a strong desire “to ensure our children respect the tradition and all that it stands for” (Juanita Matthews, Facebook).

In the words of one seven-year-old boy: ‘‘Anzac Day is a day everyone remembers that our soldiers are special, because they are the brave ones who will do anything to protect their family, friends, the whole country and even me. But I remember them everyday’’ (via his mother Samantha Jane, Facebook).

Anzac Day is a day to acknowledge those who suffered and still suffer from the effects of war.

A day to remember the strength of human spirit, the value of mateship, but above all else, it is a time to remember those who have fallen.

Almost a century after the Gallipoli landing we need not search for more than four words to embody the spirit of Anzac – courage, endurance, mateship, sacrifice.

These words have stood the test of time.

Lest we forget.

General David Hurley is the Chief of the Defence Force

PRIDE: Australians regard Anzac Day as a time for reflection.

Abbott wavers on business tax cut

Abbott defends ‘big spender’ tag
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Tony Abbott has cast doubt on whether he will be able to deliver big business a tax cut that will fully compensate companies for the levy that will fund his promised paid parental leave scheme.

The Opposition leader has also warned that Labor will try and “booby-trap the future” by trying to saddle an incoming Coalition government with “a whole lot of commitments that make managing the budget very, very difficult indeed”.

Mr Abbott told the ABC’s 7.30 program on Wednesday that his “hope” was that he would be able to deliver an “offsetting company tax cut” at the same time he introduces the parental leave scheme if he wins the September election.

“What we want to do is have a modest reduction in company tax that will mean that, for big businesses, there is no net increase in tax despite the paid parental leave levy – and, of course, small business will get a company tax cut and paid parental leave without having to pay the levy,” Mr Abbott said.

But Mr Abbott said the Coalition would not be able to finalise the timing of the the promised company tax reduction and the scheme until it had seen the pre-election fiscal outlook, which he feared would be “much worse than the the Government is currently letting on”.

Under Mr Abbott’s planned scheme a primary carer would receive their full wage for six months, capped at salaries of $150,000. The estimated cost of the scheme at the last election was $3.3 billion a year, to be funded primarily by a 1.5 percentage point increase to company tax for the 3200 largest companies.

In the interview, Mr Abbott stressed that every policy had to be tested against that framework of how was it going to return the budget to surplus and how it was going to make the economy more productive.

He expressed confidence that voters would accept that he had grown during his period in public life, adding: “I’d like to think that I have grown as opposition leader and I am confident that I can grow as prime minister should the public give me that extraordinary honour.”

Pressed on the biggest hurdle to a Coalition victory, Mr Abbott said: “This is a pretty hopeless government, but they’re pretty clever at politics and I suspect that every day they will be out there, A, milking incumbency; B, demonising the Opposition; C, mortgaging the future in the hope of buying a few votes; and, D, booby-trapping the future in the hope that an incoming government will be saddled with a whole lot of commitments that make managing the budget very, very difficult indeed.

“It’s a pretty low and dishonourable government that way, but I think we are more than up to it.”

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Scarred by Sri Lankan torture

”Kumar’s” scars are real and are only just beginning to heal – the result, he maintains, of four gruesome days of torture in a dark room, somewhere outside Colombo, barely two weeks ago.
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”I thought I was going to die,” he says, before his captors allowed him to dress, then blindfolded him, and dumped him beside a road.

To the Tamil Refugee Council in Australia, the scars are proof that those suspected of supporting the defeated Tamil Tigers are still being persecuted in their homeland.

To the Sri Lankan government, they are a ”fabrication” designed to undermine confidence in a reconciled nation and give succour to those ”defeated terrorists” still seeking a separate Tamil state.

What seems beyond question is that Kumar, not his real name, was un-scarred when he left Melbourne in March to return to Sri Lanka to run the restaurant of a hospitalised uncle – and very badly scarred when he returned on April 11.

Kumar admits he accepted money to carry some parcels for the Tamil Tigers while working as a bus driver in Sri Lanka in 2006. He says he left the country two years later and entered Australia on a student visa before completing a course in cooking and being granted a 457 visa in January last year.

Twice, he says, he returned to Sri Lanka to visit family before his wife and three children were able to join him. Each time, he says, he kept a low profile, staying in the family home, and had no trouble.

This time, he suspects he was spotted by Sri Lankan intelligence officers while working front-of-house in his uncle’s restaurant.

He was riding home from the restaurant on a motor bike with his brother when they were intercepted. Kumar says he was bound, blindfolded and driven to a room and tortured for four days.

Early on, he says he saw a stove in a blood-spattered room, discarded women’s underwear and an iron bar in a bucket. The ordeal reached its climax on the fourth day, when he says his back was beaten with the scalding bar.

”They wanted me to admit that I’m a LTTE [Tamil Tiger] and I said, ‘No. How can I admit? I just delivered some parcels for some money’,” Kumar told Fairfax.

”On the last day I begged them not to kill me, [saying] ‘I’ve got family, I’ve got kids’. They showed me a blank sheet of paper and wanted me to sign.” He claims that 30 minutes after signing the paper, he was released by a roadside.

Now he is seeking asylum, saying he fears that his back injuries will prevent him returning to work at a suburban Indian restaurant – and leave him liable to deportation.

Sri Lankan high commissioner Thisara Samarasinghe said the story is ”exactly a fabrication for vested interest … if he has reasonable and admissible evidence, bring it up to the authorities and be assured [they] will treat it with absolute seriousness”.

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Back to the future for Gidley

At a stage of their careers when most athletes know their roles inside-out and back-to-front, Kurt Gidley is returning to square one.
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After 197 NRL games, 12 Tests and 12 Origins for NSW, the Newcastle Knights skipper is established as one of the game’s most experienced campaigners.

But the 30-year-old has no qualms about admitting that when it comes to playing hooker, he is still an L-plater.

Gidley, the game’s premier utility player, has spent the past three games as rake after champion Danny Buderus was sidelined indefinitely with a recurring back injury that required a second bout of surgery.

Given that Buderus is set to hang up his boots at season’s end – if indeed his battered body lasts that long – then Gidley could well become a permanent fixture at dummy-half for the rest of his career.

While the prospect of learning a whole new trade at such a late juncture might be unsettling to some players, for Gidley it must evoke a sense of deja vu.

After making his top-grade debut as a five-eighth with a lone game in 2001, he has forged a nomadic existence ever since.

Wherever he plays, Gidley never seems to put a foot wrong.

In 2002, his first full season in first grade, he started as a bench-warmer, had a game at centre, switched to pivot and finished the year as fullback.

He spent the next few years playing alongside Andrew Johns at pivot, or filling in at first receiver whenever Johns was unavailable.

In 2007, he moved to fullback and appeared to have finally found himself a permanent home.

But the arrival of Darius Boyd last season changed all that.

After Wayne Bennett took the reins, Gidley started at five-eighth before switching to halfback, where the coach hoped he would form a long-term partnership with Jarrod Mullen.

But the impressive form of young playmaker Tyrone Roberts, combined with Buderus’s injury, prompted Bennett to scrap Plan A.

Now Gidley is preparing himself for a new challenge.

While he has played his share of cameos as a bench hooker in representative teams, at club level his experience at dummy-half extends to just five games.

Hence, while he says “it’s not a big deal wherever I play in the team”, he admits it will take time to learn the hooking craft.

“I’ve only played hooker for different parts of my career, mainly in the rep teams when I’ve come off the bench,” he said.

“So I think there are certainly things I’ve got to learn if that’s the position I’m going to play over the next few years.

“I guess that’s up to the coach and where he sees my best fit being in the team.”

Gidley said he had tailored his training program to cater.

“I think any time you get to play a long time in one position, you get to know that position a bit better and any extras you do after training, you train for that specialised position,” he said.

“Whether I’m playing halfback or when I’ve played at fullback, all your extras revolve around what you do for the team or the finer skills of that position.

“If I know I’m going to be playing hooker, I’ll obviously get in and do the things I need to work on.”

Former Knights coach Michael Hagan, under whom Gidley made his debut in 2001, had no doubt the multi-talented matchwinner would handle the transition.

“It might take him a bit of time to come to grips with the extra workload and fatigue, but he’s certainly got the skill set to do it,” Hagan said yesterday.

“Physically he’s fit enough to cope with the defensive stuff. And when he’s played that role in the past for NSW, coming off the bench, he’s been one their most dangerous players despite getting limited time.

“I guess Kurt’s a victim of his own versatility, but he always puts the team first.

“And at the end of the day you just need him out there around the ball.”

For Gidley, a change is as good as a holiday.

“As long as I’m out on the field and part of it, then I’m happy wherever I am in the team,” he said.

“If that’s hooker for when Bedsy moves on, then I’m comfortable with that.

“My job is to do the best job I can wherever Wayne has me in the team, and it’s been hooker the past few weeks.

“I’ve enjoyed it.”

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

Hird: Dig in to win

James Hird James Hird
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Under seige: James Hird coaches Essendon players at training on Wednesday. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Galvanised by off-field turmoil, the belief at Essendon is now ”real” and has the ladder-leading Bombers better placed than at any other time during James Hird’s tenure to upstage Collingwood on Anzac Day, the coach says.

Rampaging on the field, and under siege off it, the undefeated Bombers will take aim at the Pies hoping to break a seven-game losing streak against their arch rivals and record their first win in the traditional MCG blockbuster since 2009.

Like last year, Essendon heads into the showdown at 4-0, however Hird says this year’s team is a far more complete unit than the one the Pies knocked over in round five and then fell apart in the second half of the season.

”I think we are better placed. We’ve certainly got a better injury list, more players are available, and we are playing better football than we were this time last year,” said Hird, who took over in 2011, but targeted 2013 as the time the club would make its most significant move.

”We may have been 4-0 last year, but if you look back at the games we won, we were just beating sides and probably lucky to win a couple of those games,” he said.

”I think the way we are playing [this year] is a lot better, and the way we are defending is a lot better.

”But having said that Collingwood are a quality team, top two in the competition probably, and playing some really good football as well.”

Hird said fallout from investigations into the club’s supplement program in 2012 had steeled the players’ resolve, and that had grown with each victory.

”I think the belief in this team is outstanding. They believe in

themselves, they know who they are, they’ve been thrown challenges and they’ve met them all the way,” Hird said.

”The belief is a real belief.”

The Bombers’ form stacks up as well as any other team in the competition, with against-the-odds triumphs against Adelaide and Fremantle reinforced by a no-mercy annihilation of Melbourne in round two and professional dismantling of St Kilda last week.

Most significantly, considering the Bombers’ woeful record away from Melbourne, the victories against the Crows and Dockers came interstate.

In 2012, Essendon’s first four wins were against North Melbourne (two points), Port Adelaide (25 points), Gold Coast (17 points) and Carlton (30 points).

The Bombers’ injury list is shorter than last year – the club must have set a record for games missed through soft-tissue injuries in 2012 – but the names that are on the injury list are high-profile; main focal point Michael Hurley (ankle) and veteran defender Dustin Fletcher (groin), and that does not include suspended forward-ruck Paddy Ryder, either.

Essendon resisted the temptation to make Joe Daniher the type of feel-good debutant story that has marked several Anzac Day matches in the past, instead going with Scott Gumbleton, David Hille and the returning Stewart Crameri as its key forward-ruck contingent – as was flagged throughout the week.

The Bombers also recalled Travis Colyer and Kyle Hardingham as an injection of fresh legs into a team that, like Collingwood, has had just five days to recover from its last game. Defender Tayte Pears and midfielder Jake Melksham were the two players that made way.

It was expected Hille and first-choice ruckman Tom Bellchambers would face the ruck duo of Darren Jolly and Quinten Lynch, however Collingwood sprung a selection surprise on Wednesday night by leaving out Jolly.

Forward Tyson Goldsack will return after missing last week with leg soreness to replace Josh Thomas.

Given Jolly has played about 70 per cent game time across his two games for the year, Pies coach Nathan Buckley said the veteran would be better served regaining touch in the VFL, leaving Ben Hudson to team with Lynch.

”He’s missed a lot of footy, and missed a lot of training,” he said.

”We’ll just give him the opportunity to get up to speed, and trust the incumbents at the moment. Darren needs solid training, he needs the football.”

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

TOPICS: Memories of first Anzac Day

Share your ANZAC Day pictures with the Herald by emailing [email protected]南京夜网.au or submitting them via The Herald’s app.
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GAME: Learn how to play two-up

WHAT is Anzac Day about?

It feels like we’re still trying to decide, after 97 goes at it.

So what did they make of it when it was new?

Topics has flipped through the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate of April 26, 1916.

It reports on the first Anzac Day. Understandably, it was all about Gallipoli.

‘‘Newcastle yesterday paid impressive tribute to the memory of the Anzac landing, and the Australians and New Zealanders who fell in that historic fight, and on Gallipoli,’’ reported the Herald.

Shops were shut for the morning as locals shuffled into ceremonies mastered by the mayor and dignitaries from the Returned Soldiers’ Association.

Anglican and Catholic church services were central pillars of observance, and the troops who marched through Hunter, Watt and Church streets were to fall out ‘‘in order of their respective churches’’.

Deans and padres led their congregations through hymns, and buglers wailed out the Last Post. Early morning crowds ‘‘thronged’’ into the city, but it wasn’t a carnival.

‘‘Rather was there an appropriate air of quiet reverence, though the tinge of pride in the achievements of the Australians.’’

Sound familiar? While the tone of solemnity had been established, the country was in the thick of a war. Recruitment stands hummed in the midst of the grief.

Enlistment drives reported ‘‘numerous’’ offers of service, but the percentage of ‘‘rejects’’ was high. Of the 240 men who volunteered, 140 were turned away.

‘‘It is a sad day of mourning to many throughout this sunny land,’’ concluded the Herald’s editorial, musing on the Gallipoli landing.

‘‘It was not a victory, but it was not a defeat.’’

That night, the Strand Theatre on Hunter Street played a reel of images from the war.

After that, the audience was treated to ‘‘the picture the censor condemned’’, Blanche Sweet in The Secret Orchard.

Adopted teams

‘‘WE are the champions,’’ gloated more than one Novocastrian this week. By ‘‘we’’, they meant 11 well-paid men and a manager on the far side of the world.

They were referring to their adopted team, Manchester United, winning the English Premier League. Few had braved the cold at Old Trafford, but that’s OK.

It’s not unusual for an Aussie sports fan to go for a team overseas as well as their local favourites.

We’re surrounded by colleagues who track the form of Arsenal, the LA Lakers, New York Knicks and Newcastle United.

These allegiances can be based on heartfelt bonds with the respective cities, or nothing at all.

We’ve spoken to readers who’ve had a soft spot for Liverpool since Craig Johnston scored for them in the 1986 FA Cup final.

Brother of Topics backs Chelsea because they were alphabetically the first five-star team that came up in the FIFA video game.

Topics, for what it’s worth, takes an interest in Lisbon football team Benfica, and gridiron’s New Orleans Saints. We liked the places. That’s all.

Who’s your overseas team?

IN HONOUR: An advertisement for World War I footage at the Strand Theatre in 1916.

Melbourne woman dead in Bali

A middle-aged Victorian woman died earlier this month in mysterious circumstances in Bali but it was two weeks before her body could be identified.
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Linda Margaret Chilver, 54, of Morwell, died on the morning of April 11 about 11 hours after she was found lying on the road in the Bali suburb of Jimbaran, about 5km from her Kuta hotel.

A Bali police source said Ms Chilver had nothing with her except her clothes. There was no identification, no luggage or personal items, and she was not wearing underwear.

A tribute posted in The Age said Ms Chilver, who has one daughter, Paige, had died “unexpectedly in Bali”, and was “at peace with the world”.

It is understood Paige, 19, is travelling to Bali and will view the body first thing on Thursday to identify her mother. An autopsy will then be conducted to try to establish a cause of death.

The family intends to cremate the body in Bali before flying the remains back to Australia.

Local police said Ms Chilver had been found by a passing motorcyclist lying unconscious on the road near Ungasan, in Bali’s southern tourist area, Jimbaran, at about 10pm on April 10.

One report suggested she had suffered several blows to the head, but the police source said there was no obvious injury except for blood coming from her ears.

He also said she had been seen acting strangely in the hour before her death. A witness told police that around 9 or 9.30pm that night she had been seen wandering the streets talking to herself, and at one point she had embraced and kissed a power pole and also kissed a sign outside a shop.

“We talked to the witnesses and to the house owner where she was spotted kissing the pole, and at a shop nearby,” the policeman said.

“The person tried to speak to her at about 9 or 9.30pm, but she did not respond.”

After being found unconscious, Ms Chilver was taken to a local hospital, then to the island’s main hospital, Sanglah. She died the following morning.

Police have asked Ms Chilver’s family to supply her medical records to try to establish if she suffered any previous illnesses or problems.

She was holidaying alone in Bali and had arrived on April 4, a week before her death.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said Australian officials were in contact with Ms Chilver’s family in Australia and were providing assistance.

“Consular officials informed Ms Chilver’s family that Indonesian officials had advised that [her] cause of death was unknown at that time,” the spokeswoman said.

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