Straight six: talking points ahead of the Boxing Day Test

1. SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT THAT SHAKY RUN CHASE?
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The best that can be said about Australia’s batting on the final day is that they got there in the end, though victory papered over more than a few cracks. They were teetering at 6-247 in the first innings before being saved by the tail and made hard work of the run chase. Senior men Shane Watson and Brad Haddin are down on form while question marks remain over Shaun Marsh’s credentials at Test level. A lot rests on Steve Smith and David Warner.

2. HOW IMPORTANT IS MITCHELL JOHNSON?

So long as Mitchell Johnson is fit and firing, Australia will back themselves to get out of many a hole. That’s how well he has played in the past year. The left-arm speedster is the most feared fast bowler in the world. He intimidates batsmen and, more importantly, gets them out. With Ryan Harris nearing the end and Peter Siddle down on form, it will be vital Johnson’s golden run continues so that youngsters like Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc are not burdened with too much too soon.

3. WHAT’S IN STORE FOR STEVE SMITH?

Australia’s 45th Test captain could not have been more impressive in his debut match in charge. He made runs when needed, generally pulled the right rein in the field, not to mention his classic catch at slip, and always kept his cool, even when his bowlers wilted in the heat on day one. The Australian team will enter a period of transition in the coming years as the likes of Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Ryan Harris near the end, but at this stage it appears they need not worry about the man who will lead them through this phase.

4. HOW MUCH LONGER FOR BRAD HADDIN?

It seems peculiar that the future of the wicketkeeper is in question after a game where he equals an Australian record for most dismissals in a Test innings. But the reality is glovemen these days are picked as much for their batting as their keeping, and Brad Haddin’s recent numbers are not pretty. The veteran, however, is still gloving them well and he remains a key figure behind the scenes at a time of uncertainty. That will buy him time though a big score in the next fortnight will be all it takes to get him to the West Indies and a fifth Ashes campaign.

5. HOW WILL JOE BURNS FARE ON DEBUT?

The 25-year-old Queenslander has been mentioned in dispatches as a future Test player for a few seasons and is in arguably career-best form. He has opened for the Bulls this season but started his career as a middle-order player. How he makes the leap to Test level could hinge on whether he is given a soft landing. He can ask Alex Doolan, Rob Quiney and Usman Khawaja how hard it was to make their debuts at first drop. Perhaps they could have made more of their opportunities had they been blooded at No.6.

6. WILL INDIA FALL AWAY IN MELBOURNE AND SYDNEY?

While the 2-0 scoreline in favour of Australia should come as no surprise heading into Boxing Day, India has been extremely competitive in both matches. This bodes well for the biggest two Tests on the calendar though the Indians made a bright start in England before capitulating in the final three matches. The positive for India is most of their batsmen are in form, which has not usually been the case on tours to Australia. If one or two can cash in big time and their fast bowlers click, an upset is not out of the question in Melbourne.

Kevin Muscat rues referee’s errors as Melbourne Victory lose to City in derby controversy

When things are not going your way you can’t take a trick.
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Melbourne Victory has now taken only one point from its past two games with controversial refereeing decisions costing the team at least three points, its coach Kevin Muscat believes.

In the wake of Victory’s last-gasp loss to Melbourne City in Saturday night’s derby the second season boss has vowed to ensure his team are the hungriest and most committed side in the competition, promising his players that there will be no let up in the three week A-League break while the Asian Cup takes place in January.

Victory was on the wrong end of two dubious decisions in its round 10 A-League game against Sydney that resulted in the Sky Blues getting two goals in a 3-3 thriller at Etihad on December 13.

On Saturday night they were also the victims of another contentious call, when Fahid Ben Khallfallah’s 72nd minute “goal”, which would have put them one up in a keenly contested derby against City, was ruled out for offside.

Muscat still doesn’t understand that call, and remains at a loss to explain why Melbourne City played out most of the second second half with 10 men after the clash between City’s midfielder Jacob Melling and Victory skipper Leigh Broxham, who was felled by a flailing elbow to the face from the former.

Referee Kris Griffiths Jones showed Melling a yellow card, but most neutrals believed the City man should have been sent off, especially given the treatment Victory’s Socceroo international Mark Milligan received after a similar incident in the match against Sydney.

On that occasion the referee took no action, but Milligan was outed by the match review panel for three weeks as a result of a probe in the days following the game.

When Erik Paartalu popped up at the other end to score a 90th-minute winner for City it only added to Muscat’s frustrations.

“I have just seen the referee’s report and it states he booked him [Melling] for a reckless elbow,” he said when asked about the clash with Broxham. “They are not my words, that’s what on the report,” Muscat declared after the game, mindful that any criticism of the official was likely to generate a fine or a censure from the FFA.

He was also bemused by the decision to rule out his side’s goal.

“I don’t know who the offside has been given against. If it’s against Bes [Besart Berisha] in the box he’s not offside.

“If its against Fahid who taps the ball in ultimately, when Bes makes contact with the ball, Fahid is outside the six-yard box, Bes is inside the six-yard box, so he can’t be offside either. And there was no flag that came up before that.

“Last week we copped a goal that was offside [Marc Janko’s opening equaliser for Sydney]. That went against us but it was allowed.

“Last week we cop a decision where the ball was out by half a yard and they score their third goal [the ball appeared to be out of play before Sydney delivered the cross that allowed Shane Smeltz to score to put the Sky Blues 3-2 up in that match]. That went against us.

“Things aren’t going for us, but we have to be better and not rely on anyone else’s decisions.”

The defeat ends Victory’s 10-match unbeaten streak and leaves them trailing runaway league leaders Perth Glory by six points.

Muscat’s men must now regroup and host the Newcastle Jets on Saturday night before entertaining the Glory on January 2.

After that there will be no easing down, despite the fact that the next match isn’t until Australia Day eve in Perth.

“What I concern myself about is commitment. This group made a commitment on first day of pre-season to give us and each other everything,” he said.

“We are not going to go away [during the Asian Cup break]. We are going to  train and work hard. We will have some time off but not much; we will work through and work hard. We have got a lot to work on so we will use that time during the break.”

Hunter Housing crisis hurting singles too

DOING IT TOUGH: Vicki Jordan has been couch surfing for more than two years, is on the public housing waiting list, cant afford to rent.Picture: JONATHAN CARROLLA SHORTAGE of single bedroom homes is exacerbating the Hunter’s 10-plus year public housing waiting list, and denying the region’s most vulnerable people access to the system.
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State government figures show that 60per cent of those living in social housing are single people without children.

But an ageing base of properties built when public housing was geared towards larger families is causing longer than necessary waiting lists that are choking the system and failing to serve the region’s demographics.

Across the Hunter one bedroom housing makes up 51per cent of the assets owned by the Department of Family and Community Services. In Newcastle, that figure drops to only 37per cent of its 4552 public housing properties.

In Raymond Terrace, one of the region’s most disadvantaged socio-economic areas, only 11per cent of the 744 public housing properties in the town are one bedroom.

Vicki Jordan, a single woman living in Raymond Terrace, is a victim of the undersupply.

Two and a half years ago she moved from Cessnock after a relationship breakdown.

She lost her casual job as a cleaner before Christmas in 2013 after she broke her arm, and has not been able to find work since.

Unable to afford private rentals on her single-person centrelink payment, Ms Jordan has been forced to rely on charity from family and friends, sleeping on couches and spare beds.

She said the constant stress of looking for private rentals and trying to get into public housing had left her mentally drained.

‘‘I feel like I’m going insane,’’ she said.

‘‘I write letters to housing, visit real estates, bounce around everywhere and nothing works.’’

Rental figures accurate to September showed the median price of a one bedroom home in Port Stephens was $205, a year-on-year increase of about 5per cent.

Ms Jordan said if she paid $205 a week in rent it would leave her with $100 to spend on food, bills and petrol.

If she were able to access public housing her rent would equate to about $76, but across Port Stephens wait times for one bedroom homes are listed as 10-plus years.

Adopted as a child, Ms Jordan says she’s only made contact with her family in the last few years. They all live in Raymond Terrace, and she said the thought of leaving ‘‘is terrifying’’.

‘‘I’d be by myself again, and I don’t really want to have to do that,’’ she said.

She also says she feels discriminated against and ‘‘judged’’ by private rental companies because she’s unemployed.

‘‘I wish I could tell the people there that they could be in my shoes one day too, there are a lot of people going through this sort of thing,’’ she said.

The Newcastle Herald previously revealed there are currently more than 4500 applicants on the Hunter’s growing public housing waiting list, and estimates of as many as 15,000 in the region suffering severe housing stress.

Much of the criticism of the system is aimed at investment in housing stock – since 2012 the department of family and community services has sold some 170 public housing properties in the Hunter New England district while only building 130 new dwellings.

All proceeds of sales are reinvested back into the portfolio, as required by the Housing Act 2001.

In 2014-15, Family and Community Services will invest $612 million in new building and maintenance of the public housing portfolio, a 23per cent increase on 2013-14.

Sunday, December 28

Gore galore: World Without End. Photo: SuppliedFREE TO AIR
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Save Your Life Tonight, ABC, 6.30pm

While ’80s heart-throb Cameron Daddo is soothing listeners of Melbourne nostalgia radio station, Smooth 91.5FM on the evening shift, one of his famous brothers, Andrew, is scaring viewers of this medical expert panel show with the opener, “I don’t want to be alarmist, but we’re all going to die – eventually”. Like American show, The Doctors, which screens on Ten right after Dr Phil has finished thrashing out worrisome family scenarios, Save Your Life Tonight examines, with the help of audience participation, health issues such as smoking, obesity, and tonight, mental health.

World Without End – final, ABC, 8.40pm

So this is why children should be in bed by 7pm. The elaborate television adaptation of Ken Follett’s epic tales from the cusp of British history just before the Renaissance is full of entirely appropriate bloody violence. If you’re unable or unwilling to suspend your disbelief and enter a world of barbarism, Shakespearean tragedy and romance, and graphic cruelty and despair, look away. Among the cast of big English names, which includes Ben Chaplin (The Truth about Cats and Dogs), and Charlotte Riley (Peaky Blinders), are some excellent performances by actors from across the Atlantic. Cynthia Nixon kicks off her Sex and the City shackles as villainess Petranilla; and Canadian Megan Follows as Maud is no more the sweet Anne of Green Gables. Bridget McManus

Coastwatch Oz, Seven, 8pm

Ever since the NZ reality series which followed fisheries police around as they faced off against illegal anglers – and were more often than not told to go jump by offenders who knew the officers were in no way capable of taking them on – I’ve been an addict of this type of show. And while the Australian version lacks those beautiful moments where someone screams: “You want these pippies? Take the damn pippies! There! Now they’re your pippies, give yourself a fine!”, its still fascinating to watch the situations people get themselves into when they head out for a day on the water. This week the spotlight falls on an abalone fisherman who doesn’t seem to care he has way too many of the precious shellfish and two women cruising Sydney Harbour in a leaky boat who can’t see how that might be a problem. They’re hardly murder cases, but utterly rivetting. If only there were some pippies in there somewhere.

Scott EllisMOVIES

The Maltese Falcon (1941), Gem, 1.30pm

For his first film as a director, and undoubtedly one of his finest, John Huston adapted Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 crime novel with perceptive thoroughness, right down to storyboarding every shot required. It is a movie after Huston’s heart: nothing gets in the way of a good conversation, and most everything – including who will take a murder rap – is open to negotiation. Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade, the San Francisco private eye whose business partner is killed in a long-running contest between various parties pursuing a priceless mediaeval artefact, in a film that coolly celebrates the power of greed to bend people to its will. Lean and tight in the plotting but crafted with an eye for unexpected interior shots, the film lets Bogart’s Spade memorably exchange theories with Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet). He’s bitter about what has transpired, they accept it with knowing pleasure.

Nebraska (2013), Masterpiece Movies (pay TV), 8.30pm

Alexander Payne converted his wry but low-key comic drama into black and white during post-production, a decision that added to the feeling that Nebraska is a film where the past – uncomfortable and misunderstood – hangs over everything, leading to dissatisfaction and stasis. Claiming that a marketing scam letter promising him $1 million is real, the ailing Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) keeps trying to cross Nebraska to collect, with his son David (Will Forte) eventually taking him despite knowing the truth. Like The Descendantsand About Schmidt, this is another Payne film about the changes experienced on a journey, although cemeteries housing forebears and ramshackle former houses make for a poignant progression. There are moments where the idea that Payne is mocking his subjects resurface, but the picture is better seen as a reflection on male stagnation, with Woody’s wife and David’s mother, Kate (June Squibb) the one person able to deliver the truth.

Craig Mathieson

Sharks in Sydney Harbour: the sobering reality

A great white shark near Pulbah Island in Lake Macquarie. Photo: Rod Collins
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A great white shark near Pulbah Island in Lake Macquarie. Photo: Rod Collins

A great white shark near Pulbah Island in Lake Macquarie. Photo: Rod Collins

A great white shark near Pulbah Island in Lake Macquarie. Photo: Rod Collins

A swimmer in Sydney Harbour passes over a shark. Photo: Sydney Institute of Marine Science

“Here?” It Is 7.30 on a cool early summer’s morning, and we’re aboard Myer Berg’s fishing boat, heading down Middle Harbour towards the Heads from a ramp near Roseville bridge. Dark olive-coloured water flows between banks of flowering gums, narrowing to less than 150 metres across in places, perhaps the width of 2½ Olympic swimming pools.

We’re discussing what it would take to persuade him to swim across the harbour without a shark cage. Nothing, as it turns out.

“No way in the world. If I was standing there,”  he says, pointing to the tree-lined bank   “You couldn’t give me a briefcase of money big enough to swim to the other side. I grew up fishing in places like this – and we have always seen fins.”

The 54-year-old, a knockabout character with an engaging grin (made more so by a couple of missing lower front teeth) learnt to fish as a toddler at his father’s knee, and now runs  Foreshore Fishing Tours around Sydney’s waterways.

He’s seen all the harbour’s splendours, and has glimpsed its dangers: the three-metre bronze whaler that ripped a client’s kingfish out of the net as he bent over the side of the boat to bring it on board; two large tiger sharks  (one longer, he claims, than his six-metre boat)  lounging  beneath his craft  one day as he fished off Balmoral beach; the mako that took his line and led him a chase across to Manly before it leapt from the water and broke free.

The channel takes a gentle turn and we’re heading  towards Sugarloaf Bay, a pretty name, forever tainted  by tragedy. The bush-lined cove must have seemed an idyllic setting for 32-year-old actress, Marcia Hathaway, and her journalist fiance, Fred Knight,  as they anchored here for a lunchtime boating party with friends on January 28, 1963.

Wading in 75 centimetres of -water, they would have had no hint of danger. Yet soon after they entered the water, a large shark attacked, leaving Hathaway’s right leg almost severed. Within 20 minutes her massive wounds had proved fatal.

Newspapers of the day reported the incident in graphic detail: Knight’s heroic struggle to wrench her from the jaws of the creature; his swim to a nearby house to call an ambulance; the mighty effort the party made to push  the vehicle up the slope when it broke down on the steep bush track. Her dying words and the shockingly candid photos of  her, open-mouthed, being stretchered through the bush – these  words and images burnt themselves so deep into my brain as a young child living in Sydney that I had nightmares for months afterwards, and the seeds of a life-long phobia were sown.

Strangely, the episode helped me become a champion swimmer in primary school. Early each weekday morning I would arrive at the harbourside Redleaf pool ( now re-named the Murray Rose pool) in Double Bay, and swim at top speed between its two  pontoons,  imagining what could be pushing through a hole in the shark-proof fence. These days, I’m still a pretty good swimmer,  but despite the teasing of friends, I can rarely be coaxed much past neck-depth at the beach. Every year, I vow to  join one of those ocean or round-the -harbour swims, and fail to find the nerve.

Berg refers to such events as “smorgasbords” – for the sharks, that is. The day grows overcast as Berg motors towards the mangroves at the far end of Sugarloaf bay. It is difficult working out where the attack might have taken place, though sand is just visible underwater next to the bank in some places. Berg’s depth sounder tells us the drop-off is steep: 11 metres very close to shore.

Middle Harbour is a drowned river valley with some of the deepest holes in the harbour  – up to 45 metres –  providing an environment ideally suited to large fish and their predators.

The day after Hathaway died, a hunting party hooked a large bronze whaler very close to where she was attacked.   Berg believes it was the same shark, and that he may even have seen the culprit the night before the attack.

He and his father were fishing from a sea wall near the Spit Bridge when a woman next to them, using a hand-line and dangling her lower legs in the channel, felt a disturbance below  the surface. She shone a torch in the water to get the shock of her life.

“Right under her feet was this massive shark,” Berg says, insisting he remembers the encounter “clear as a bell” despite being so young. “It was heading up this way and Hathaway got bitten the next morning; I think the chances are pretty strong it was the same one.”

There have been at least 16 fatal attacks in Sydney Harbour since the late 1880s, all in the summer months of December, January, and February. Hathaway was the last to die. But Paul de Gelder came very close in  February 2009. The navy diver was on a dawn assignment at Garden Island, helping to test sonar gear  and swimming along the surface on his back when he felt “an almighty whack on the leg”.

He turned to see what he described in his book, No Time for Fear, as “the huge grey head of a bull shark … [ with] the upper row of its teeth across my leg”. Twice it pulled him under, shaking him like a rag doll as he tried to punch free. De Gelder lost a hand and a leg and only immediate access to first-class medical treatment saved his life.

Berg is taking us around Middle Head now and over to Watsons Bay, where we rendezvous with a boat run by Berg’s fellow guide and  great mate, Craig McGill. McGill says neither he nor Berg  were surprised when the attack on de Gelder happened. The harbour was  “full of sharks” that year because of the huge quantities of kingfish in its waters. Indeed the pair had been laying bets on where – not when – an attack would occur.

A few days after de Gelder was hit, Balmain resident Louise Keats reported seeing a large shark leap from the water at Mort Bay, near her home. It’s a place where I’ve often seen children jumping from ferry wharves in the hottest days of summer.

I’m horrified to find in the Fairfax archives two newspaper reports, one from 1895 and one from 1929, detailing the grisly deaths of two young teen boys in Balmain and Rozelle, both taken by sharks, one after he leapt from a jetty just as local kids do today. Berg says he often sees children swing into the water from a Tarzan rope near Beauty Point in Middle Harbour, near a deep channel where he catches large fish.

The day after our harbour tour, he texts me to ask whether I’ve seen that day’s news: a 2.5 metre Great White  caught in nets off Bondi beach. Outside the heads, admittedly, but still, a little too close for comfort.

I ask Professor Emma Johnston, head of the Sydney Institute  of Marine Science, what she feels about the risk of harbour swimming. She says bull sharks in particular are a presence in the harbour in the summer months, travelling large distances – one tagged specimen lingered in the harbour for 14 days, swimming more than 230 kilometres at night and 65 kilometres during the day. The tagging program run by the NSW Department of Fisheries shows they can sometimes be in close proximity to swimmers, divers, kayakers and boaties.

“We know they are there,”Johnston says. “We know they are moving in and out and not eating people who swim. But I think that points to a couple of things. There  are ways of minimising interactions with sharks which don’t remove all risk, but do reduce it. Not swimming at dawn and dusk, and not in highly turbid water. Bull sharks are tying to target fish. But if  it’s murky and there’s thrashing about and they are  undecided, and it’s feeding time, then mistakes” – as she delicately puts it –  “can happen”.

She says  she is far more worried about  gastro bugs in the harbour after heavy rain  than sharks, and swims regularly in open harbour waters around Chowder Bay . After all, there are probably tens of thousands of Sydney-siders paddle-boarding, dive-bombing, swimming, kayaking and climbing out of boats into the harbour every year.

But the fishos aren’t persuaded, though they do agree with her on the riskiest times to be in open water: at dawn and dusk in the warmer months, and when bait fish are abundant.

“Sharks are not actively feeding during the day and I think that’s why we get away with so much swimming in the harbour,” McGill says.  “If there were  that many people in the water at dusk, dawn or at night, I reckon it would be carnage.”

So if it’s a bright sunny day, the water is clear, no one is chucking fish guts off the pier and kids are doing a few water-bombs into the sparkling depths, I’ll stifle my misgivings.   But you’ll only catch me in the harbour on the landward side of a shark-proof fence.

Department of Fisheries – Tips to reduce risk of shark attack:

– Don’t swim too far from shore.

– Swim in groups.

– Avoid being in the water when it’s dark or during twilight.

– Avoid murky water, waters with known effluents or sewage.

– Avoid areas used by recreational or commercial fishers.

– Avoid areas where seabirds or diving or there are other signs of baitfish or fish-feeding activity; Sharks may be present between sandbars or near steep drop-offs.

– Avoid swimming in canals, and river/harbour mouths.

– Avoid swimming with pets.

Tony Abbott plays reshuffle card in hope of a happier 2015 – discarding David Johnston

Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Who’s who in the Abbott ministry

This is the reshufffle Tony Abbott had to have. Its central aim is to bolster the economic foundations of the government with the inclusion of some extra backbone in the form of Scott Morrison, and some extra charm in the form of cabinet appointee Sussan Ley, and newcomer to the outer-ministry, Josh Frydenberg.

These are the important changes: Morrison, among the the most formidable and apparently most fearless advocates in the current cabinet, who comes in as Social Services Minister; Ley, who has had a big promotion and will steer through a revamped GPpayment among other things; and Frydenberg, an urbane and gifted communicator, who will no doubt buttress the otherwise wooden economic messaging of Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann.

However reluctantly, Abbott has bitten the bullet admitting what has been balefully obvious for months, that doing nothing was a recipe for continued drift towards the electoral abyss.

Abbott’s party-room declaration a few weeks back that 2014 had been a year of delivery and achievement was the final straw for some members of his government.

Aimed at reframing a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of a rambunctious Senate, the claim had the opposite effect, galvanising hitherto unexpressed concerns around the PM’s judgment.

It was a clumsy application of spin over substance, but worse than that, it rendered real for the first time the problem of a government unwilling or unable to break free of its own talking points, even as those same arguments fell flat with voters.

Abbott at least was attuned enough to offer some hope as well, promising to clear the governmental hull of a few drag-causing barnacles before year’s end.

His office scoffed at the suggestion of any personnel changes and swore David Johnston enjoyed the Prime Minister’s absolute confidence and would most certainly be there for a long time to come.

So much for that. Johnston has been dumped – the biggest loser. His crime was political buffoonery rather than administrative failure. Worse ministers have survived under the radar.

The inclusion of Ley in cabinet as Health Minister doubles the female representation – another admission of the political mistakes of the original line-up.

Abbott’s stubbornness in resisting a shake-up had been premised on two judgments: a recognition that reshuffles create new enemies, and, a pathological aversion to handing a win to his liberal critics in the commentariat.

This reshuffle has done both. But it has also improved the team, and offers him the hope of a better 2015 than the year it succeeds.

Lydia Ko returning to Australia to challenge Karrie Webb

Arguably one of the most influential people in sport, rising teenage sensation Lydia Ko, will headline a top-flight field trying to stop hometown hero Karrie Webb from achieving Australian Open history for the second time in her career.
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Ko, still just 17, has been described as the next star capable of transcending golf – having been named one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” – and is the talk of the international scene following her incredible 2014 season on the LPGA Tour.

The New Zealand superstar is breaking down the barriers of what young people can achieve in elite sport, having earned $3.5 million this year, including a $1.55 million payday in November described as the biggest single earning in women’s golfing history.

As she aims to win in her first major and perhaps set her sights on becoming world No.1 in 2015, the golfing world is waiting to see Ko’s next step – and it’s a journey that will begin at Royal Melbourne on February 19 next year.

Ko will be the star attraction in the hottest field Australian golf has seen this summer, made up of 15 of the world’s top 30 ranked players, a combined 11 major winners and five former No.1s.

Aside from world No.3 Ko, Chinese dynamo Shanshan Feng (No.5) and Korean fan favourite So Yeon Ryu (No.7) will be the other players to watch in a chasing pack for Webb’s title that bats even deeper, in terms of international stars, than the one that competed for Rory McIlroy’s trophy at this year’s men’s Australian Open.

From a flag-bearing perspective, this year’s Open will be the first tournament rising Australian star Minjee Lee will appear in as a professional, fresh off her impressive performance earlier this month at the qualifying tournament for the LPGA Tour, which netted the 18-year-old from Perth a ticket on women’s golf’s richest circuit.

They will all be aiming to dethrone Webb, who is looking to turn the same trick she completed in 2008 – when she successfully retained the Australian Open title she won in 2007 – and also etch her name into the record books by winning her sixth Australian Open crown.

Webb clinched her fifth title at last year’s event at Victoria Golf Club, coming from five shots behind on the final day to pull off a shock win with a vintage display.

Ko finished equal third last year, just two shots behind Webb, and also finished top three the year before, making this year’s event a chance for redemption in a country that holds special significance for her, given she won her first professional event on the ALPG Tour in New South Wales in 2012.

“I’m really looking forward to coming back to play the Melbourne sandbelt,” Ko said. “I have great memories of playing in Australia and it’s always nice to play in front of an audience who shows us such great support,” she said.

The Australian Open is co-sanctioned by the LPGA and Ladies European Tour, which helps organisers attract high-quality fields, and tournament director Trevor Herden said the event had delivered again.

“We have 15 of the top 30 players in the world rankings coming – it’s a great testament to the reputation we’ve built up in recent years,” he said.

“We’ve got so many women who could legitimately lay claim to our title – and that’s including a host of young Australian women.”

All four days of the event will be broadcast live on ABC, with Royal Melbourne’s composite course set to host the event for the second time in four editions.

Minister for major events, tourism and sport, John Eren, believes the elite field reinforces the reputation of Melbourne’s sandbelt as a top destination for golfing tourism.

Crown loses appeal to increase sentence for bowling club shooting

VICTIM: Dick McGuigan was shot as a club was robbed. THE thug who directed a gunman to ‘‘put one in’’ Water Board Bowling Club patron Dick McGuigan will serve his 16-year jail term after the Court of Criminal Appeal declined to increase it.
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The Crown appealed Ryker Scott Jennar’s sentence, which included a 12-year non-parole period, as being ‘‘manifestly inadequate’’ for one count of attempted murder and four counts of armed robbery.

The court ruled that while the sentence might be described as lenient, it was not manifestly inadequate.

Jennar was part of a small team that robbed the Carrington Post Office on June 11, 2010, the Criterion Hotel at Carrington on May 22, 2011, and the New Lambton branch of the Newcastle Permanent Building Society on July 15, 2011.

However, it was on June 19, 2011, that Jennar and Joel Douglas Barton entered the Water Board Bowling Club while a number of patrons were still inside.

With their faces covered and Barton brandishing an assault rifle, they took money from a safe before Mr McGuigan approached Jennar and said ‘‘I know you, I recognise you. What the bloody hell are you doing this shit for? Wake up to your bloody self’’.

‘‘F… off, idiot,’’ Jennar replied.

Mr McGuigan followed Jennar and Barton as they left the club before Jennar said to Barton: ‘‘Put one in him’’.

Barton shot Mr McGuigan in the stomach from about four metres away.

Mr McGuigan survived, but required multiple operations and treatment for many months.

The three judges who sat on the Court of Criminal Appeal watched the CCTV footage of the robbery because the Crown wanted them to properly appreciate the seriousness of the incident.

Justice Robert Hulme ruled, however, ‘‘I did not glean anything from it about the seriousness or any other aspect of the offence that was not otherwise apparent from the description provided in the statement of agreed facts and the judge’s sentencing remarks.

‘‘Those offences, including the shooting of Mr McGuigan, were clearly offences of very substantial seriousness.’’

Despite the Crown’s attempts, the court dismissed the appeal with Justice Hulme remarking, ‘‘A sentence of 16 years is a stern measure of criminal punishment, but such a measure was called for in all the circumstances.

‘‘I am not persuaded that it can be said to be manifestly inadequate.’’

The Crown also intends to appeal Barton’s sentence, which was the same.

Barton also intends to appeal his convictions for the robberies and attempted murder.

Both men are eligible for parole in 2023.

Evergreen Michael Hussey and Jacques Kallis lead Sydney Thunder to thrilling Big Bash win

When Mike Hussey and Jacques Kallis began playing senior cricket Twenty20 wasn’t even thought of as a format. Yet what was designed as a young man’s game to attract a new audience was on Sunday night set alight by a pair of 39-year-olds who in the old days would have their feet up by now. As it happened: Sydney Thunder v Brisbane Heat
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Hussey (98 from 60 balls) and Kallis (97 not out from 55) were a sight to behold to get Sydney Thunder, the laughing stock of the Big Bash League in the past few seasons, off to a flyer with a 56-run win.

Their opponents, Brisbane Heat, were set a mammoth target of 209 thanks to a jaw-dropping 160-run opening stand between the veteran openers and there was no coming back from there thanks in no small part to the impressive Gurinder Sandhu (3-19) and Andrew McDonald (3-20).

The BBL is well removed from their Test heyday but Hussey and Kallis in full flight were thrilling, the duo bludgeoning 13 sixes between them. Both feature only on the T20 circuit these days and hadn’t played since the Champions League in September but didn’t look remotely rusty, with the ageless Hussey offering a reminder of how valuable he could still be to Australian cricket had he not retired from international cricket two summers ago.

“What’s Mike Hussey doing over February & March 2015 #WorldCup” asked former World Cup winning Tom Moody on social media, and it was a fair question as the Thunder’s captain showed he could doubtless still cut it.

Kallis, in his first outing in the franchise’s electric green, at the other end showed he is not simply in town to collect a pay cheque. The South African stood and delivered with a brutal arrival to the competition and like Hussey deserved the hundred that narrowly evaded him.

If that wasn’t enough for modern-day cricket’s greatest allrounder, Kallis then bowled Heat opener Dan Christian and took a key catch in the deep.

“It was great fun out there,” Hussey said. “It was great fun batting with Jacques Kallis. I’ve been playing against him all these years it’s good to play with him.”

The only disappointment was that there weren’t more backsides on seats, with only 10,152 seeing the masterclass.

The BBL faces a similar challenge here as the Olympic Stadium’s primary tenant, rugby league: a television product that many would argue is superior to what you get at the ground. Why would you turn up, they say, when you can stay at home listening to the excellent Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist and a miked-up player?

That doesn’t seem to be an issue in Adelaide, where more than 27,000 witnessed the first game of the tournament last week, but in western Sydney the Thunder are playing catch-up after several seasons of woeful results and failure to gather a following.

Even so, given the cast playing on Sunday night – a dozen internationals past and present, including England’s new Twenty20 captain Eoin Morgan and Test bolter Joe Burns – there were no shortage of attractions.

Where else would you be able to watch Andrew Flintoff bowl to Kallis in the flesh without access to a time machine?

The former England captain might have wanted to take off in one – back to the English summer of 2005 perhaps – after disappearing for 14 in his first over in the BBL, with Hussey the principal aggressor.

It didn’t get much better for Flintoff when he returned later to be slugged by Kallis. While the Thunder’s grand old stagers soared, it wasn’t his night, ending 0-25 from two overs. The 37-year-old was then sent packing late in the Heat’s run chase for nought.

Santa and team on lolly run save Rutherford man’s life

Please enable Javascript to watch this video► Ambulance’s tardy arrival queried
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IT MIGHT not be Christmas just yet, but Santa has already given a Rutherford man the best present of all – saving his life.

Telarah fire brigade members were on their annual lolly run on Saturday when, about 2.30pm, they chanced upon a house that was beginning to seep smoke from its front window.

Immediately, the team of retained firefighters kicked into action and began their remarkable rescue operation.

Still dressed in his Santa suit, Nick Carey broke the lock on the front door with the help of incident controller Grant Norman.

Kitted up, Bill Rowles and Joel Philip then made their way into the haze of smoke.

Inside they found a shirtless man, aged about 20, slumped and unconscious in a small black chair in the corner of the living room.

They picked him up and dragged him to the front door, where Mr Carey was waiting and helped by picking up his legs.

They carried the man to the front lawn, where Mr Carey and Mr Norman began CPR – at one point thinking he might not make it.

The other firefighters went back into the house because they had seen a cot and were worried a baby might be inside.

Santa’s rescue mission.

The blaze, a small kitchen fire, was quickly extinguished. By the time an ambulance arrived the man, known to neighbours only as “Wayne”, was conscious.

He remained at John Hunter Hospital in a stable condition on Sunday.

Mr Norman said the Telarah fire station was usually unmanned so it was extremely lucky they were driving past when they were.

“We all come from home if we get a fire call, so it would have taken around 10 minutes longer,” he said.

“He was unresponsive when we came across him so every second counts; it was incredibly lucky.”

Rutherford resident Michael Johnson, 66, captured footage of the brave rescue on his mobile, and the video can be seen at theherald上海龙凤419m.au.

It reveals just how serious things were when it shows one of the firies carrying out CPR saying: “We’re going to lose him”. “Without a doubt these guys saved this kid,” Mr Johnson said.

“I want people to know what an incredible job they did and how lucky this person was that they happened to be there.

“I guess you could say Santa’s come early this year.”

Ian Lazar: Dognapping victim charged with cattle duffing

Ian Lazar and his pets. Photo: Brendan EspositoDognapping victim and accused fraudster Ian Lazar has been hit with another raft of criminal charges, including cattle duffing and using “trickery” to obtain a concert promoter’s luxury wheels.
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Mr Lazar, who changed his name from Ian Rogut when he was bankrupted in the late 1990s, is currently behind bars, bail refused, having been charged with a raft of fraud offences and conspiring with a well-known standover man to assault and intimidate a police officer.

Mr Lazar’s hopes of getting bail before Christmas were dashed last Thursday when the lender of last resort was hit with another nine charges.

They include three counts of stealing cattle, a fraud offence relating to the disappearance of a $100,000 tractor which Mr Lazar borrowed and a broken promise to pay an $11,000 bill for helicopter hire.

Mr Lazar was also charged with “larceny by trick” in relation to a Lexus motor vehicle which was owned by music promoter Kevin Jacobsen and his wife Billie.

Mr Jacobsen had gone to Mr Lazar for financial assistance in 2010 after a legal dispute which saw Mr Jacobsen fall out with his brother and then business partner Colin Joye.

According to the police fact sheet, which was presented to Central Local Court last Thursday, the Jacobsens’ Lexus ended up in the hands of a prominent standover man.

Many of the charges against Mr Lazar stem from former clients who, having found themselves in financial distress, are alleging they ended up even more distressed after their dealings with Mr Lazar.

In 2011 Mr Lazar was hit where it hurt most when four of his seven lapdogs were kidnapped.

The dognappers demanded payment of $300,000 for the safe return of the pooches, who wore matching day clothes and then were dressed in pyjamas for bed.

When Mr Lazar demanded “proof of life” he was sent a photo of his dogs cowering in a cage, with the front page of that day’s Australian Financial Review.

“They’ve been watching too many movies,” Mr Lazar said at the time.

Three of the four dogs were eventually recovered.

Mr Lazar’s matter will be mentioned in court on January 15.

Department of Human Services spends $500,000 on legal fees fighting $6000 child support dispute

A “scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money”: Nick Xenophon. Photo: Quinn RooneyFull public service coverage
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The Department of Human Services has spent more than half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money in legal fees fighting a child support dispute over $6000.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says the case is a “scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money … to protect the butt of the department”.

Now the department, which runs the Child Support Agency, Centrelink and Medicare, has hired more high-end lawyers to try to block the release of information on its own conduct in the matter, exposing taxpayers to up to a million dollars in legal and other costs.

Child Support Agency bosses have spent the money despite knowing, since August 2011, that their public servants broke the law in the man’s case and were on shaky legal ground from the beginning of the dispute.

DHS has been ordered by the government’s information watchdog to hand over a briefing it prepared for its minister, along with other documents, but the department has hired top-end lawyers Clayton Utz to fight the decision of the Australian Privacy Commissioner.

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Throughout the three-year legal battle with the father, a determined litigant known simply as “DT” because of strict Family Court rules on identifying parties, Human Services have tried to resist handing over documents to the court and defied orders to release information to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Transparency and accountability at Human Services, the government’s largest department, has been under fire since a report by the Information Commissioner revealed an organisation obsessed with process, that preferred legalese to plain English and had increasingly lost sight of its duty to share information.

As of April this year, DHS had paid more than $500,000 to defend the DT case and refuses to say what has been spent since.

The department refused this week to say how much taxpayers’ money was being paid to Clayton Utz for the latest legal manoeuvre but a spokeswoman insisted the department was justified in another round of legal action to keep documents suppressed.

“Matters are generally appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where the decision being appealed contains an error of fact or an error of law,” the spokesman said.

“As this matter is subject to ongoing litigation, the department will not be providing further comment at this time.”

Senator Xenophon has been trying to use Senate estimates to get answers on the spending on the case, but his questions have been taken on notice, with Human Services then refusing to answer, citing “confidentiality”.

“This is bureaucracy gone mad and now they’re refusing to answer how much has been involved,” Senator Xenophon said.

“Taxpayers should expect a better response than this, they are hiding behind confidentiality and it seems a cowardly way to avoid accountability.

“This seems to be a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money for no good effect other than to protect the butt of the department.”

Violent offender Richard Reay stays behind bars

DANGEROUS: An artist’s impression of Richard Reay, who will spend another year in jail despite the expiry of his sentence. HE’S one of Australia’s most dangerous offenders whose random unprovoked violence has caused havoc in NSW and Queensland while at liberty and in jail.
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As recently as September he fractured a fellow inmate’s jaw.

Windale’s Richard Reay will finally be released in December next year after a Supreme Court judge ruled that he should remain behind bars even though his most recent jail sentence expired in October.

Reay’s record is littered with assaults of varying ferocity including an unprovoked attack on a man with a baseball bat at Windale in 2003. He fled NSW and was later arrested and charged in Queensland with a number of violent offences.

His violence and disturbing behaviour in the Queensland prison system, such as drinking from his toilet bowl and masturbating persistently in front of others, resulted in him being segregated with no real human contact for three years, the court heard.

After being extradited to NSW in 2011 using a specialised prison van that was constructed to transport serial killer Ivan Milat, Reay, 40, was sentenced for the Windale attack, which expired on October6.

The state of NSW won an 11th-hour application in October to keep him behind bars under its high-risk offenders legislation after more evidence emerged of his behaviour in jail including attacking a dental nurse, prison guards and inmates.

Justice Richard Button recently ordered Reay to remain in jail until December 2015, at which time he will be released under an ‘‘extended supervision order’’ that will run until December 2017.

Under the order Reay will be electronically monitored and will not be allowed to enter the Newcastle or Lake Macquarie areas without the permission of a parole officer, but Justice Button remained concerned Reay may have nowhere to live when he is released.

The court heard that Reay is finally undergoing a one-year violent offenders’ program in jail ‘‘and seems to be progressing very well’’, Justice Button noted.

Two forensic psychiatrists reported to the court that Reay still posed ‘‘a high risk of committing a serious offence of violence if released’’ after diagnosing him with ‘‘a severe antisocial personality disorder and substance use disorder’’.

Reay appeared at the most recent hearing via audio-visual link from Parklea prison where he was ‘‘a little disruptive throughout the course of the hearing’’, Justice Button noted.

But Justice Button also believed that was natural for someone who was ‘‘resentful and exasperated’ at being held in jail beyond their sentence.

Reay must continue in the violent offenders’ program and must co-operate with psychiatrists and psychologists between now and his release.

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