Australia, Britain to push Obama on Mid-East talks

AUSTRALIA and Britain will push US President Barack Obama to use his influence to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
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Reflecting concerns that too little progress has been made on the Middle East peace process since Mr Obama took office four years ago, Australia and Britain on Friday night called on the US to ”lead a major effort in 2013 for a negotiated two-state solution”.

The plea, part of a communique issued by the two countries after the annual AUKMIN defence and security talks in Perth, says the ”urgent need” for progress can only be met by the US, which has the ”influence and capability to bring both sides together”.

”Past progress has only been achieved through US leadership,” the statement said.

France is also reportedly working behind the scenes to push the peace process forward. President Francois Hollande has told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv that France is drafting an initiative for fresh negotiations based on pre-1967 borders with possible land swaps and a freeze on new settlements.

The sense of urgency about progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks has been heightened by the deteriorating civil war in Syria and the Islamist insurgency in Mali.

The Perth communique was released after talks between Foreign Minister Bob Carr, his British counterpart William Hague, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and counterpart Philip Hammond.

Mr Hague warned on Thursday that 2013 could bring a ”perfect storm of crises” in the Middle East if the world did not tackle Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear program and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The US is widely seen as the only broker powerful enough to bring the sides together, but relations between the US and Israel have deteriorated, with obvious tensions between Mr Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has also incurred US and international condemnation. Australia broke ranks with the US in December by abstaining in a UN vote for Palestine to become a non-member observer state – seen as a step towards statehood. Australia took its stance only after Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who wanted to vote against the move, was forced to back down by a cabinet and backbench revolt.

The Perth statement called on the Israelis to stop building settlements in the West Bank, saying the ”illegal” activity ”undermines the prospects for peace”.

And it demanded the Palestinians stop all rocket attacks from Gaza, ”resolve their internal differences … and cease acts of violence against Israel. Actions by both sides must be in the interests of peace. Neither side should create obstacles to that objective,” it said.

Mr Obama, who will be sworn in for his second term on Tuesday Melbourne time, pledged four years ago he would ”actively and aggressively” seek peace in the Middle East.


The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Lessons from political Houdini

Steve Cansdell … former member for Clarence.T he award for the most outstanding public escape act of recent times must surely go to the former member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell.
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You recall Cansdell: he was the former professional boxer and parliamentary secretary for police who became the O’Farrell government’s first political casualty only months after it took office.

The then 60-year-old quit Parliament after his admission that he had falsified a statutory declaration to claim a staff member was driving when his car was snapped by a speed camera.

Cansdell was trying to avoid losing his driver’s licence. Despite the incident occurring back in September 2005, he fell on his sword in September 2011, amid a chorus of sympathy from his Nationals colleagues.

Cansdell was ”paying a very heavy price for a lapse of judgment six years ago”, the leader of the Nationals and Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, said at the time.

Only later did it emerge that shortly before Cansdell put his hands up, the staff member in question, Kath Palmer, had blown the whistle on the episode to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

So if Cansdell was not quite pushed – he claimed he quit to save the government and the party from embarrassment – he was very firmly nudged.

Not only had Palmer alleged the statutory declaration fraud, she alleged that Cansdell had also rorted a parliamentary staffing allowance by wrongly claiming it for the period she worked on the 2010 campaign of a Nationals colleague, Kevin Hogan, who was contesting the federal seat of Page.

And so began a very strange – many would say disturbing – series of events involving the ICAC, the police and the Speaker of the NSW Parliament that remain unresolved to this day.

In October last year, just over a year after Cansdell walked into Grafton police station with his lawyer to make his admission, police announced they had concluded their investigation into the statutory declaration matter.

”NSW Police Force will not instigate criminal proceedings,” they said in a statement.

What had happened? The statement explained police from the Coffs-Clarence local area command had identified the woman who signed the declaration but that ”she declined to be interviewed by officers”.

Futhermore, it added, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions had said it was ”not satisfied there are reasonable prospects for conviction for a Commonwealth offence”.

For the NSW police, that was the end of the matter. But they omitted a couple of key details.

While it was true Palmer, through her lawyer, had refused to be formally interviewed, she had offered to make what is known as an ”induced statement” – one given in return for indemnity from prosecution.

According to Palmer’s lawyer, Mark Spagnolo, the police had earlier made it known they intended to charge Palmer with perverting the course of justice for her role in the false statutory declaration. Any admission in an interview was likely to lead to her being charged.

Police deny she was threatened with a charge but their decision to refuse her offer to supply an induced statement was rather ambitiously twisted to become Palmer ”declined to be interviewed”.

Second, the Commonwealth DPP claimed it had been verballed. It said it had simply advised the NSW police that they were not satisfied it was a Commonwealth offence – a subtle but important difference.

Things became even more intriguing when it emerged the ICAC had referred the allegation that Cansdell had rorted his parliamentary allowance to the Speaker of the NSW Parliament, Shelley Hancock, who was technically Palmer’s employer.

The ICAC referred the matter ”for action as considered appropriate”. But no action was taken for a year by Hancock, until Spagnolo released the letter publicly through Fairfax.

After that Hancock, who is also the Liberal member for South Coast, promised that parliamentary officers would ”review the material” sent by the ICAC. This included a spreadsheet containing the dates on which Palmer alleged Cansdell submitted claims for the allowance that differed from the days she worked. That was last October.

What has happened since then? Hancock passed the matter to the executive manager of the Department of Parliamentary Services, Rob Stefanic, who responded that he was ”unable to reach any conclusions regarding the veracity of the claims made by the former electorate officer”.

Stefanic added that because, in his opinion, the allegations were ”of minor significance”, that so much time had elapsed and that both Palmer and Cansdell had resigned, no further action should be taken ”in the absence of more conclusive information”. (Never mind that the allegations, if proven, are similar to those which saw two former Labor MPs, Angela D’Amore and Karyn Paluzzano, branded corrupt by ICAC.)

When Hancock was asked if the Parliament would contact Palmer to request ”more conclusive information”, she said it would not.

”As Ms Palmer did not make a complaint directly to the Parliament, the Parliament will not be contacting the complainant for further information.”

So, 18 months since Palmer made her official complaint, there the matter lies: a tangled mess of contradictory claims, dead ends and official inertia.

Palmer is understood to be considering whether to pursue the matter with Parliament or drop it altogether to get on with her life.

Spagnolo has called for an inquiry into the police handling of the matter. The silence has been deafening.

Cansdell now says he has gone bankrupt.

And, while there is no suggestion he is implicated, the man he is alleged to have helped out by fiddling his taxpayer-funded entitlements, Kevin Hogan, has won Nationals preselection to contest Page at this year’s federal election.

As a lesson in the frustrations of being a political whistleblower, it doesn’t get much more instructive than that.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

What we learnt from Skaf case

In August 2000, Sydney was gripped by Olympic fever. But in the shadows of the pre-games euphoria, one of its defining events was unfolding.
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Over two months, at least six young women fell prey to a gang of up to 14 Lebanese Australian men who terrorised western Sydney, gang raping women and humiliating them with racist taunts and violence.

From trains, shopping centres and other public places, the girls were enticed to secluded places – a puff of a joint, or an otherwise harmless activity.

But before long they found themselves surrounded, the gang’s leader Bilal Skaf having been summoned or friends being called to join in the ritualistic torture. As well as being repeatedly raped by a variety of men, a teenager was abused as an ”Aussie pig”, told she would get it ”Leb style” among other sickening taunts.

Another was raped over six hours, then hosed down outside a freezing toilet block in which she had been raped by more than a dozen men. Some of her attackers were never caught. When news of the rapes broke, the headlines screamed the outrage felt around the nation.

The ringleader Skaf was sentenced to a maximum of 55 years jail, the judge encapsulating the community horror simply: ”[These were] events you hear about, or read about, only in the context of war-time atrocities.”

In total, nine men were convicted, receiving jail terms totalling 240 years in jail.

In late 2001 and in 2002, it was revealed that another series of attacks on young women had been perpetrated by four Pakistani brothers, dubbed the K Brothers.

The girls to come forward were aged 16 and 17, telling police they were lured, threatened at knifepoint and sexually assaulted at the brothers’ Ashfield home. They were each told the other had been killed because she had resisted orders.

They broke their silence, which led to claims up to 18 women had been raped by these men. The brothers were sentenced to between 15 and 24 years imprisonment.

Together, the highly publicised cases lifted a lid on a heinous series of crimes. It was undoubtedly a dark period of Sydney’s criminal history.

More than 12 years later, the term ”gang rape” is not one heard regularly.

The head of the NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, described it as ”very, very rare”.

He said we now have better educations programs; and that the Skaf case may have contributed to gang rape being virtually non-existent now.

”I would think that played a part, yes,” he said. ”It certainly drew a line under it.”

He said the cases highlighted the flaws in the way they were tried and enabled a raft of legal and procedural changes, including victims giving evidence through CCTV.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Forever young: boomers refuse to act their age

Grey wave … the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, at Maroubra Beach, keeps mortality at bay with daily Pilates, a protein-rich diet and intellectual pursuits. All in the mind … baby boomer Bruce LLoyd, of Dapto.
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IT COULD be the daily Pilates on his bedroom floor that keeps Bob Carr bright-eyed. Or maybe it’s the organic oats with goat’s yoghurt he downs each morning – topped with antioxidant-rich blueberries, of course.

In September, Senator Carr joined the first baby boomers to reach 65 – a cohort of Peter Pans that experts say are shunning lawn bowls, beige leather shoes and their mortality.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirm the ”grey wave” has arrived. Almost 250,000 people were aged 65 last June – an 18 per cent jump on the previous year, or an extra 37,500 people.

There are now more 65-year-olds in Australia than at any point in history. After leading the sexual revolution, battling the gender wars and living through the threat of nuclear holocaust, baby boomers still see themselves as pioneers, the social commentator Hugh Mackay said.

”They are more socially engaged, more politically active, more inquisitive … they expect to continue changing the social landscape,” he said.

”They also think of themselves as the youngest generation in history – they don’t easily give up the blue denim. There is no sign of them facing their mortality, quite the reverse. They’ll be expecting to live well into their 80s or even their 90s due to better health and nutrition.”

Senator Carr, a late entrant into Federal Parliament last year when he became the Foreign Affairs Minister, describes with zeal his conversion to a protein-rich diet of salmon, kangaroo, organic steak and unsalted almonds.

He swears by his daily exercise regimen, and says ”it is possible at 65 to have a stronger abdomen and lower back than you had in your 20s … I did it through Pilates and through weight training”.

With advanced years also comes ”profound intellectual curiosity”. ”I couldn’t go back to being as plain ignorant as I was [when I was younger]. Now there is virtually nothing about ancient civilisations or endangered species or world literature that I wouldn’t want to master,” he said.

Bruce Lloyd, of Dapto, who turned 65 in May, retired from the Port Kembla steelworks five years ago. ”I certainly don’t feel old. It’s only when I look in the mirror or bend down and pick something up that I realise I’m not 25 any more,” he said.

See how your area compares with A Snapshot of Our Growing Country, a new online data tool developed by Fairfax Media. http://tinyurl上海夜网m/snapshotSMH

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

The evil within

Passionate activist … Pam Greer.A girl, yet to reach her 12th birthday, is sexually assaulted by a member of her broader family. She tells no one, until decades later. Others then tell of the same man raping them. He is never brought to justice.
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ABORIGINAL women experience sexual assault at six times the rate of non-Aboriginal women, and those of us who work to support them know that this is no exaggeration. However, despite the prevalence of sexual assault in Aboriginal communities, the topic is still taboo. People don’t want to talk about it.

Reporting sexual assault is often seen as ”dobbing an Aboriginal man” to police. Too often the response is to use threats, violence and family and community ties to silence the victim. The victim will be blamed and shamed. She and her family can be subject to payback. Mostly this means threats or acts of violence by the family of the offender against the family of the victim. When sexual assault happens in the family, the victim is often told she is to blame and the offender is excused and protected.

I’m struck by how unwilling communities are to have the public discourse necessary to start working to prevent sexual violence and yet how willing those same people can be to spread gossip about those who have been assaulted, or how quickly they will resort to violence when one of their relatives is accused of perpetrating sexual assault.

I’ve heard of men who have sexually assaulted three generations of women in one family, and no-one says a word against them. I’ve heard of men whose relatives hide them from the authorities, or protect them from retaliation. The same relatives won’t hesitate to lash out physically at any negative word said against their father/uncle/nephew. Sexual assault is hard to talk about for victims and their families because of the power a community has in responding.

To understand this power we first must understand how it is for Aboriginal people. The connection with land, family and where you come from is foundational to who an Aboriginal person is and where they belong. Anything which may lead to rejection by the community is avoided. Reporting sexual assault or even admitting that it happens is seen as striking out against the community. It is a shame that this connection with community cannot be used to reject any man who is sexually violent. Of course as with all societies men are more powerful in Aboriginal communities than women, so any woman who dares to speak out is the one who risks rejection.

Dealing with sexual violence has become a huge challenge for the Aboriginal community. I see it from the perspective of someone with ties to Mudgin-gal, an Aboriginal ”women’s place” at Redfern that provides a safe haven and support for women, girls and their families.

Women come to Mudgin-gal to connect with other Aboriginal women, to seek referral to accommodation, legal or court support services, or to yarn about the issues that may be affecting them or someone they love.

Because of the ”Black Out Violence” campaign that Mudgin-gal and other organisations have been running since 2004, and work by other organisations to prevent violence against women, Aboriginal people are more familiar with the terms ”domestic and family violence”. But getting them to talk about it is another matter.

One of the ways we are addressing this is through the Hey Sis network, a group of Aboriginal women working in their communities to reduce sexual violence.

At a recent meeting we talked about barriers, such as community history. ”When someone experiences sexual assault they will remember how others who tried to report were treated,” one Hey Sis member said. Others talked about fear of police and authorities, as a long-term impact of colonisation as well as drawing on more recent experiences. Overwhelmingly members talked about community support for the perpetrator. This barrier was particularly difficult if the perpetrator was highly regarded in the community, or supported by other women.

Aboriginal communities are hierarchal in their structure. Elders can be very powerful. In some communities men and women are elders with equal standing; in others it may be a few men who hold that status. If elders are protecting perpetrators in their families anyone wanting to talk about sexual assault may be subject to powerful incentives to keep quiet.

Despite the silence and the injustice, there are many Aboriginal women who are helping victims. Some are professionals but more often they are simply women in the community, the aunty that everyone knows they can go to.

Women like Aunty Pam Greer. Ms Greer is a passionate activist and mentor in the field of family violence in Aboriginal communities. ”There are a mountain of reports which shape the direction for individuals, families and communities, such as Closing the Gap, Two Ways Together, Breaking the Silence, and Community Working Party Plans; however, obstacles continue in our work,” Ms Greer said.

Women like Joyce Donovan, an elder in the Illawarra. Aunty Joyce felt so strongly about unveiling the scourge of child abuse that she travelled all over NSW, sleeping on floors and living out of her car, gaining support for marches against child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities. She was the driving force behind the establishment of an Aboriginal medical service in Wollongong.

Women like my mother, Dixie Link-Gordon, who has been publicly calling for an end to violence against women in all its forms ever since I can remember. Her passion in ”over the kitchen table discussions” at Mudgin-gal led to Mudgin-gal and NSW Rape Crisis Centre establishing the NSW Aboriginal Women’s Sexual Assault Network. We call it ”Hey Sis, I’ve got your back”.

These women have been the backbone of a system supporting communities in dealing with situations of abuse such as rape, incest and other forms of sexual abuse, as well as domestic and family violence.

We need to empower these women so they are able to continue standing up against sexual violence in their communities. And we need to give them the tools to work within their communities to stop sexual assault from happening.

Hey Sis was launched in September by Sophie Cotsis, the opposition spokeswoman for the Status of Women. In October, the network held its first meeting, bringing together 20 Aboriginal women committed to working against sexual violence throughout Sydney.

These women are opening a can of worms on a highly sensitive problem. Hey Sis network members who speak out about sexual assault risk being the topic of malicious gossip. They may come up against community-wide denial that sexual assault even happens, as well as retaliation or lateral violence.

But Hey Sis network members are committed to supporting one another, to celebrating their resilience, and to acting with respect and dignity to those who have experienced sexual assault. ”Sexual assault is a crime, and if you have experienced sexual assault, you are not alone, you are believed, and there are people like me who will support you,” goes the mantra.

I look forward to the day when I hear the voice of the “Hey Sis” network being spoken in communities throughout Australia.

Yatungka Gordon is a project worker at Mudgin-gal.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Records tumble as mercury rises

Swimmers at Victoria Pool, Glebe.THE suffocating heat settled on Sydney like a slow-moving treacle.
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It was the absence of a promised sea breeze, the weather bureau said, that turned Friday’s stifling 39-degree forecast into a record-breaking 45.8. People did what they could to cope.

Tyran Gulliver, a gyprocker, worked through the heat of the day 20 floors above the ground, on a construction site.

”We’re supposed to knock off at 38 degrees … usually you get the union in but we just kept going,” he said.

Mr Gulliver said he and workmates filled their helmets with water and conserved their energy in a time-honoured Australian way: ”Everyone was bludging.”

Inside Central Station, the escalators gave off the disconcerting smell of burning rubber.

On Eddy Avenue people in cut-off shorts, fluoro vests and trucker hats milled about. There were no prizes for guessing where they were headed.

The Big Day Out festival at the Sydney Showground kicked off at 11am but many stayed away until the promised cold change came in the afternoon.

Many appeared unsteady on their feet. Some collapsed. It was unclear if the heat was to blame.

But the Ambulance Service of NSW said about 150 people were treated for heat exposure or fainting by 3pm.

Joe Sinac, 18, said: ”It’s absolutely brutal,” as he finished a six-pack ahead of his train journey.

In the CBD, police directed traffic when lights on the corner of King and York streets in the CBD flashed orange.

”We have a number of signals out across the greater Sydney metro area,” a Traffic Management Centre spokesman said. ”With this kind of extreme heat, we run into issues, so we advise commuters to exercise caution.”

At Sydney University Pool, more than 1500 people came through the door an hour before the mercury peaked at 2.55 pm.

”It was life affirming,” Chrisen Hall from Surry Hills said of his afternoon dip. In the park outside a man slept under a sheet, corpse-like.

But for 61-year-old Scottish tourists, Sheila Mason and Alison McKenzie, who came expecting a sunburnt country, even once-in-a-lifetime heat was underwhelming: ”This heat is what we expected from Australia at this time of year,” Ms McKenzie said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Firefighters battle it out and pray for a cool change

Residents fight fires … in Aberdare, near Cessnock. Deep heat … a grass fire in Penrith.
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HUNDREDS of firefighters battled the most atrocious conditions imaginable on Friday to contain about a dozen out-of-control blazes from the state’s far south to the Hunter Valley, desperately hoping a late cool change would bring relief.

By late on Friday, fires near Cessnock, Coonabarabran, Young and around Bega were still causing extreme danger for residents and firefighters, as authorities confirmed two homes had been lost in the Bega area.

The Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons, said dry winds and hotter than expected temperatures played havoc with firefighters. ”This has made for very difficult conditions and there are a lot of very active fires; there has not been the cloud cover we expected,” he said.

As a cool change began to sweep up the coast on Friday afternoon, the biggest areas of concern at about 6pm included a fast-moving grass fire initially reported to be near Young, but which was racing towards the township of Boorowa.

Known as the Watershed Stud fire, in the local government area of Harden, the fire had burnt 1500 hectares by 5pm as emergency warning messages were issued for the area. The RFS said more than 50 fire trucks are on scene with about 180 firefighters.

”Ground crews are being assisted by waterbombing aircraft. The Air Crane is being sent to the area,” a RFS spokesman said.

”Properties in the Moppity area are under threat. The fire is burning near Harden Road and Campbellfields Road. There are a number of local road closures including Moppity Road.”

In Cessnock, an out of control fire in Aberdare broke containment lines and was due to affect the Ellalong and Kearsley areas.

At one stage the RFS Deputy Commissioner, Rob Rogers, tweeted about the plight of those on the front line: ”Really terrible conditions for firefighters. Imagine being in this heat next to a blast furnace.”

Also of concern was an out of control bushfire in the Millingandi area, in the Bega Valley, about five kilometres west of Merimbula, on the state’s far south coast.

The fire, which was about 150 hectares in size, had burnt 35 hectares, crossed the Princes Highway and was affecting local properties, sparking warnings for residents to head north to Bega or south to Merimbula.

There were also emergency warnings in place for the Aberdare fire near Cessnock.

Flare-ups in and around Sydney caused major headaches as temperatures soared in the west and south-west suburbs of Penrith and Campbelltown.

An emergency warning was issued mid-afternoon for a grass fire out of control near the University of Western Sydney in the Campbelltown area, but it was quickly downgraded as it was brought under control.

During what was one of its busiest days ever, the RFS used 200 trucks and 60 aircraft to try and halt the march of destruction which has already scorched 100,000 hectares of NSW land.

A fire in Cessnock is also out of control and has broken containment lines. ”The fire started yesterday [Thursday] and has reignited under extreme fire conditions this afternoon,” a spokesman said.

A bushfire in the Deans Gap area of Morton National Park, near Sussex Inlet, covering 9114 hectares, remains uncontained and the RFS said it may yet jump their containment lines.

Fires in the Kybeyan Range area 20 kilometres east of Cooma, in the Bega Valley, south-east of Mudgee, are also continuing to burn out of control.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

A recipe for risking all

Marco Pierre White prepares to dish out some pain in MasterChef: The Professionals.FEW things are more gratifying in television than watching a group of desperate people debase themselves for money, prizes or prestige. Competitive reality TV is one of the shining stars in the TV firmament: it shows us humanity at its worst, and therefore is television at its best. But every fan of reality must ponder the question: amateur or professional?
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The arrival this weekend of MasterChef: The Professionals brings this into sharp focus. Will the introduction of actual professional chefs to the MasterChef recipe be the spice that gives the dish an extra kick, or the dead mouse that ruins the entire party? It’s a question that has great implications for the entire reality industry. MasterChef, after all, was based on the classic reality premise: how do people deal with being taken out of their comfort zone? MasterChef: The Professionals seems to be based on another premise: how do people deal with being put into their comfort zone?

Is it more entertaining to see experts demonstrating their dazzling array of skills, or to see a bunch of nobodies failing? Yes, the answer seems obvious: we’d surely rather see people like us crash and burn; but there’s a wrinkle here, which is the issue of risk versus reward. Sure, we can watch regular MasterChef and see contender after contender burn their chicken and collapse their souffle, but that’s par for the course on MasterChef. And what’s the worst that can happen? They have to keep working at their horrible job. Big deal.

But on The Professionals, we’re going to see people who cook for a living go head to head. No doubt most of the time they’ll produce excellent dishes. But imagine how thrilling it will be when they don’t! When someone who is actually paid to make good food fails to make good food! The height from which the professionals have to fall will make the falls that much more spectacular. What’s more, the stakes are so much higher when you consider these chefs are going on TV to promote their restaurants: having Matt Preston turn up his nose could destroy their career.

And that’s the key to the appeal of the professional-versus-professional reality show: the likelihood of disaster is lower, but the glee with which we lap it up when it happens is sweeter.

Still, the divide will remain, and TV will continue serving up reality to serve both sides of the coin. My Kitchen Rules, for example, will never go down the ”professionals” road, because its appeal lies not in the anticipation of failure, but in carefully selecting the most obnoxious human beings in the country.

The Block, with its All Stars version, has hedged its bets: the competitors are still not professional builders, but they are, apparently, professional reality TV contestants. But I think The Voice would be a big hit in a ”professionals” format, because we’d all love to see how Delta likes it when some nobody refuses to turn around while she sings Rolling in the Deep.

But for now, let’s just enjoy the marvellous spectacle of hard-working professionals risking everything on whether George Calombaris thinks they’ve deconstructed the salad right. It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen, and that’s what TV is all about.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Places in the heart: Camilla Franks

Back to nature … Fraser Island.Holidays on Queensland’s Fraser Island honed kaftan queen Camilla Franks’ survival skills — and led to remarkable encounters with wildlife.
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WHEN I was a kid we went to Fraser Island quite a lot. Getting there was an epic car journey and my parents had to draw an invisible line down the middle of the back seat so my brother Ben and I wouldn’t fight. On the island we would go everywhere in a four-wheel drive. Every day brought new experiences that we enjoyed together. Brumbies used to live there and we would clap our hands to make them run off. We’d sit around the campfire and my father would show us how to scale and cook fish.

I learnt to fish at a very young age. We’d also go pipi-ing and that would be our dinner. Literally, whatever we caught, that’s what we ate.

There was little by way of development on the island in those days, just those beautiful sand dunes, lakes and red sand. It felt as though we were being kissed by Mother Nature.

We used to get up ridiculously early — before sunrise is the best time to fish, or so Dad told us. One time, there must have been about 100 fishermen gathered and, perhaps because of all the blood and guts everyone was throwing back in the water, sharks suddenly starting beaching — rolling onto the sand and grabbing the leftovers. It was phenomenal.

Fraser Island is one of those fabulous places that everyone should visit. When you’re living under the stars you get a feel for how vulnerable you are to the elements and I think that’s a really bonding experience. I wish I could rewind to those days when there was more peace and balance in life.

This series of articles produced with support from Tourism Australia.

Share your Australian Places in the Heart with Australia’s 3.7 million Facebook fans at Facebook上海夜网m/SeeAustralia

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Steady hand for company in transition

Iron ore chief Sam Walsh has signed on as chief executive for three years.HE MAY be no spring chicken, but the move by Rio Tinto’s board to select a fellow director who is close to retirement to run the company speaks more of a decision seeking to stabilise management ahead of a period of transition.
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This week Rio dumped Tom Albanese, the chief executive at the time of the $US38 billion Alcan purchase in 2007, as it took $US14 billion of write-downs both against Alcan and the Riversdale Mining purchase.

The elevation of Sam Walsh from running the iron ore division to running the company comes as Rio’s chief financial officer, Guy Elliott, is also set to depart this year, along with Doug Ritchie, who led the disastrous Riversdale Mining purchase in Mozambique.

There are questions surrounding the Riversdale acquisition, given that $US3 billion of the $US4.2 billion purchase price has been written off, amid doubts about the underlying quality of the resource.

The genial and soft-spoken Walsh, a father of three and grandfather of four who turned 63 last month, has given a commitment to run Rio for three years, which few take at face value.

Walsh’s appointment gives the board plenty of time to find a new chief executive while Walsh rolls up his sleeves and puts renewed focus on Rio’s inherent management strengths.

Not only do the changes place an Australian back in the top job at Rio, which was the case since RTZ and CRA merged in the mid-1990s until Albanese’s appointment in 2007, but it also underscores where it makes nearly all of its money.

Born and bred in Melbourne’s seaside suburb of Brighton, Walsh joined Rio’s aluminium arm in 1991, after a 20-year career in the car industry, first at General Motors before moving across to Nissan.

Walsh first ran Southern Aluminium, a Rio venture established in the late 1980s to produce aluminium wheels. This was an era of fractious union-management relations, but Southern Aluminium had a single union, which was a significant development and a forerunner of what has become widespread.

That breakthrough followed an intense amount of work throughout the group as it rethought its approach to trade unions, an approach that continues today.

While making aluminium wheels, Walsh also had a seat on the board of the aluminium smelter at Bell Bay, which paved the way for him to move up the company’s ranks, first in aluminium, before spending a few years in iron ore.

Then it was back to head up the aluminium arm before being tapped eight years ago to run iron ore. This was followed by an appointment to the board in 2009, two years after the disastrous $US38 billion purchase of Alcan.

Timing is everything in business and on his watch Walsh was able to ensure Rio capitalised on the unprecedented iron ore boom, which has involved not only lifting output to keep abreast of surging demand from China but, equally importantly, maintaining sole control of its railway operations in the Pilbara by preventing upstarts such as Fortescue Metals from getting access to Rio’s infrastructure.

His pragmatism was also demonstrated when he was able to stitch up the Hope Downs iron ore deal with Gina Rinehart in 2005, forging a 50-50 venture and arriving at a deal both parties were happy with.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, since there was also the matter of Stern Hu, the former Rio staffer in Beijing, who was sentenced in 2010 to 10 years’ jail for bribery and stealing business secrets.

Walsh is believed to have backed Hu until towards the end when, finally convinced of his guilt, he cut him off.

The shake-up at Rio comes as the goldmining sector is going through fundamental change as well, with a push to focus on ”all-in” costs rather than just cash costs after poor performance.

One former employee of CRA, the local forerunner of Rio, who knows Walsh well, says he is a personable man who would be patient with mum and dad shareholders.

”He does have an appeal, he is certainly vastly different to a Marius Kloppers [the BHP chief executive] who has an IQ that’s off the scale and doesn’t suffer fools very readily,” he said. ”Sam is far more approachable. But there is some steel there, when he doesn’t want to answer something he won’t.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.