Greens senator Christine Milne.LABOR’s pain over its under-performing minerals resource rent tax is set to increase when the Greens unveil plans for a wide-ranging inquiry into its design and performance.

The Greens leader Christine Milne will open a new line of attack on Labor’s left flank on Tuesday, using a lunch-time address to the National Press Club in Canberra, to push for a full-scale Senate inquiry.

It would need the backing of the Opposition in the Senate to be successful.

Under the plan, the committee will be tasked with examining all aspects of the MRRT’s design and administration including its highly troubled negotiation phase with the big three miners, and “the extent to which the design of the tax as opposed to other factors such as commodity prices are responsible for the mismatch between actual revenue and revenue projections”.

Also in the Greens’ sights are the lack of community consultation; options to strengthen the tax to raise more money from miners; its current impact on the budget; and, the extent to which its shortfall has compromised other programs.

The potentially embarrassing election-year move will put the minor party on a collision course with the party it backed to form government in the House of Representatives.

It comes as Labor struggles to explain why a super-profits tax that was projected to raise $2 billion in its first year to fund tax breaks for businesses and the low paid – itself a downward revision on previous projections – has turned in just $126 million in its first six months of operation.

Branding Labor as “too scared” to take on powerful vested interests, Senator Milne will argue the eventual tax was merely a political fix to silence the miners in the lead-up to the 2010 election. “If a government is too scared to take on vested interests, then it is the people who can’t afford ads in the paper or television, who can’t afford expensive lobbyists to walk the halls of Parliament House, people who can least afford it – people like single mothers – who end up paying,” she will say according to speech notes obtained by Fairfax Media. “Well, the Greens aren’t afraid.”

It is unclear whether the Opposition will back the move but the Greens believe Coalition support is likely, if only to embarrass the government before the election.

The Senate inquiry is separate from smaller inquiries already under way in the Senate regarding loopholes in the tax which allow big miners to depreciate assets from current market value, and which also allow state governments to jack up royalties at the expense of the Commonwealth.

Ms Milne will say she has raised concerns about the mining tax “in public and in private with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer on numerous occasions”.

“It is now clear that they, like Tony Abbott and Warren Truss are just not prepared to put themselves on the line for the national interest,” she will say.

“Let us put to rest the nonsense that the mining industry cannot afford to pay more.

“In 2011, the big three companies that negotiated the mining tax – BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata – made a combined annual profit of $27 billion.”

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Join the Markets Live blog from 8.30am

Australian shares are set to open flat to lower on weak offshore leads as investors take in another busy day of local earnings reports.

On the ASX24 shortly after 6am, the SPI futures contract was 4 points lower to 5038. The Aussie dollar was trading flat against the greenback, buying $US1.0296, slightly ahead of yesterday’s close. It was also buying 96.77 yen, 77.11 euro cents and 66.60 pence.

Companies reporting earnings today include Coca-Cola Amatil, Arrium, Southern Cross Austereo and Asciano.

Making news today

In economics news:RBA minutes from the February policy meeting at which interest rates were left on hold

In company news:The following companies report first half results: Arrium, Southern Cross Austereo, Sonic Healthcare, Monadelphous Group, Macmahon Holdings, Asciano, Australian Infrastructure Fund, Mcmillan Shakespeare Coca-Cola Amatil full year resultsInvoCare full year results

Analyst rating changes:Macquarie Atlas cut to hold at Deutsche BankPacific Brands cut to reduce at NomuraGPT cut to underperform at Credit SuisseIluka Resources raised to sector perform at RBC Capital

Offshore overnight

United States

Wall Street was closed for the President’s Day public holiday.


Europe’s main stock markets mostly fell after a weekend meeting of the Group of 20 leading economies ended with Japan being spared an accusation of unfairly devaluing its currency.

Key numbers:London’s FTSE 100 lost 0.16% to 6318.19 Frankfurt’s DAX 30 added 0.46% to 7628.73 In Paris the CAC 40 added 0.18% to 3667.04


Asian markets were mixed, with Tokyo surging thanks to a weakening yen after a weekend G20 meeting ended without accusing Japan of orchestrating a recent slide in its currency.

Key numbers:Japan’s Nikkei added 2.09% to 11,407.87 Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.27% to 23,381.94 China’s Shanghai composite lost 0.455 to 2421.56

How we fared yesterday

The Australian share market closed higher, led by the major banks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index lifted 29.5 points, or 0.59 per cent, to 5,063.4 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index had added 28.3 points, or 0.56 per cent, to 5,082.9 points.

BusinessDay with agencies

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Bungie’s next original creation, Destiny, is now more than just a name and some concept art.Throughout the week, I keep a Word document on my computer desktop where I paste in quick notes and links for the next Tuesday Newsday. I usually end up with four or five when Monday evening rolls around, a practical length for an article like this.

However, this week I have over a dozen, so I have had to prune away some of the less interesting stories and keep only the best of the lot. Even so, this is going to be a long one…

Bungie finally unveils their new IP

One word, “Destiny”, and a weird triangular logo. That’s all we’ve had for months, teasing the brand new game from one of the most popular studios on the planet.

Far back in 2007, Halo creators Bungie announced they had secured their independence from Microsoft and were striking out on their own to create new intellectual properties (IPs). Three years later, they announced a long-term publishing deal with Activision, which would include several new IPs that would remain Bungie’s property.

In November, there was a leak – a title and a logo, some meaningless concept art, and some very vague plot details. Bungie responded by confirming the title and logo were genuine and releasing some more concept art. After that, silence.

This week, Bungie has finally unveiled some substantial detail about Destiny, though many of the specifics are still quite vague. We now know that it is an always-online massively-multiplayer first-person shooter, and that it will be console only – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and “future consoles” only, no PC. While even more concept art has been released, maddeningly there is still no gameplay footage, or even stills.

The concept is that humanity has been nearly destroyed by natural disasters, and a roving alien intelligence saved a small human community from total extinction. This community has grown and thrived thanks to their protector, and are now striking out into the devastated earth to reclaim it. They quickly learn that they are not alone: many diverse alien species, all of them apparently hostile, have taken up residence on the deserted world, and humanity will have to fight if it wants its home back.

No release date had been announced, but the loose launch window is late this year, presumably in time for the Christmas shopping season. Check out Bungie’s video documentary if you want to know a bit more.

Telltale announces Walking Dead sequel

Well, this could get confusing. Telltale Games, the creators of the popular and critically acclaimed Walking Dead episodic game series that snagged a host of “game of the year” awards, have announced they are creating a sequel. Labelled a “second season”, it will once again be an episodic release, and Telltale has revealed that the huge success of the first season of The Walking Dead is going to affect how they design games and do business from now on.

The only problem is that there is already a Walking Dead game coming out in 2013. Published by Activision, The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts will be a first-person shooter survival game. Rather than being based directly on the comics, as Telltale’s adventure series was, it will be based on the Walking Dead TV series, which has stamped its own style on the franchise.

The shooter is due out in March, while no release date details have been given for Telltale’s second outing.

Steam starts selling Linux games

It was pretty much an inevitability after Valve boss Gabe Newell called Windows 8 a “disaster for gamers” and declared Linux to be the open and free future for PC gaming, but this week it actually happened: Steam has started selling games for Linux. While Steam promotes Ubuntu as their favourite “flavour” of Linux, it appears to support a variety of distributions.

The launch is a quite spectacular one, with Steam listing over 100 games for sale to Linux users on day one, a huge improvement over the launch of their Mac OS X support in 2010, with around 50 games available. Considering Mac OS X users now have over ten times that many to choose from, this promises a bright future for Linux-based gaming.

Even so, there are few high-profile games available so far. The vast bulk of the launch day titles are independent releases, and while many of them, such as Bastion, FTL: Faster Than Light, and World of Goo have found some mainstream success, they lack the star power of Portal 2, which was the flagship of the Mac OS X launch.

Still, it is early days, and those in the market for a bargain would do well to check out the Linux launch sale: every Linux-enabled game is on sale, even for Windows and Mac users.

A plethora of game delays

Several high profile games have been delayed in the past couple of weeks, with perhaps the highest profile of the lot being Grand Theft Auto V, which has slipped back to September after initially being announced as a northern Spring release (March to May). Rockstar said the delay was to polish the game more and make sure it would be as good as possible.

Last week we talked about Rayman Legends, which was both announced as a cross-platform title and also delayed until September. Wii U fans were angry when publisher Ubisoft admitted that the Wii U version, which was originally supposed to be ready in November 2012 for the launch of the new console, is finished, but will not be released until the PS3 and Xbox versions are ready later in the year. This does not say good things about Ubisoft’s faith in the value of the Wii U.

This week, Naughty Dog fans emitted a collective groan of disappointment when the creators of the phenomenal Uncharted series revealed that their new project, The Last of Us, has slipped back a month from May to June. The highly anticipated PS3 exclusive was, like GTAV, delayed in order to finish off the final polish and make sure it was ready for release.

It’s official: 2K has the WWE games licence

Wrestling fans can finally let out a sigh of relief. The fate of the WWE wrestling licence was not officially revealed during the massive sell-off of THQ’s assets several weeks ago, but rumours were circulating that 2K Sports, the label behind NBA 2K13 and many other popular sporting titles, had picked it up. Those rumours have now been officially confirmed.

The details are still a little hazy, but it appears that 2K’s parent company Take Two has retained the services of Japanese studio Yuke’s, which had been creating THQ’s wrestling titles for them for several years. Some fans have expressed disappointment over that last fact, as they felt Yuke’s was stuck in the past, and the franchise needs a breath of fresh air.

As for whether there will be a WWE game out this year, there is no word currently.

All Australian states now have R18+ rating for games

Queensland has finally caught up with the rest of the country, with its state parliament belatedly passing legislation to put the R18+ rating for games into law.

The decision was marked with several snafus, with the most prominent being the Queensland Attorney General’s website publishing a press release announcing the new legislation before the vote had taken place. The vote was then delayed again and again, and for a while seemed likely to slip backward into the next sitting of parliament. In the end, though, the vote occurred and the legislation was passed into law.

Had there been further delays, we would once again have seen the situation we had in the 1980s and 1990s when Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen placed more stringent restrictions on video rentals, leading to many notorious horror films carrying the famous “banned in Queensland” sticker. Any R-rated games released in the rest of the country would have been banned in Queensland. Thankfully, this legislation means that the new classification scheme is now standard across all states and territories.

Do you have a hot tip for a gaming new story? Send it to DexX at [email protected]苏州美甲美睫培训.

– James “DexX” Dominguez

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

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An increase in the cost of calling international numbers on Virgin Mobile plans, which will see the per-minute rate of calling some places soar by 1289 per cent, has angered many customers.

On Monday, Virgin sent an email to customers telling them that it was “updating” its international calling rates and country groups for customers on its mobile Big Cap, Big Plans and Fair Go plans.

The email said the changes would come into effect on February 28, “so if you are calling overseas from your mobile after then, please take note of the new call rates and country groups”.

No justification for the price increase was given in the email. If customers had any questions, they were directed to discuss them with Virgin staff in Virgin Mobile’s online community forum.

One Virgin Mobile customer, Lydia Sper, said the changes were “disgusting”. She wrote on the public forum using capital letters to express her opinion about the price increase.

Ms Sper, of Melbourne, wrote that she used Virgin Mobile to call her fiance in Fiji. The telco used to charge $2 per minute for the calls, but from February 28 the charge would triple to $6 per minute.

“There is no justification in such a price hike!” Ms Sper wrote. “I will now search for another mobile phone provider who does not charge such ridiculous rates to Fiji.”

Another example, given by a reader who contacted Fairfax Media, showed a 1289 per cent price hike on mobile phone calls made to Tokelau from Australia. Virgin Mobile currently charges $1.80 per minute to call people on the ring-shaped reef north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean, but will soon charge $25 per minute.

Virgin Mobile community manager, Jordan Kerr, has been consoling customers in the Virgin forum, responding to their questions about the price increase. He said changes to the top 20 countries people called had been “minimal” and that the price hike had to do with Virgin Mobile recently charging customers for international calls to some countries at a loss.

“In recent times, the cost to Virgin Mobile of international calls has risen and we have had to pass these costs on,” Mr Kerr wrote. “Essentially we have been charging for calls to some countries at a loss and a lot of the reasons for the price increase are out of our control and include market shifts, international exchange rates, foreign government regulations and so on.”

In his comments to users, Mr Kerr added that in “the interest of fairness” it was worth noting that Virgin was one of the only telcos in Australia that included international calling credit in plans.

But this was a poor explanation for one customer, who told Fairfax that the price hike meant that the included international call credit with one of its $89 plans wouldn’t last as long as it used to.

The plan includes $89 worth of international calling credit and previously would have allowed for just under 49 minutes of talk time to Tokelau from Australia. But under the new international calling rates, the plan’s included talk time to the reef could be used up in fewer than four minutes.

In a statement, Virgin Mobile said it estimated that the changes would cause “inconvenience” for less than one per cent of its customers “who call the countries in the categories most affected”.

The statement linked to tips for people to use when calling international numbers.

The tips suggests people use email, social networking or Skype to stay in contact with people overseas as “making calls while overseas or to other countries can be expensive”.

It also suggests using a local SIM and not checking voicemail while overseas.

 This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

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Australia likes to think of itself as exceptional. We’re different. We’re lucky. The troubles of the world do not reach us.

It’s true by and large. We have avoided most the world’s worst afflictions, including much of the global financial crisis and its impacts on house prices.

But we’re not quite as different as you might like to think. Other nations had very similar experiences before and after the GFC, with asset prices just as robust and the imbalances that come just as troubling.

Sweden is one nation that we might do well to take a closer look at.

Sweden’s housing market shares a lot of similarities with Australia after its financial system was deregulated in the mid-1980s, which led to a house price boom and then correction as the Swedish economy entered recession in the early-1990s.

However, whereas Australia’s banking system was almost brought to its knees via widespread corporate losses, Sweden experienced a banking crisis in the early 1990s after house prices crashed, as well as the bailout of Sweden’s banks by the government.

And like in Australia, since then Sweden also experienced a large house price boom that ran from 1996 to 2010, whereby prices rose by about 165 per cent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, before falling by about 6 per cent since their peak:

Swedish authorities also implemented a range of measures to stimulate the housing market and maintain the flow of mortgage credit during the onset of the GFC.

While the Australian government increased grants to first home buyers, in Sweden tax breaks were implemented in 2008 for homeowners wishing to renovate newly purchased properties.

Like in Australia, the government also stepped up the provision of liquidity to the banking sector, guaranteeing the funding of the banks and mortgage institutions, as well as establishing a long-term stability fund to deal with any future solvency problems.

Like Australia’s, the Swedish tax system encourages house purchase over other investment options. In general, owner occupiers can deduct 30 per cent of mortgage interest from their marginal rate of tax. Although there is also a capital gains tax of 30 per cent on two-thirds of any price rises, this can be deferred as long as another owner-occupied property is bought, and the rule applies to heirs as well.

Access to mortgage credit has been particularly loose in Sweden. In the years leading up to the GFC, loans were typically granted up to 95 per cent of property value, although 100 per cent-plus loans were also available.

Moreover, loan amortisation periods are particularly long in Sweden – at 100 years for houses and 200 years for tenant-owner apartments. Like with Australian banks, this huge loan growth was funded by an increasingly large reliance on wholesale funding.

The Swedish planning system is also highly restrictive, resulting in home building rates near the bottom of European countries.

These similarities have, according to the IMF, put both Sweden and Australia close to the top of the list of the most indebted households in the world:

But there is one area where Sweden and Australia are less alike. Swedish authorities are tiring of the housing situation, and are looking to dampen demand by strengthening safeguards on excessive mortgage lending.

In October 2010, Sweden’s financial regulator, the Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA), capped mortgage loan-to-value ratios (LVRs) at 85 per cent, a move that helped slow annual mortgage growth from more than 10 per cent between 2004 and 2008, to 4.5 per cent in December 2012.

However, this rate of mortgage growth remains too high for the FSA’s liking, and it is now seeking to impose further LVR limits, as well as increase capital adequacy requirements on Swedish mortgage lenders.

From Bloomberg:

“Sweden’s financial regulator says it’s ready to tighten restrictions on mortgage lending to stop banks feeding household debt loads after a cap imposed during the crisis failed to stem credit growth …

“The FSA is ready to enforce a cap limiting home loans relative to property values to less than the 85 per cent allowed today, [FSA director general Martin Andersson] said. Banks may also be told to raise risk weights on mortgage assets higher than the regulator’s most recent proposal, he said. The watchdog has other measures up its sleeve should these two prove inadequate, he said.

“As most of the rest of Europe grapples with austerity and recession, the region’s richer nations, including Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, have been battling credit-fuelled housing booms …

“Switzerland this month ordered its banks to hold 1 per cent additional capital against risks posed by the country’s biggest property boom in two decades. Norway in December proposed tripling the risk weights banks must use on mortgage assets to 35 per cent …

“The regulator last year also proposed tripling the risk weights banks apply to mortgage assets to 15 per cent. While the pace of credit growth has eased, household debt still reached a record 173 per cent of disposable incomes last year, the central bank estimates.

“That far exceeds the 135 per cent peak reached at the height of Sweden’s banking crisis two decades ago. Back then, the state nationalised two of the country’s biggest banks after bad loans wiped out their equity.”

Australia is yet to even debate the merits of macroprudential tools beyond a few dismissive utterances from the Reserve Bank. Yet these tools are enabling Swedish authorities to more specifically target areas in the economy that need to grow, without triggering further destabilising asset price growth.

Sweden has a weakening economy, in part a result of an overvalued currency (though less so than ours). Nonetheless, the Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, has slashed interest rates by 75 basis points to 1 per cent in the past year and is successfully forcing down the krona, the local currency, to boost export-exposed industries.

This a lesson for Australia. The balance of using macroprudential tools (controlled here by APRA) to manage credit issuance along with falling interest rates (controlled here by the RBA), could also work for Australia and could materially lower the dollar without increasing the risk of housing assets inflating or deflating too rapidly.

Meanwhile, the dollar would dramatically increase Australian competitiveness in the tradeable sectors, which would grow over time to offset our asset-price and household debt imbalance.

Australian authorities need to look at Sweden.

Leith van Onselen is the chief economist at MacroBusiness. The site offers free 2013 forecasts for the Australian economy, the Australian dollar and the top ten share picks for the year.

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Wal King joins Bumi rebellion

Nathaniel Rothschild’s bid to gain control of Bumi, the coal venture at the centre of a dispute between Rothschild and the Bakrie Group, may struggle to win support after a major holder sold a 13 per cent stake.

Rosan Roeslani, an associate of the Bakries, sold about 24.2 million shares of the London-listed company to three separate investors, according to a statement yesterday. The sale increases the amount of votes Rothschild will need to win at the Febraury 21 shareholder vote on his plan to oust most of the board.

The voting rights associated with those shares had previously been excluded by a UK Takeover Panel ruling.

The development comes as a commissioner at the OJK – Indonesia’s financial services regulator – said yesterday that Bumi Plc may be required to make a takeover of Bumi Plc’s Indonesian unit PT Bumi Resources should Rothschild succeed in ousting the board.

‘‘As of yesterday, the voting outcome of these new buyers is still unclear,’’ Alexander Ramlie, a director of Bumi Plc, said today. ‘‘The results of the shareholder votes would probably be very tight for either side.’’

Bumi Plc was founded in 2010 when Rothschild and the Bakries bundled stakes in two Indonesian coal companies – Bumi Resources and PT Berau Coal Energy – in a $US3 billion deal. Both parties have made proposals to shareholders that would separate the Bakries from Bumi Plc, a move the current board of Bumi Plc is also pursuing.

Shares of Bumi Plc advanced 4.4 per cent in London yesterday to 394 pence. The stock, which slumped 69 per cent last year, has rebounded 43 per cent this year. Bumi Resources added 8.6 per cent to 1,010 rupiah, a six-month high, in Jakarta trading this morning.


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A television producer says he’s a million dollars out of pocket because the Gold Coast’s daily newspaper ran a story about his ad calling for a “single and attractive” personal assistant.

The career advertisement sought the new employee for a proposed reality TV show called Bikini Island.

Charles Dupois on Monday lodged defamation proceedings in the Supreme Court of Queensland seeking $1 million in economic loss from News Limited, plus another $500,000 in general and aggravated damages.

In the show, 100 girls would spend a month on a tropical island with 50 millionaires.

Mr Dupois claimed an investor pulled out after the Gold Coast Bulletin last month wrote about the production assistant ad.

Mr Dupois said the job ad was honest and upfront about the need for the assistant to be female, unattached and good-looking.

“When you have attractive women in this particular field, who are approaching clients, sponsors, branding companies … believe me, it helps you close the deals a lot more,” he told Fairfax Media.

“A lot of people don’t want to talk about this because they don’t want to talk about discrimination, but behind the scenes, this is the truth.”

Mr Dupois, 40, said he had learned from the experience of his previous reality TV show, Fantasy Island.

Mr Dupois said an unnamed investor had responded to another advertisement they had placed, looking for someone to fund $1 million in pre-production costs on the promise of a 30 per cent return.

“After that article went in [the Gold Coast Bulletin], we lost the investor, because of the innuendo drawn in it,” he said.

Gold Coast Bulletin editor Peter Gleeson said he could not comment while the issue was before the courts.

According to his court documents, Mr Dupois is also suing Channel Nine’s A Current Affair program for $50 million.

Mr Dupois maintained Bikini Island would go ahead later this year, starring him and a yet-to-be-cast model as co-hosts.

He plans to film on an island in Malaysia, Thailand or Fiji, and recruit the contestants from Croatia, Russia and Scandanavia.

“We were originally going to cast girls from Australia, but because of all this defamatory and derogatory innuendo and so on, we decided we weren’t going to do that,” he said.

Mr Dupois, who describes himself as an international recording artist and world peace ambassador, said negotiations were underway to have the show screened in 120 countries.

“What man in his right mind is not going to watch a show featuring some of the most beautiful women in the world prancing around an island in their bikinis?

“And which woman is not going to want to watch the show to compare her body and appearance, or to say something nasty – that’s the world we live in.”

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CHENNAI: The architect of Australia’s era-defining win in 2004 believes Michael Clarke’s side should not feature an abundance of spin “for the sake of it”.

Former head coach John Buchanan says instead, the fast bowlers’ success with reverse swing would likely be their trump-card in the quest for only a second series victory in India in more than 40 years.

Buchanan was head coach almost nine years ago when Adam Gilchrist, standing in for the injured Ricky Ponting, led Australia to an historic 2-1 triumph on the subcontinent, described as the “final frontier” by the previous captain Steve Waugh.

Stung by defeat there three years earlier, Buchanan had planned meticulously a smarter way to approach India, placing primary faith in his pacemen and imploring them not simply to bowl with outright aggression, but more full and straight to split fields to temper the scoring of Sachin Tendulkar and the hosts’ all-star batting line-up.

The results were glowing: Jason Gillespie took 20 wickets at an average 16, Glenn McGrath 14 at 25 and Michael Kasprowicz nine at 28, with Shane Warne a support player in the master plan.

“One of the things that was obvious to us was the Indians tended to bat in boundaries. In other words, they’ve got to occupy the crease for a long period of time and they were able always to get a boundary away. That kept the score ticking along and reduced the risks that they needed to take,” said Buchanan, now New Zealand’s director of cricket.

“Basically, we designed a three-step strategy. One was how we were going to attack each batsman – that was always Plan A. Plan B was how do we reduce the boundaries, how do we stop them scoring? And Plan C, which we never really wanted to get to, was when they’re actually taking us apart. For example, the Kolkata experience (in 2001, where Australia was beaten by 171 runs) – what do we do then?

“The key was just sticking with it. Adam Gilchrist was captain that tour and he certainly made sure that all bowlers just stuck to a plan, whether it was Plan A, or Plan B. Very rarely did we get to Plan C because it seemed like we were able to make impact, or gradually contain them and then make impact.

“With the fast bowlers, if we could do that, it meant Warnie could basically bowl when and how we wanted him to.”

Fast-forward nearly a decade and Clarke’s Australian team has five fast-bowlers on tour – Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Jackson Bird – and in all likelihood will use three in combination in the first Test at Chennai’s Chidambaram Stadium starting on Friday.

There are several key differences between the series Buchanan planned and the one Australia are about to begin. India, flopping latterly, are not who they were. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are gone, Tendulkar has not had a Test ton in two years and the other member of the old guard, Virender Sehwag, is having his future questioned.

Australia, despite losing only one Test in 14 months, does not have the same quality of personnel either, and are contemplating a first road-trip post Ponting and Mike Hussey.

Finally, there is the timing. Gilchrist’s team clinched victory in more mild November; Clarke’s side are here in less forgiving February and March.

Even so, Buchanan said the Australian team should be wary of loading up on spin-bowlers (there are four in the squad: Nathan Lyon, Xavier Doherty, all-rounder Glenn Maxwell and young West Australian Ashton Agar) just because it’s in India.

“I do think it’s a good pace attack; it depends how it adapts to the conditions it’s about to face,” Buchanan said. “They’re going into India now in February/March. That makes a difference as well because some of the wickets still provide a little bit of bounce and pace at the start of the summer, whereas potentially by this time of their season wickets have been subjected to plenty of heat and plenty of wear and possibly the ability for pace bowlers to extract good pace and bounce are limited.

“It really means that the pace bowlers have really got to look at their strategies with an old bowl and what they can do with that.

“You don’t take spinners just for the sake of taking a spinner. Indians are so used to playing spin bowling, there is no guarantee they are going to make an impact in a series.”

Another potential shortcoming for Australia is lack of experience in India, but Buchanan argues that can be overcome. He uses the example in 2004 of Clarke, who scored 151 on Test debut in Bangalore and piled on 400 for the series – second only to an outstanding Damien Martyn – as well as a brilliant 6-9 with the ball in Mumbai.

“He was a young tyro, just keen to play Test cricket, keen to experience India from a playing perspective,” Buchanan said. “He had some other people around him who had been there before and they could give him a little bit of background, but ultimately he worked out what he needed to do to embrace the conditions and he did that very well.”

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‘Toxic’ … Australian swimmers abused alcohol and drugs, report finds.’Toxic’ culture in Australian swimmingSwimming hit by second damning report

THE Australian Olympic Committee will investigate, and is prepared to financially sanction, the swimmers accused of breaching the team agreement in London.

Fairfax Media has been told that AOC president John Coates has been briefed about the damning findings of two reports into a grossly mismanaged national swim team that performed badly in and out of the pool at the Games last July.

It’s understood the AOC is particularly concerned about the evidence that Olympic swimmers breached the team agreement by misusing prescription drugs and bullying teammates during the Games period.

The culture and leadership report into Australian Olympic swimming prepared by Doctor Pippa Grange, released on Tuesday, says “there were enough culturally toxic incidents across enough team members that breached agreements (such as getting drunk, misuse of prescription drugs, breeching curfews, deceit, bullying) to warrant a strong, collective leadership response that included coaches, staff and the swimmers.”

Doctor Grange laments that “No such collective action was taken”.

Fairfax Media has been told that the AOC, deeply concerned about the report findings, will punish individuals financially if serious breaches of the Olympic team agreement are proved.

Australian athletes that medal at the Olympic Games win money from the AOC for their feats. It’s understood the AOC will seek to recoup that money from any swimmer who medalled in London and breached the team agreement.

Swimmers who did not medal but who are also found to have breached their team agreement may be also punished by the AOC in other ways an insider said.

Australian Olympians are expected to abide by the team agreement on their pre-Olympics camps, during the Games and on their way home.

The Australian Olympic Committee team agreement, which was signed by all national representatives before the London Games, references bullying explicitly in the Ethical Behaviour by-law.

The by-law states:

“…all relevant persons must not, by their acts or omissions, engage or participate in:

(1) Direct discrimination;

(2) Indirect discrimination;

(3) Unlawful harassment;

(4) Bullying;”

It says ” If a breach of this by-law occurs at any time other than during a Games period, then the breach and any sanctions to be applied will be determined by the AOC in its sole and absolute discretion.”

The team agreement also says that “All Relevant Persons must provide assistance and disclose honestly and fully all relevant information to the AOC and during the Games Period the Chef de Mission of the relevant team” and that the AOC may “impose financial penalties in respect of AOC financial or other support” in the case of a breach.

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Source: The Border Mail

The NSW border town of Alburycould be the nursery for Hollywood’s next Quentin Tarantino with local product Nicholas Clifford taking out the prestigious short film festival Tropfest Australia.

The Melbourne director’s short film We’ve All Been There was chosen by a star-studded panel including Avatar’s Sam Worthington, Underbelly’s Gyton Grantley and Albury’s own Richard Roxburgh as best film.

The former Albury High School student, 30, told The Border Mail that the win, against 15 other finalists and more than 700 entrants, was up there as the highlight of his career so far.

“Easily one of the best,” Clifford said.

“It’s pretty great to have it screened in Sydney in front of that many people and those judges.”

The six minute and 40 second film explores the idea of shared kindness through goodwill and pay-it-forward style ethics.

It also landed actress Laura Wheelright the best actress gong.

Clifford was a Tropfest finalist last year and has directed two other films in the festival, in 2009 and 2011.

In 2009, he established Truce Films in Melbourne, with his AHS school mate Charlie Sarroff.

But a career in Hollywood is the dream.

“That’s the plan,” Clifford said.

“Just to keep getting better and better and the US is where it’s all happening.”

Clifford isn’t the only success in his family.

He is one of six children, who all have established distinguished careers.

The eldest, Lynda lives in London with her husband and is a costume designer, Cherie is the centre manager at Centro Wodonga, Alex is an engineer in San Francisco and twins Anthony and Mark are Albury police officers.

Clifford said a year spent travelling in Canada after year 12 defined what he wanted to do.

“That’s when I started writing,” he said.

“… I think once I found something to focus my energy on … now it’s become my whole life.”

Nicholas Clifford accepting his Tropfest gong this week.

THINKING AHEAD: Novotel Newcastle Beach executive chef Chris Stanley. Picture: Ryan OslandPERHAPS you’ve been planning for a while or maybe you’re newly engaged (it’s just a week after Valentine’s Day after all).

Either way, for many the first step in wedding planning is actually the engagement party.

Novotel Newcastle Beach is holding a Bespoke Wedding Open Day on Sunday.

Executive chef Chris Stanley offered some advice on planning an engagement party.

What are the first steps in planning a menu for an engagement party?

One of the first considerations in planning the menu is the length of the function.

The longer the scheduled function is, the more substantial the menu can be.

A party of a few hours can suffice with canapes, while a function of a longer duration can include savoury and sweet options all the way up to a three-course dinner.

Is it best to go for finger food options at an event like an engagement party?

I think finger food or canapes encourage more interaction between the guests, and can also be anything from back tie to super-casual.

Our high teas also tend to be very social and lively.

Do you need to take into account special diets, such as vegetarian or gluten-free?

Absolutely. Things like gluten-free and vegetarian are becoming more ‘‘normal’’ than ‘‘special requests’’.

And, if you offer these options to your guests within the menu, you will be sure that everyone feels they have been catered for.

Should the food reflect the couple getting married?

Yes, it’s all about the couple. If you can’t indulge your favourites now, when can you? And we love to tailor the menu to make it more personal.

Can you choose a theme for your food?

Theming of a menu is always exciting and we are happy to accommodate. It always invigorates the kitchen team to think up new, interesting menu items and send different dishes out once in a while. Being near the beach, we get a lot of requests for that kind of theme – seafood and champagne – you can’t go wrong.

The Bespoke Wedding Open Day is on Sunday. Complimentary admission, canapes and drinks included. View venues for receptions, engagement parties, bridal showers and even the Honeymoon Suite.

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne says Labor has ended the alliance with the Greens. Happier times… the Greens sign off on a deal in support of Labor after the 2010 election.

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne has announced the end of the formal alliance between Labor and the Greens, but pledged to continue to vote against no confidence motions and for supply bills in order for the parliament to continue until the September 14 election day.

Directly challenging Labor’s election pitch that it stands for ”fairness”, Senator Milne accused the Gillard government of  ”walking away from its agreement with the Greens and into the arms of the big miners”.

”Labor’s priorities lie with powerful mining interests not with the people and the Greens,” she told the National Press Club, saying it was Labor – by its actions – who had effectively ended the alliance with her party.

Senator Milne said the Greens were proud of the clean energy package implementing the carbon price, the start of a national Denticare scheme and the introduction of a Parliamentary Budget Office, and attacked Labor for allowing mining in the Tasmanian Tarkine wilderness, for reducing payments to single mothers and for subsidising ”big miners” and fossil fuel exports.

She promised to ”deliver confidence and supply until the Parliament rises for the election”.

”By choosing the big miners the Labor government is no longer honouring our agreement to work together to promote transparent and accountable government, the public interest or to address climate change,” she said.

”We will not walk away from the undertaking we gave not only to the Prime Minister but to the people of Australia. And that was to deliver confidence and supply until the Parliament rises for the election.

”We will see this parliament through to its full term.”

She said ”the Greens will not add to the instability that Labor creates every day for itself”.

Responding to the speech, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: ”This is a matter for Christine Milne and the Greens. We will always be the party that puts jobs and growth first.”

Ms Gillard and her deputy Wayne Swan signed the agreement with the Greens on September 1, 2010, after the election on August 21 did not result in either major party achieving a parliamentary majority. Along with her agreements with three independents, the agreement allowed Labor to form government.

The immediate response from Labor strategists to Senator Milne’s speech was that the Greens’ message that the environment should be put before jobs could be helpful for Labor in its re-election about creating jobs.

Senator Milne insisted Labor would not have introduced a carbon price if it had been elected in its own right.

”We have a carbon price in Australia because of the Greens. If it had been Labor on its own or the Liberals on its own we would not have a carbon price,” she said.

Industry Minister Greg Combet said Senator Milne was engaged in political ”product differentiation”.

And Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Paul Howes accused Senator Milne of trying to score ”cheap headlines” in retaliation over the federal government’s decision to reject World Heritage Listing for the Tarkine wilderness in Tasmania.

”This is just a political ploy by Christine Milne because she’s upset that she lost the campaign in north-west Tasmania. Well, boo hoo. At the end of the day the federal Labor government has done the right thing for jobs,” he said.

”Frankly for Christine Milne to say that Julia Gillard hasn’t delivered for the environment after she introduced a carbon price demonstrates how out of touch with reality Christine Milne is.”

Mr Howes also questioned the practical impact of the Greens’ decision, saying the minor party had been opposing a range of Labor initiatives for some time and would still support the government on supply and confidence votes.

He said Senator Milne was ”a leader who’s struggling” with a collapse in support after predecessor Bob Brown’s retirement.

”Frankly if Christine Milne wants to rip up an agreement, excellent,” Mr Howes said.

”I’m not surprised. These are people that can not handle doing things pragmatically, these are people that cannot handing doing things sensibly,” he said.

Mr Howes said Labor and the Greens did not share common objectives. Labor stood for protecting the environment but this must be done ”pragmatically and smartly” and would not ”sacrifice jobs at the altar of Green ideology”.

with Daniel Hurst

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AWU chief Paul HowesAustralian Workers’ Union chief Paul Howes has taken a swipe at Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson for rejecting calls to reserve gas supplies for domestic use.

Delegates at the AWU national conference passed a motion on Tuesday demanding an expansion of the natural and coal seam gas industry, while ensuring a scheme to reserve supply for domestic energy use.

Mr Howes, the union’s national secretary, said gas supply should be expanded but more of its should be available to use in Australia.

Mr Howes said resources ministers ”should be there to talking about what resources can do for this country not for the companies that extract them in the first place”.

”Why is it that we have a federal resources minister in the form of Martin Ferguson who is actively campaigning against this?” he said.

Western Australian branch secretary Stephen Price argued Australia was allowing its reserves to be dominated by international oil and gas companies.

Mr Howes also condemned the ”bizarre alliance” of Greens and farmers who were combining to oppose coal seam gas.

The AWU resolution calls on the federal Labor government to review its domestic energy policy while also demanding the NSW Coalition government ”reduce red tape and existing barriers to the extraction of coal seam gas in NSW”.

It allows Mr Howes to launch a campaign stressing the need to retain gas for domestic use as well as a focus on expanding new supplies.

”This is one of the most important resolutions we’ll debate at this conference,” he said.

”It may all seem a bit pie-in-the-sky . . . but remember two years ago when we launched our anti-dumping campaign at national conference there wasn’t much focus on that issue either.”

Mr Howes added: ”It is bizarre that this country has gone through a massive expansion of natural gas right across every state and yet we can’t seem to keep any of this gas, to add value here . . .”

The resolution was passed on the second day of the four-day AWU national conference on the Gold Coast.

Earlier, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten sought to energise AWU members ahead of the looming federal election battle.

In a fiery speech, Mr Shorten said he was proud to be an AWU member and said Labor was at its best ”when we remember where we come from”.

The former AWU national secretary held up his membership card and declared: ”I am very proud to carry in the Parliament of Australia every day my union membership card.”

Mr Shorten rattled off a list of achievements including the government’s steel and aluminium plans, stronger anti-dumping laws, tax cuts and paid parental leave.

”When you hear people say they’re not really doing what Labor governments do, tell them to put that  in their pipe and smoke it,” he said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought to brush off the latest poll slump on Monday night by telling AWU members she would fight every day until the election for the Labor cause.

Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan is set to speak on Tuesday afternoon.

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