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‘Doomed from the start’: The flaming out of Labor’s backroom powerbrokers

Mark Arbib quit politics in 2012. Photo: Jacky Ghossein Paul Howes went to the private sector after hopes of a seat in the Senate were dashed. Photo: Anna Kucera
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Senator Sam Dastyari quit after a week of sustained pressure. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. It’s a phrase attributed – somewhat ironically, given the events of this week – to the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi, father of Taoism.

It certainly describes Labor’s backroom wunderkinds over the past decade. Karl Bitar, Mark Arbib, Paul Howes – once leading luminaries of the NSW Right, their political stars rose quickly and fell even faster.

Now Sam Dastyari, a successor to Bitar and Arbib as NSW Labor general secretary, has crashed and burned just months into his frontbench stint. And the question has to be asked: why are these bright flames burning out?

“The culture they come from is intensely corrosive,” says one Left MP intimately familiar with Sussex Street. “If you’re not grounded in values, you’re doomed from the start. You don’t have anything to fall back on when you hit adversity.”

Much is made of the so-called “NSW disease”, a sort of morally degenerative condition rooted in the “whatever it takes” philosophy championed by Graham Richardson. But Richo, who was 26 when he ran NSW Labor, may have been the last to practise the dark arts successfully (though controversially).

Bitar, head NSW honcho through 2008 before taking charge of the party nationally, presided over a run of disasters that rendered his name political poison. He relentlessly pursued NSW premier Morris Iemma, sparking implosions that led to catastrophic defeat for Labor in 2011. Federally, he was instrumental in convincing Kevin Rudd to dump the planned emissions trading scheme, which might stand as the most ill-judged political decision in recent memory.

Enjoined in these machinations was Arbib, Bitar’s predecessor as NSW general secretary, who was by this time safely ensconced in the Senate. Having sunk Rudd’s credibility and approval ratings, they set about having him overthrown. Under Julia Gillard, a much-maligned campaign saw Labor almost lose government after just one term. Arbib abruptly quit politics hours after Rudd’s unsuccessful leadership challenge in early 2012. He declined Fairfax Media’s invitation to comment.

Both men ended up taking lucrative jobs in James Packer’s Crown empire. And Howes, another key faceless man of the era and a career unionist from the age of 17, left the Australian Workers Union after seven years at the top to work for KPMG soon after being passed over for a Senate vacancy.

Enter Dastyari, boy wonder with an impeccable CV. He stacked branches in high school, was president of the Sydney University ALP Club and NSW Young Labor, and became NSW general secretary in March 2010 at 26. After an inevitable electoral drubbing in 2011, the young gun began the daunting task of rebuilding Brand Labor. By the time Dastyari graduated to the Senate in 2013, he was being touted by his mentor Richo as “probably better than me”.

“He could have a dramatic effect federally,” Richardson told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time. “The national Right has broken down to a very large extent in recent years and he’s the one bloke with an opportunity to put it back together.”

With Dastyari in the deep freeze after barely five minutes on the frontbench, that prediction is looking shaky. The cause of his demise – outsourcing a $1670 travel bill to a Chinese donor – smacks of the same careless, sleazy, wheeler-dealing antics that have tainted Sussex Street for so long.

“Everything is seen through the prism of short-term tactical advantage,” the Left MP tells Fairfax Media. “That’s how they rise through the Labor Party. That then continues into their political career.”

Not that it’s confined to NSW. Victorian powerbroker David Feeney became general secretary in that state at age 29, then held backroom positions in the Bracks government, South Australia and on the national executive. He was elected to the Senate in 2007 before moving to the lower house seat of Batman, which he battled to retain this year after a series of stumbles such as failing to declare a negatively geared property and accidentally leaving confidential briefing notes in a TV studio.

He too now finds himself on the outer, and certainly off the frontbench.

All signs are that Dastyari will recover from the bruising that befouled him this past week, with everyone from Bill Shorten down implying he will be back. But he would take little comfort from the fate of his predecessors.

“These characters are mirror images of one other,” says a senior interstate observer. “There’s clearly a problem with how politics is conducted in NSW. It’s an entirely different culture.”

Racing: Darren Weir looks for more group 1 glory while Daniel Moor pleased with live chance

Another Saturday, another group1 race, another field studded with Darren Weir contenders.
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In recent years we have got used to leading handlers fielding multiple chances in the major events as a handful of big stables consolidate their grip at the top of the training ranks.

In Sydney, Chris Waller will often send out half the field or more in thinly contested weight-for-age contests, as Gai Waterhouse once did before him. In their day as champion trainers Peter Moody, David Hayes (who often still does) and Lee Freedman would regularly field a number of gallopers in the big races in Victoria.

That mantle has nowadays passed to Weir, whose Ballarat and Warrnambool bases seem to grow on a weekly basis as more owners seek to benefit from his magic touch.

At Flemington, Weir tackles the main Melbourne feature, the group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes, with three of the 13 runners for the 1600-metre event.

The Weir team is headed by hot favourite Black Heart Bart, a horse who has been a revelation since coming east to join the champion trainer’s team. The former Perth-trained galloper is on a Cox Plate campaign and boasts a tremendous form line since joining Weir less than a year ago, with victories in the group 1 Goodwood in Adelaide and the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield in his past three starts, sandwiched only by a narrow loss to Under The Louvre in the group 1 Stradbroke.

Regular jockey Brad Rawiller is suspended, so champion rider Damien Oliver takes the mount on the six-year-old. The only concern that Weir has is if the forecast rain comes down in bucket loads and turns the track heavy.

But whatever the weather, he will run, says his trainer.

“I think soft ground is all right but he will run no matter what,” says Weir. Asked if the step up to 1600m would be an issue, the trainer laughed. “No, that won’t be a problem. If it had been 1600m at Caulfield, he would have won by further.”

Weir also saddles Australian Guineas winner Palentino, the mount of Mark Zahra, and last season’s history-making Melbourne Cup winner Prince Of Penzance, who this time will be partnered by accomplished horseman John Allen.

Palentino has still to prove he can make the transition between being a leading three-year-old and taking on the older gallopers as a four-year-old, while Prince Of Penzance has to put aside an indifferent run on his reappearance in the Memsie Stakes.

“Palentino is coming along well, although I am not sure about him on wet ground. He’s never run on it, but I don’t think it will worry him. Prince Of Penzance, it [rain] would be a plus for him.”

The Makybe Diva used to be known as the Craiglee Stakes and is usually a reliable guide to the spring: in the past few years gallopers such as 2014-15 horse of the year Dissident and a couple of Caulfield Cup winners in Fawkner and Southern Star have won it.

There are several contenders here with cup aspirations, including last year’s Caulfield Cup placegetter Our Ivanhowe from the Lee Freedman stable, who will be a rare opportunity for Daniel Moor to ride a horse in a group 1 race that is not starting at a long price.

The 31-year-old lightweight rider has been placed twice in the Oakleigh Plate on longshots but rarely gets the chance to climb aboard live chances in group 1 events.

Our Ivanhowe will probably need the run – this is his first start since winning the Doomben Cup in June – but Moor is hoping for a forward showing.

“I understand that I am filling in for Kerrin McEvoy [who won the Doomben Cup on the ex-German galloper], but it’s definitely one of the better chances I have had in a group 1 race,” said Moor.

“I look at it that I have a job to do in the short term on Saturday and then in the longer term to ensure he goes well and is tuned for his spring campaign. I am very happy to be playing a role in his preparation and, of course, it would be great to win.”

Worried Thailand prays for its king to feel no ill

Bangkok: The world’s strictest lèse-majesté laws prevent me writing much about Thailand’s royal family.
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Like the other foreign correspondents living in Bangkok I would face years in jail if I wrote or said anything deemed to insult, defame or threaten the king, queen or heir apparent.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is not himself a great fan of the laws. On the occasion of his birthday in 2005, he cited the historical British phrase that “the king can do no wrong”.

“But the king can do wrong,” he said, arguing that when the monarch is not subject to criticism he is “in trouble”.

Successive Thai governments – the king’s extraordinary reign, stretching back to June 1946, has spanned 29 prime ministers –  have however maintained the laws that provide for 15 years’ jail for each lèse-majesté offence.

The laws are interpreted broadly and scores of Thais have been convicted and jailed in recent years.

What I can say is that a pall of anxiety is now cast across the country of 64 million people over the declining health of the king, the world’s longest-ruling monarch, who is 88.

He was last seen in public in January.

Medical bulletins detailing his ailments are read with concern.  The Royal Palace announced on Wednesday that the king’s kidneys are still not functioning properly but that infections he had been suffering have eased.

Worrying news from the palace often sees a drop in the Thai stock market, reflecting the concern people feel for their monarch.

Some Thais are praying for the king using a Buddhist rite normally used for terminally ill patients.

Anxieties over the king’s health and the succession have formed the backdrop to more than a decade of bitter political division in Thailand that has included military takeovers and sometimes violent street demonstrations.

In his 70 years on the throne the king has presided over the revival of a faltering centuries-old royal institution, growing in power and influence as he helped direct Thailand’s social and economic development.

His picture hangs in many Thai homes and offices, and Thais stand in respect when a video of him is shown in movie theatres. They prostrate themselves before members of the royal family.

Some Thais see the king as semi-divine. Schools teach respect for the king and the notion of his near-infallibility and beneficence.

The heir apparent is King Bhumibol’s only son, 63-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, a military officer who trained in Australia. The king designated him crown prince in 1972.

Under the Thai constitution, a princess could accede to the throne in some circumstances, including the king’s second-born daughter Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is linked to royal charities, arts, education and religion.

Thailand’s Privy Council, a body comprising elderly counsellors appointed by the king, will nominate the successor to cabinet and parliament. It is a choice that will shape the future of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy and the nation itself.

Religious shift on same-sex marriage: Anglicans should vote ‘according to conscience’

Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier says Anglicans should vote with their conscience in a gay marriage plebiscite. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui “Christians have not always shown the respect or perspective they should”: Archbishop Freier. Photo: Jason South
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Christians should vote “according to their conscience” in a same-sex marriage plebiscite and the Church “must accept” the result, Australia’s most senior Anglican has told followers.

In what gay marriage advocates have welcomed as a significant blessing, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier told the nation’s Anglicans they could support same-sex marriage “in good faith”.

“If the plebiscite does happen it will be important that Christians – and others – vote according to their conscience and their view of what is best for society,” he wrote in a letter to Anglican bishops.

“Should the vote be in favour of same-sex marriage as suggested by the opinion polls, the Church must accept that this is now part of the landscape.”

In the letter, the archbishop maintained that the Anglican Church was unlikely to change its view that, according to scripture, marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

But he also set out the view that civil marriage is “wider” than holy matrimony, pointing to the state’s endorsement of de facto relationships with legal protections.

Archbishop Freier echoed the concerns of LGBTI advocates, Labor and the Greens in declaring himself “very concerned” that the plebiscite campaign would involve vilification and hate.

“The Church also understands the desire of two people to express their commitment of love and self-sacrifice to each other, and that Christians have not always shown the respect or perspective they should,” he wrote.

It came days after the Australian arm of the Quakers society broke ranks with other religious group to call on the Turnbull government to legislate same-sex marriage and ditch its planned plebiscite.

Parliament returns on Monday and it is understood Attorney-General George Brandis is preparing to take a plebiscite proposal to a cabinet meeting on Monday evening.

But the plebiscite could still be blocked in the Senate, with Labor waiting to see details of the government’s proposal before deciding whether to support it.

Fairfax Media reported this week that a “self-executing” plebiscite, which would automatically legislate gay marriage following a majority “yes” vote, could win Labor’s backing, subject to other conditions.

Tiernan Brady, who led the “yes” campaign in Ireland and now heads the campaign vehicle Australians 4 Equality, welcomed the archbishop’s pronouncement as “hugely significant”.

“What you see in this statement is actually a real reflection of what the members of the church actually think,” he said. “It’s real leadership to make this move and say clearly that it’s OK to vote ‘yes’, and you can do in a way that’s consistent with your belief.”

Mr Brady said the statement mirrored a very significant decision by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland to instruct their congregations to vote according to their own conscience.

Lyle Shelton, director of the Australian Christian Lobby, agreed “everyone should vote according to their conscience” but said it was a policy debate, not a theological one.

“I would look forward to briefing the [arch]bishop on the consequences that flow from this public policy change,” he said.

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This Trump-Putin bromance is getting seriously weird – but so is the polling

Washington: This is empire in decay stuff. It’s as though one of the crazies in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has nipped away from the asylum and is standing in as the Republican presidential candidate – and Americans are so besotted by his cockamamie performance that the gap in opinion polls has closed – to the point of most being within the margin of error.
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So what are Donald Trump’s latest offences?

Well, on national TV on Wednesday evening, he bagged the entire US military top brass and hinted that, as president, he’d purge the Pentagon.

He twice denigrated US President Barack Obama, claiming that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “was far more” a leader. And when it was suggested that Putin was very much an angry autocrat, Trump dug in: “Do you want me to start naming some of the things that President Obama does at the same time?”

The Putin-Trump bromance, with much of the fawning seemingly rooted in what an army of lay psychologists diagnose as Trump’s insatiable need for positive reinforcement, has now reached a seriously weird level.

Not so much an alliance between potential global partners, the pivot here seems to be a remarkable belief on Trump’s part that Putin “likes me” – and so, in his eyes, Putin can do no wrong.

“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him,” Trump told NBC moderator Matt Lauer, as though he was sharing a profound understanding of grave matters.

Trump went from Wednesday’s NBC forum to an interview with a Kremlin mouthpiece, TV network Russia Today, arguing “it’s probably unlikely” that Russia was responsible for the hacking earlier this year of the computers of the Democratic National Committee – and despite the reported belief of various US intelligence agencies that indeed the Russians are complicit, Trump argued that it was the Democrats who “are putting that out”.

And for good measure Trump slammed the US news media, telling Russia Today: “The media has been unbelievably dishonest – I mean, they’ll take a statement that you make which is perfect and they’ll cut it up and chop it up and shorten it or lengthen it or do something with it.”

It didn’t seem to have occurred to Trump that what he was describing is how he speaks.

Trump has expressed admiration for Putin’s authoritarian control of Russia and on Wednesday, he seemed to want to give Putin a leg up in dealing with the Baltic states – former Soviet republics that are now aligned with NATO – by saying again that he’s not in a hurry to defend them.

More troubling is the overlap between the less savoury aspects of Trump and Putin.

Putin biographer Steven Lee Myers writes: “Russia’s critics – and certainly the White House – would dispute Putin’s accomplishments, noting the corrupted, kleptocratic economy and a stunted political system that has marginalised genuine opposition, at times violently. There is also the 2014 annexation of Crimea, which, while popular in Russia, has led to international sanctions and diplomatic isolation that has eroded Russia’s economy and reputation.”

“And your point is?” would be the likely response from Trump. He incites violence at his rallies, he threatens people who speak against him and warns of a crackdown on the media in the event that he is elected; accounts of his corrupt business deals are ample; and his demands for the US to steal Iraq’s oil reserves are up there with Putin snatching Crimea from Ukraine.

Usually loquacious Democrats were speechless, with some recovering sufficiently to observe that had a Democratic candidate spoken of a Republican president as Trump had of Obama, they’d be run out of Washington.

Oddly and yet again, it was Trump’s Republican colleagues who felt obliged to pull him into line.

House Speaker Paul Ryan – accusing the Russian president of “conducting state-sponsored cyber attacks on our political system”,  described Vladimir Putin as “an aggressor who does not share our interests”.

Florida senator and failed contender for the GOP nomination Marco Rubio added: “[Putin] is a thug … He’s a dangerous and bad guy.”

South Carolina senator and unabashed Trump critic Lindsey Graham was withering: “Other than destroying every instrument of democracy in his country, having opposition people killed, dismembering neighbours through military force, and being the benefactor of the butcher of Damascus, [Putin’s] a good guy.”

Hillary Clinton couldn’t believe her luck. She was not at her best in the NBC forum on Wednesday and if Trump had not gone down the Putin path, the Democratic candidate might have been under a bit of media pressure on Thursday.

Instead she was leading the charge against what many rate as Trump’s un-American conduct: “Not just unpatriotic and insulting to the people of our country, as well as our commander-in-chief, it’s scary. It suggests he’ll let Putin do whatever he wants to do – and then make excuses for him.”

Obama too could not resist an opportunity to put the boot in.

Calling Trump’s behaviour “unacceptable and outrageous”, he told reporters in Laos: “I don’t think the guy is qualified to be president of the US – there’s this process that seems to take place over the course of the election season, where somehow behaviour that in normal times we consider completely unacceptable and outrageous becomes normalised.”

A seriously goofy moment in the Wednesday TV forum was Trump’s claim that he could tell by the body language of the intelligence officers who gave him his first national security briefing that they did not approve of Obama’s conduct of national security.

“I’m pretty good with the body language, I could tell they were not happy,” Trump claimed.

Put to one side the fact that the briefings do not constitute policy advice to the president. As luck would have it, NBC News has an account of some of the goings-on in the Trump briefing – and it seems that much of the readable body language came from members of Trump’s entourage.

Apparently Trump’s security adviser, retired general Mike Flynn, repeatedly interrupted the briefing, demanding answers to what were described as his “pointed” questions – so much so that another Trump adviser, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, felt a need to grab Flynn by the arm, telling him to “shut up”.

The most unbelievable development of all – Donald Trump is in the room and someone else has to be told to button it.

While Malcolm Turnbull’s away, Tony Abbott comes out to play

Tony Abbott’s highly vocal week has not been ‘the most helpful thing he could be doing’, says one Liberal MP. Photo: Andrew MearesFormer prime minister Tony Abbott has raised eyebrows among his colleagues for making high-profile interventions on Indigenous affairs, political donations and superannuation policy while Malcolm Turnbull has been travelling overseas.
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In a radio interview on Friday, Mr Abbott suggested Mr Turnbull had responded “in panic” by launching a royal commission following the Four Corners report on the Don Dale detention centre and said the government should be “very careful” about making retrospective superannuation changes.

He also called for a ban on corporate and union donations and spoke out against a treaty with Indigenous Australians.

The comments came as Mr Turnbull prepares to mark one year since he toppled Mr Abbott for the Liberal leadership next Wednesday.

Asked to name the top achievement of his prime ministership on Friday, Mr Turnbull nominated “jobs and growth”.

“The statistics tell you the story,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Micronesia, pointing to Australia’s 3.3 per cent GDP growth rate.

“Strong jobs growth. Strong economic growth. Stronger than any of the countries in the G7.”

Mr Turnbull has been travelling in Asia this week, representing Australia at the G20 summit in China and the ASEAN summit in Laos.

Mr Turnbull also defended the royal commission as a “very appropriate response to what appeared to be a systemic failure in the justice system in the NT”.

One Liberal MP noted that Mr Abbott had been “very vocal” this week.

“It’s not the most helpful thing he could be doing,” the MP said. “I don’t think the PM would be very happy.”

The MP questioned why Mr Abbott was now supporting sweeping donations reform when he had reneged on a deal with Labor in 2013 to introduce much smaller changes.

“I didn’t detect any enthusiasm from him on donations reform when he was PM,” one MP said. “It’s an opportunity to remind people he’s there.”

Another Liberal MP said: “The partyroom has moved on [from Abbott]. The right of the party is not thinking about him any more and I think he would be struggling with that.”

A minister said: “We can’t be talking about leadership right now – we really have to get some runs on the board.”

Other MPs defended Mr Abbott, saying he had an important contribution to make to public debate and is as entitled as any backbencher to give his views.

“He has a deep commitment and passion for indigenous affairs in particular so you can expect him to speak out on that,” a frontbencher said.

Another MP praised Mr Abbott for opposing a treaty.

“We need to draw a line on the sand about what the Liberal Party will and won’t cop,” the MP said.

In an interview with 2GB’s Alan Jones on Friday, Mr Abbott said: “My own view, as you know, is that superannuation is not the government’s money, it’s our money, it’s your money, it’s money that we’ve saved up over time.

“In many cases, it’s money that we have invested, it’s not concessional money, it’s after-tax money that people have put in and governments should be very careful about changing the rules once the game has started.”

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John O’Shea and Astern teach each other lessons and hoping to come up Roses

James McDonald rides Astern to win the MTA Run ToThe Rose at Rosehill this month. Photo: bradleyphotos杭州m.auGood horses teach trainers but, in turn, a trainer often has to teach a good horse how to show its best.
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This is the dynamic for John O’Shea and Astern.

The Medaglia D’Oro colt has one defeat in  five runs, the Golden Slipper, the race O’Shea covets, but it is that loss that will shape his career and the tactics Godolphin will employ in Saturday’s Golden Rose.

“I have always thought ‘Why can’t I win a Slipper?’ Astern and others since I have been here [at Godolphin] have shown me why – because I haven’t had a horse good enough,” O’Shea said. “Then you still need everything to go right.”

Astern drew wide in the Golden Slipper and O’Shea was determined to be positive on him. James McDonald charged across from the challenging draw and raced  outside of the leader in the Slipper but was left with nothing to give in the straight. Astern was one fo the first beaten and finished 11th, a run that flies in the face of his other form

It was a hard lesson to learn for the boys in blue but when Astern again drew 12  in the Golden Rose this week, O’Shea’s first thought was again to be positive – positively negative.

“He’ll go back from that gate. There is no other way to ride him. We want to ride him to relax and have him settle,” O’Shea said. “I have spent the last four months of my life teaching him to relax and we not going to waste that on the big day.

“We’ve seen what he can do when he is relaxed and he is a very, very good horse.”

After the Golden Slipper, Astern dead-heated with Rose rival El Divino in the Kindergarten Stakes, and was then spelled.

His barrier trials gave some insight into the bigger, stronger and relaxed Astern but it was the Run To The Rose that confirmed his lightning acceleration.

McDonald had him comfortable back in the field and  gapped his rivals when he released the brakes   before he held off Star Turn’s late rally. The rest were left 3-1/2 lengths in their wake, led by another Godolphin colt, Impending.

“That’s what [Astern] can do when he settles and we have seen it at home,” O’Shea said. “Impending is a good horse with a soft draw [on Saturday] and will put himself in the race and only needs to get the breaks at the right time to be in the finish, so we have two good chances.”

The form reference is strong for Astern,  which carried a penalty in the Run To The Rose and gave those, who will come to the Rose from that race two weeks ago, weight and a thumping by at least 3-1/2 lengths.

Astern has been solid in betting at Ladbrokes and is the Golden Rose favourite at $3.80 as Silver Shadow Stakes winner Omei Sword has drifted to $4, with Up And Coming Stakes winner Divine Prophet at $4.80.

The main market mover has been for Yankee Rose, which is first-up since winning the Sires’ Produce Stakes after being Golden Slipper runner-up in the autumn. He has  come in from $9.50 to $5.50.

The Wallabies, not referees, have the image problem

Man in the middle: Referee Romain Poite looks toward Australian captain Stephen Moore during the Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington. Photo: Anthony Au-YeungThere is a moment in the upcoming Richie McCaw film, Chasing Great, that no Australian rugby player or coach can afford to ignore.
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World Rugby referees’ chief Alain Rolland is asked why the former All Blacks openside was allowed to get away with so much at the breakdown. Rolland reflects on how often he is asked that question.

“My response is, he just seems to know where the line in the sand is,” Rolland says. “He’ll study the referees that he’s going to have, and he’ll know what he may or may not be able to get away with.”

We have heard much talk of “the line”, where it is, how receptive it is to being pushed and bent, and who it is who does that best. The take-home is actually Rolland’s observation that the All Blacks do their homework.

Flash back to Wellington two weeks ago, and observe McCaw’s successor, Kieran Read, in action. While Australian captain Stephen Moore was shooed away or ignored by Romain Poite, Read availed himself of the referee’s open-door policy to the All Blacks. Moreover, Moore would not so much as approach Poite before Read appeared beside him, asking “Romain” if he needed his help. His demeanour and tone resembled that of a protective big brother.

To Australian eyes and ears it was eye-wateringly obsequious. We haven’t stopped hearing about it either, after Wallabies coach Michael Cheika singled out Poite for pointed criticism in the post-match media.

But what are the Wallabies doing to help themselves? Talk to many international and Super Rugby referees, to coaches around the world and current and former players, and a picture emerges of the Wallabies as outliers in international rugby.

Where other unions, coaches and players cultivate good relationships with match officials off the field, the Wallabies policy has been not to engage. There are many reasons for that, some cultural, historical and some that come down to the personalities of the people involved. But what is the cost of not playing the game?

When a referee lands in South Africa or New Zealand ahead of a Super Rugby match or Test, they are inundated with hospitality. Tours to wineries, wildlife experiences, dinners, gifts. A classic anecdote is the time, more than a decade ago now, when three Brumbies players walked into a bar in Durban to see a referee happily sandwiched between two attractive, scantily clad women. The Brumbies players sidled up to say g’day and learnt the women were staff from the local tourism board, assigned to the official for the week he was in town.

Those days are long gone, but the overt courting has been replaced by the cultivation of mutual respect. There are strict guidelines governing a team’s interactions with head referees in the lead-up to a game. Outside the official match windows, or on the hospitality circuit around major events, it is common practice for coaches to seek out match officials, meet them and get to know them. One former Test referee told Fairfax Media the contact was never mistaken for friendship, but it helped build understanding and familiarity, which translates to goodwill and respect on the field.

Referee consultants are often hired by national unions and clubs. The Brumbies under Jake White hired one, who would advise when and how referees liked to be contacted as much as their approach to the scrum. It is understood that some players, who are now Wallabies, were not interested in hearing his recommendations.

Australians instinctively baulk at the suggestion a wheel be greased. This is the land of the fair go, of egalitarianism, of telling it like it is. From that perspective Moore deserved better from Poite in Wellington last month, not because he has ever made an effort to earn Poite’s respect, but because he just deserves it. One Super Rugby player told Fairfax Media: “It’s frustration, pure and simple. There’s no conscious lack of respect, it’s just frustration that you’re not being given a fair go.”

In the modern game it appears the fair go starts off the field. Talk to a referee – none were willing to be named in this story – and common courtesies go a long way. Pronounce their name correctly on the field, acknowledge them off it. Avoid public criticism, because there is no right of reply. One referee reflected on the dominance of rugby league in Australian rugby’s heartlands. Has its adversarial model of interaction between teams and match officials changed Australian players’ and coaches’ attitudes towards referees in rugby?

None of this is to discount criticism of the system, which has an acute image problem. Robbie Deans is understood to have once told an official before a big Super Rugby match that he could referee netball rules and there would be no complaints, as long as it was netball for the full 80 minutes. Consistency is the constant cry of the Super Rugby coach, yet at every turn in recents seasons it fell on deaf ears.

SANZAAR say they are open to constructive criticism. At a meeting next week the 18 chief executives will discuss a range of issues, including a proposal from Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson that Super Rugby adopt a similar model to England’s Premiership Rugby competition, which clearly defines communication and review procedures before and after games. At the international level, World Rugby’s regulations committee will review their laws governing meetings with match officials at a meeting early next month.

In return, Australia might look at their own behaviour in the context of the international game. Cheika and the Wallabies can rage against the machine all they like but what will best serve their 2019 World Cup ambitions?

Comments out of Wallabies camp late this week suggest the penny has dropped. The Wallabies joined with the Springboks on Friday to meet with referee Nigel Owens ahead of Saturday’s Test. After opting for scorched earth two weeks ago, now they appear to be going for soft power.

“Nigel’s the top referee in the world, and I know that is what the intention will be from day one,” Cheika told Rugby 360. “We made our point, we’ve spoken to the referees boss about our points and the work-ons that we want. We want to try to work with them to make it better for everyone. I’ve no doubt that we’re going to get that this weekend.”

Time to end this latest cycle of inhumanity

Paris Aristotle says: ‘The immediate imperative is that Australia acts swiftly to change the present policy settings that are inflicting serious harm.’ Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Albert Einstein is generally credited with asserting “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
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Here’s a definition of inhumanity: doing the same thing over and over when you know the damage you are doing to people’s lives.

We know from the experience of the Pacific Solution that leaving people in limbo on Nauru without hope of being able to rebuild their lives makes them feel worthless, depressed and suicidal.

We know this because the last substantial group from that caseload, many of whom were refugees, was only resettled in Australia when the resident psychiatrist warned she would not be held responsible if they took their lives.

Now Paris Aristotle, the man who investigated the plight of this group back in 2005, has issued a similar warning about those who have been on Nauru and Manus Island.

We also know about the damage done by separating refugee families, because this was also part of the Pacific Solution.

Back in 2003, it emerged that several men who had been recognised as refugees and granted protection visas had wives and children on Nauru who had arrived on separate boats in 2001.

Just like now, the Australian government refused to bring them together, despite strong representations from the United Nations refugee agency, on the grounds that this would encourage people smuggling.

Just like now, those involved suffered depression so serious they could not function, whether they were families “free” in the Australian community or fathers and husbands on Nauru.

The ordeal of the families only ended when New Zealand agreed to resettle the families, having already taken a sizeable portion of those who were rescued from their sinking boat by the Norwegian freighter, MV Tampa.

It didn’t reignite the boat trade. Nor would ending the suffering of this group now.

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Motley Fool: Glenn Stevens leaving the economy in good shape

RBA Governor Glenn Stevens is leaving the economy in good shape. Photo: Louie DouvisThanks, Governor.
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Reserve Bank supremo, Glenn Stevens, will vacate the big chair in just over a week, having been at the helm during one of the most challenging economic periods in living memory, and has come out of it with the regard of economists, central bankers, politicians and investors — no small feat, given the fractious nature of each of those groups… let alone trying to have those groups agree with each other on anything.

Oh, not everyone agrees, of course. But then, we’re all armchair experts. We opine with the luxury of knowing our opinions will never be tested in the real world. Generally, though, it’s hard to find many people who have a real and abiding disagreement with the way Stevens has run the central bank.

It’s something of a thankless task. Stevens worked for a small fraction of what he could have earned in business. He was scrutinised on an almost-daily basis in our media, and had submit to grillings by parliamentary committees. And, lest we forget, he has precisely one real tool in his toolkit — the official cash rate.

Compare that to the federal Treasurer of the day. He has income tax, indirect taxes, welfare programs, government rebates, industry assistance, procurement policy and scores of other tools at his disposal. Having too many options may be a curse in itself, but Stevens (and his replacement, the incoming governor, Phillip Lowe) has a single lever, with only three positions: hike, hold or cut.

A blunt tool

And here’s the thing: Stevens knows just how blunt that tool is. Cutting rates lowers the cost of borrowing, and so stimulates business investment. But he also knows that it adds fuel to an already overheated housing market, and significantly reduces the incomes of retirees. Plus, he has to think about the impact on business and consumer confidence, the exchange rate, and the fact that changes tend to take three to six months to really roll through the economy, so he needs to be part-forecaster, too.

Of course, he also has the most talked about skeletal feature of any public figure in the country: the fabled jawbone. As well as setting official policy, Glenn Stevens spent countless hours giving speeches and answering questions, knowing that his comments would be analysed and picked over. Both a blessing and a curse, one of his early attempts at humour was completely misunderstood by investors and traders who, frankly, really should get out more. But he turned that to his advantage, taking opportunities to comment, however obliquely, on the exchange rate, lending policy and — even more obliquely — giving a little advice to the Treasurer.

His appearances in Canberra were always fun to watch (well, if you like that sort of thing). With the wit of someone who knows the impact of their words on the market, Stevens’ answers — and more frequently his non-answers — both delivered with a wry, knowing smile are the stuff of legend.

A vital cog

Glenn Stevens steps down as Governor just as Australia celebrates its 100th consecutive quarter without a recession — a result that’s bettered only by one country, the Netherlands. That’s a record we’re likely to break by this time next year. That success is in part a result of thoughtful government policy (think: reforms that made our economy more flexible and resilient) and in part due to our geographic and natural resources luck — we had what China wanted, even as the rest of the world slumped into the GFC.

He played a critical role during that period, too — both by being prepared to cut rates, hard, when needed, but also to instill that most precious and important factor: confidence. While most people focus on the economic statistics — GDP, exports, spending and the like — these are outputs. In today’s globalised and services-heavy world, the single most important element of our economic circumstance is confidence. Without it, our wallets snap shut and the economy plunges into recession. That we avoided recession in 2008 and 2009 is, in very large part, a result of the faith Australians had in our economic circumstances, and the man with his hand on the rates button.

Foolish takeaway

Governor Stevens will leave his post with an economy in very good shape, thanks in part to his management of interest rates. But it’s not without risk. House prices are high, thanks largely to the availability of cheap credit. Central bank governors’ reputations are solidified in the years after their terms end, and a housing crash could well tarnish Stevens’, just as the low rates and low regulation sullied US Fed chief Alan Greenspan’s.

Still, based on what we know today, Glenn Stevens can leave his post with his head held high. He may not be solely responsible for our economic well being, but he has contributed meaningfully to the Australian economy we enjoy today.

Go well, Governor, and thank you.

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Scott Phillips is the Motley Fool’s director of research. You can follow Scott on Twitter @TMFScottP. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).