Benji starts bright in new code

Benji Marshall has made an encouraging start to his Super Rugby career, getting through 40 minutes for the Blues in his first game of rugby union in more than a decade.
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The former West Tigers and Kiwis rugby league star played the opening two quarters at five-eighth in the Blues’ 38-35 pre-season loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday in Masterton.There was no sign of nerves from Marshall, who distributed the ball well, made the odd run at the line and took on the responsibility of re-starts and kicking for touch.Marshall tried his trademark sidestep once – and met the considerable force of Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea – but mostly, he was content sticking to basics and getting a feel for his new position.

‘‘I didn’t set the game on fire but, in terms of trying to get control and feel for playing 10, everything I wanted to get I got out of it,’’ said a happy Marshall.‘‘It wasn’t about being the best player on the field. It was just trying to get through what we practised and get a feel for the game.’’

Marshall didn’t shy away in defence, although he failed to hold on to Tim Bateman in the build-up to the Hurricanes’ third try. He even opted to get stuck into a couple of rucks, with mixed results.

Blues coach John Kirwan was pleased with Marshall’s first hitout and ruled out a switch to fullback.

‘‘I think (first-five) is his position,’’ said Kirwan. ‘‘He certainly put his hand up today so we’ll put him out there again next week and we’ll just keep working on him. It was a good start.’’

The match, in front of a sold-out crowd of 6000, was an entertaining one, which produced 11 tries – six for the Hurricanes and five for the Blues.

The Blues recovered from a 19-0 deficit to lead 21-19 at halftime, and 35-24 at three-quarter time, but more direct running from the Hurricanes in the final spell produced the rewards and lock James Broadhurst scored the winning try with eight minutes to go.

AAP

Fatal crash closes Sturt Highway near Hay

SUNDAY 12.30pm:THE condition of a female involved in yesterday’s horror crash near Hay is improving.
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Initial reports indicated the passenger was taken to Hay Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

She has since been transferred to Griffith Base Hospital, where a spokeswoman said she remained in a stable condition.

Police are yet to provide any further information aboutthe crash and the ages of all involved remain unknown.

The Sturt Highway reopened shortly before 1am this morning.

The scene of a fatal crash between a car and truck on the Sturt Highway east of Hay. The accident, which occurred shortly before 5pm on Saturday forced the closure of the highway. Picture: Daisy Huntly

The scene of a fatal crash between a car and truck on the Sturt Highway east of Hay. The accident, which occurred shortly before 5pm on Saturday forced the closure of the highway. Picture: Daisy Huntly

The scene of a fatal crash between a car and truck on the Sturt Highway east of Hay. The accident, which occurred shortly before 5pm on Saturday forced the closure of the highway. Picture: Daisy Huntly

The crash scene near Hay. Pic: Daisy Huntly

The crash scene near Hay. Pic: Daisy Huntly

The crash scene near Hay. Pic: Daisy Huntly

SATURDAY 9pm:A FEMALE is deadand another is fighting for their life after a car and truck collided near Hay this afternoon.

Emergency services were called to the crash on the Sturt Highway, about 10km east of Hay, just before 5pm.

A female passenger of the sedan died at the scene.

Another female passenger was taken to Hay Hospital with life-threatening injuries, while the male driver suffered minor injuries.

Their ages are not yet known.

The truck driver was not injured but taken to hospital to undergo mandatory blood and urine testing.

Police from Deniliquin Local Area Command have launched an investigation into the crash and are appealing for any witnesses to come forward.

The highway is still closed in both directions.

SATURDAY 5.30pm:The Sturt Highway is closed in both directions 10km east of Hay due to a serious car and truck accident.

Westbound motorists can detour via Murrumbidgee River Road, then take the Mid Western Highway to Hay to then rejoin the Sturt Highway.

Eastbound motorists are advised to use the Mid Western Highway to Goolgowi, then take the Kidman Way to Griffith to then rejoin the Sturt Highway.

Emergency services are on site working to clear the accident and reopen the highway.

There is no forecast at this stage as to when the highway will be reopened.

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Who is the Labor candidate, asks Jay Weatherill

IN an embarrassing moment for embattledSouth Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, the Labor leader admitted while in in Crystal Brook on Saturdayhedidn’t know who the local Labor candidate was for theMarch 15 state election.
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The seat, seen as crucial for Labor to retain office, is to becontested by candidate Marcus Connelly, the nephew of a late former Speaker inthe Don Dunstan era.

MrWeatherillwas visiting a command station for the Country FireService atCrystal Brook,near Port Pirie, when hewasasked by Fairfax Media aboutMrConnelly’s absence.

He replied: “Who isMarcus Connelly?”

After being told he was the local candidate MrWeatherillcontinuedthat hewas on a “flying visit so we’re justpopping in here”.

He praised the dedication and skill of firefighters involvedin the marathon Bangor blaze then inspected the incident control room.

When he emerged the said to the Premierhe was surprised he didn’tknow who the candidate was. MrWeatherillsmiled and said “yes”.

He said Mr Connelly was probably not available and reiterated thathe was “just coming through this big area”.

Later, talking to another reporter, MrWeatherillmentioned that theLabor Party was seeking to promote “our Labor Partycandidate” but did not mention Mr Connelly by name.

Earlier, when contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Connelly said he wasunaware of the Premier’s visit.

This incident comes barely 24 hours after Mr Weatherill said he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to present a unified government ahead of the March 15 state election.

The newly-created ‘faceless man’ in Port Pirie politics, Marcus Connelly said he was ‘disappointed’ that the Premier had not known who he was.

“I can understand that he is extremely busy and that there are a lot of new candidates, but that is disappointing,” he said.

“He has probably only met me once.

“Coming through my region, he should have some idea who the Labor candidate is.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

“I had a phone call about it later in the day. To be fair to them, there was a courtesy phone call.”

Labor candidate Marcus Connelly

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New rules target fan hooliganism

Horrified by the Bourke Street brawl between fans on December 28, the lighting of numerous flares at the AAMI Park match and the media outcry it sparked, Football Federation Australia has brought in new measures to tighten security for “active supporters” of Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory.
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Under the new rules, designed to more rigorously police the zones within the ground where the clubs’ most zealous fans gather, only club members will be entitled to purchase tickets into active-supporter areas.

“Each member will be entitled to purchase one ticket for their own use. The measures will apply to home-and-away matches,” the FFA said in a statement on Saturday.

The move is designed to prevent the sort of scenes that provoked embarrassing coverage on television and in the papers following the post-Christmas match between the two clubs.

Numerous charges were laid as a result of the incidents.

The game’s governing body is aware of the growing climate condemning street violence, particularly in Sydney, following the latest death from a so-called king hit in the city, and is fearful of further damage to the image of the sport.

The measures are being introduced for a trial period and will start after the round 18 games.

“Additional measures to ensure the safe conduct of A-League matches will be in place in accordance with the risk profile of the match, including increased bag checks,” the FFA said.

A-League boss Damien de Bohun said the trial measures had been put in place after tighter strictures were adopted for the Victory-Wanderers game, which took place at AAMI Park – a couple of weeks after the Bourke Street brawl – on January 14.

That passed almost without incident, although it was a midweek fixture, not one played during the Christmas holiday period.

“The measures worked smoothly and ensured the active-supporter areas were reserved for members who represented their clubs as genuine fans should,” de Bohun said.

“The trial is squarely aimed at preventing troublemakers using the active areas to engage in antisocial behaviour that affects the enjoyment of others and damages the reputation of the clubs and the game.

“FFA has worked closely with state police forces, security contractors and stadium managers on a range of security measures. We are all absolutely determined to make sure an A-League experience has a unique atmosphere in a family-friendly environment.”

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Thailand’s gathering storm

Chiang Mai residents attend a candle-light and lantern-floating vigil to urge non-violence in the lead-up to today’s election.They plan to call the uprising from a dingy 11th floor apartment above Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s capital. ”Be prepared. When the time comes, I will call you out onto the streets,” radio host Mahawan Kawang exhorts his 50,000 listeners.
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”We must be ready to defend our Prime Minister and our country’s democracy,” he says.

Mahawan’s 105.50 FM is one of 2000 community radio stations across northern Thailand that have a pact to call out their millions of listeners if Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is toppled in what pro-government red shirt supporters claim is an unannounced coup under way 700 kilometres away in Bangkok.

”Don’t be afraid. In Bangkok they look down on people from the north and say we are uneducated, but we must show them that democracy is for everyone … our vote gives us the same rights as their vote,” says Mahawan, a popular celebrity with a master’s degree who is known as ”DJ Nok”.

A few kilometres away, former police senior sergeant Pichit Tamoon sips coffee outside the red-painted headquarters of the city’s red taxis and reveals plans for the mobilisation of 500,000 red shirt supporters who until now have largely remained quiet as anti-government protests have crippled Yingluck’s government and shut down parts of Bangkok ahead of Sunday’s national elections, which authorities fear could turn violent.

Pichit, the red shirt co-ordinator for 17 vote-rich provinces, paints a disturbing scenario that would see northern Thailand’s political separation from Bangkok and southern provinces and almost certainly stoke further violence in the country of 64 million people.

”We will not be the ones who will start the war, but if a coup happens, we will announce that we will fight,” Pichit says.

”Our groups have met and we have developed a plan to defend against an elite group that is bent on destroying our democratic system,” he says.

Under the plan, Chiang Mai, a former ancient capital among Thailand’s highest mountains, would become a base for red shirts who would come in en masse from 37 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, Pichit says.

Yingluck, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister, would evacuate to the city that is home for her powerful family, including brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the former billionaire prime minister living in exile who has been the target of an eight-year campaign to purge him from Thai politics.

From Chiang Mai, 46-year-old Yingluck would be encouraged to keep on governing as the legitimate rival to whoever takes over in Bangkok.

Under the plan, half of the mobilised red shirts would then descend on Bangkok to confront anti-government protesters, while the rest would mass in Chiang Mai.

”If we go to Bangkok, the protesters on the streets now will run away,” Pichit says.

”We can outnumber them 10 times. Most of them are middle-class people with money. They will not sacrifice what they have and will run to their homes for safety,” he says.

Asked if red shirts have weapons, Pichit, a 44-year-old father of two, says ”they are all prepared, but we cannot talk about it”.

In many countries it would be easy to dismiss such alarmist talk as propaganda designed to pressure political enemies.

When the Thai military launched a coup to depose Thaksin in 2006 there was a muted response from supporters in his political party that was then called Thai Rak Thai.

But long-simmering grievances have surfaced as Yingluck has been locked in a brutal struggle for her political survival.

As the latest episode of Thailand’s conflict has escalated into almost daily shootings and attacks in Bangkok, red shirt leaders have confirmed the holding of strategy meetings and plans to bring their supporters onto the streets if the government falls.

They are counting on the backing of the police, where Thaksin was a senior officer until 2001 and still has support among the ranks.

In 2010 red shirts occupied the centre of Bangkok for months before a bloody crackdown left at least 90 people dead and hundreds injured.

And militants in underground wings of the red shirt movement have been quoted in Thai media as saying they have stockpiled weapons and ammunition in Bangkok and surrounding areas, matching intelligence reports cited by the Thai military.

Pichit says red shirts have remained patient and low-key in the crisis so far ”because we don’t want to cause more problems for Yingluck”.

He says they believe unnamed powerful interests are orchestrating the fall of the government by either military intervention or judicial coup.

Thailand’s courts have been unusually active in recent weeks in taking on cases against Yingluck and members of her Pheu Thai party while the military, maintaining its neutrality for the moment, has staged 18 coups or attempted coups since the 1930s and shares the establishment’s loathing of Thaksin.

On the eve of Sunday’s election only candidates supporting the government and red shirts have campaigned in Chiang Mai, a city of 200,000 where the main opposition Democrat party, which is boycotting the polls, does not even have an office.

Yingluck is promising reform and compromise before calling another election in about a year.

With voters in her party’s rural bastions likely to turn out in force, victory seems certain but she will face a host of legal challenges as she tries to form a new government.

Attending a candle-light vigil held to urge election non-violence, Somchai Chanawan, 63, a former civil engineer who runs a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, says most people in northern Thailand want to defend the country’s democratic values but there are differing views on how to do it.

”I believe in using bare hands … that is, casting with my vote. I want my vote to have rights. How can they take away my right to vote?” he says, referring to threats by protesters to block people from going into polling stations on Sunday.

Even if polling goes ahead smoothly in most areas, protesters say they will continue their campaign aimed at destroying the Shinawatra family’s power at a time of deep concern over the health of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the future royal transition in the country where the monarchy remains extremely influential.

While based in a luxurious mansion in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence over a 2006 corruption conviction, Thaksin – with a fortune estimated at $US1.7 billion – has bought and sold Manchester City football club, acted as an economics adviser to developing countries, operated mining ventures in Africa, launched a lottery in Uganda and met the late Nelson Mandala.

But he continues to wield huge influence in Thailand where his enemies demonise him but where he is adored as a hero by many, particularly those in rural areas such as north-eastern Isan, the country’s poorest region.

”I love Thaksin because he has brought many ideas that have helped us … he has good vision,” says Anong Jaichauy, a 56-year-old mother of two from a poor rice-farming family in Sampatong district, 30 kilometres south of Chiang Mai.

When he was prime minister, Thaksin, 64, implemented cheap healthcare, easy consumer credit and low-interest loans to 70,000 villages.

Yingluck went further when she was elected in 2011, introducing tax rebates for first-time car and house buyers, higher minimum wages and a costly rice subsidy scheme that government critics call ”Thaksonomics,” which they claim is a form of corruption.

Holding a photograph of herself with Thaksin, Anong says she is ready to lead villagers to Bangkok to defend Yingluck, sleeping on the footpath the same as she did during red shirt protests in 2010.

”Look around. We see all the trouble on the television every day and people no longer smile,” she says.

”People are upset. We cannot sit by and do nothing.”

Another of Thaksin’s initiatives was to grant licences for communities to have their own radio stations, which Mahawan, the radio host, describes as a ground-breaking way to empower disenfranchised and impoverished villages.

”When Thaksin was overthrown in 2006, my listeners were calling in incensed that a democratically elected leader could be treated that way,” says Mahawan, 47.

”They were also calling in to radio stations across north and north-eastern provinces and they became known as red stations which were reflecting the views of listeners,” he says.

Soon after the coup, soldiers raided Mahawan’s station, took away his equipment and kept him off air for two years. Other red stations were also closed.

But Mahawan says that this time the military will not be able to take him off air in the event of a military take-over or imposition of martial law that includes censorship.

”They wouldn’t dare. They know the feeling of people is now too strong … the people are saying on radio this is their last chance to stand up for our democratic rights, for the sake of our nation,” he says.

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Ballot for Gallipoli centenary draws 37,000 applications

Demand has overwhelmed organisers of the ballot for next year’s Gallipoli centenary commemorations.
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The ballot, which closed on Friday, attracted more than 37,000 applications from Australians and New Zealanders, for just 10,000 spots.

It is understood more than 30,000 Australians applied for 8000 spots, while more than 8100 New Zealanders applied for 2000 spots. Entrants will know by Anzac Day whether their application was successful.

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said final figures, including the average age of applicants and the breakdown of men and women, would be released soon.

Over the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign, 8709 Australians and 2721 New Zealanders were killed.

Monash University Australian studies historian Damien Williams, who has researched the motivations of Australians who retrace the steps of war veterans,said the motivations of those going to Gallipoli were different from those recreating the journeys of World War II.

Many people returned to Papua New Guinea and other World War II front lines to honour their family members, he said. But with most having no living family members linking them to Gallipoli, Dr Williams believed a collective Australian history was more a motivating factor.

This included the still-influential Peter Weir film, Gallipoli. And, he said, the role of government should not be underestimated; the extensive planning for next year’s centenary may have sparked many people to sign up for the ballot.

“It’s not always a simple and organic phenomenon; it’s something that governments and bureaucrats and decision makers actively influence.”

A Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman said it was the first time the government had had to run a ballot.

There will be 400 double passes available for direct descendants of Gallipoli veterans, 400 double passes for veterans of overseas service, 200 double passes for schoolchildren and their chaperones and 3000 double passes in the general ballot area.

The government has also invited 160 widows of WWI veterans to be included, with their fares to be paid by the government.

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Naomie Harris portrays truth with daring in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Power couple: Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Heart of the matter: Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, statesman.
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Playing real-life characters isn’t something that comes naturally to Naomie Harris. The British actress was familiar to fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean series well before James Bond came calling in his latest outing, Skyfall, and has seemed more focused on the fantastical, or at least the fictional. But with her latest role, she is suddenly playing one of the most divisive figures of the late 20th century. Harris is suitably fired up, on and off screen.

When we meet at the Dubai International Film Festival, Harris has just flown in from London and the British premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. During the screening, news came in of the former South African president’s death. The timing felt eerie. The night became an impromptu tribute of sorts to the man who helped eradicate apartheid from his troubled nation.

Harris, 37, calls it a numbing experience. But she points to the film’s earlier unveiling in Johannesburg as a true test of her abilities to read Winnie Mandela correctly, far from the headlines that famously demonised her.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Harris says. “All the Mandela family, the nieces and nephews, all turned out, as well as those who’d been imprisoned with him. It was a lot of pressure. These people were all there. There was complete silence when the movie was being shown. People were really affected. Winnie was crying. I had one of the Mandela nieces sob in my arms. It was intense.”

Harris met Winnie Mandela during pre-production of the film – and was told to “just tell the truth”. The London-born actor spent hours watching news footage, met those who knew the Mandelas, and read copious amounts (including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, upon which the film is based) before she felt confident to portray the former first lady of South Africa. What she discovered surprised her.

“She was a huge part of keeping his memory alive while he was in prison for 27 years,” Harris says. “She was at the heart of the Free Nelson Mandela campaign. She was also, as we know, a huge part of the Soweto youth uprisings.”

Bypassing previous films about the Mandelas, she adds: “What was really difficult for Winnie was that she was so integral to these two movements: the free Nelson Mandela campaign, the anti- apartheid movement. When Nelson came out of prison, she was sidelined, and expected to go back to being almost the wife, to stand in Nelson Mandela’s shadow, when for so long she had been standing in her own light, and leading a movement in effect. I think that was really difficult for her.”

Harris dismisses the notion that Nelson Mandela, or his former wife (the pair divorced in 1996), were either saints or demons. Both achieved extraordinary things during a tumultuous period in their nation’s history. It took Harris six months to feel “released” from the character, something that “wasn’t pleasant”. Winnie and the family are said to approve of her exhaustive work on screen.

Her performance in the film, alongside fellow British actor Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, is testament to the hours she put in. Harris delivers an extraordinary performance, managing to navigate and articulate a radically shifting personality as Winnie ages from 21 to 57. Were the current awards race not so crowded, both she and Elba would surely have been in the running for Oscar attention.

Harris began acting on television, aged nine, in the British sci-fi series The Tomorrow People. Schooling and further education later kept her away. Then, in 2002, she was cast as an unknown in the zombie thriller 28 Days Later. She thanks its director for all that has come since.

“Danny Boyle is the reason why I’m here today. He gave me the very start of my career, with 28 Days Later, when I’d just left drama school, and didn’t really have any credits to my name. And he also cast me in Frankenstein, at the National [Theatre of Great Britain], which is how I got Bond, because [Skyfall director] Sam Mendes came to see it with Debbie McWilliams, who cast all the Bond movies. So I’ll always work with Danny, no matter what it is. Even,” she laughs, ”if I am playing a bimbo.”

Joking aside, Harris is very serious about her work – and clear about what she will and won’t do. Michael Mann wanted her to strip for a sex scene with co-star Jamie Foxx in 2005’s Miami Vice (she refused, she says, so Mann was forced to use a body double). Similarly, playing Moneypenny in the revitalised Bond franchise appealed because the lady who once fawned over Agent 007 had now been firmly recast as a thoroughly modern woman.

“[The producers] wanted to make her a modern character, someone that women and audiences can identify with and look up to,” she says. “That’s what I’ve always strived to do, in terms of my choices. I don’t have much freedom in terms of what roles I get offered. The freedom I have is in what I choose. I always choose strong women. Those are the women I was brought up with, that I admire and respect.”

Harris grew up in a single-parent family after her father walked out while she was a child. Her Jamaican-born mother went on to become a successful screenwriter (for BBC TV’s EastEnders), lending her daughter a work ethic far removed from the trappings of celebrity. The actress is currently in a steady relationship, although she won’t discuss the man concerned. But she seems genuinely happy. Which begs the inevitable question: what next?

“I’ve always wanted to do a period drama,” she says. “I wrote a dissertation while I was at university about black people in 18th-century Britain. And I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. So I’d love to be in a Jane Austen-esque film that reflects that period of time, when there were a lot of black people in Britain. After that, who knows?”

Six of the best: leaders on screen

Gandhi (1982)

Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic awoke a generation and garnered 11 Oscar nominations, winning eight, including best actor for Ben Kingsley, for his era-defining performance as the spiritual leader of British-ruled India.

Nixon (1995)

Oliver Stone’s dramatisation of notorious former US president Richard Nixon and his fall from grace wasn’t without its critics but delivered a superb lead turn from Anthony Hopkins, who inhabited the man in a way few others have done before or since.

Downfall (2004)

Almost a decade before the disastrous Diana, filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel delivered this tense WWII drama about the last 10 days of Adolf Hitler. Swiss actor Bruno Ganz inhabited the doomed fuehrer with an intensity so compelling it led to a spate of viral videos, lampooning one of his most brutal monologues.

The Queen (2006)

Philomena director Stephen Frears hit pay dirt with this glorious ode to Elizabeth II, as played by Dame Helen Mirren. Presenting a human side to the usually austere royal family helped soften her subjects’ often-bumpy relationship with their monarch. Mirren won the best actress Oscar for her efforts, dedicating her win to her Queen. A nation applauded.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Kevin Macdonald’s engrossing look at one of the most bizarre figures of the past century provided a career-defining role for Forest Whitaker, who lent the figure of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin the enormity it required. Whitaker won the best actor Oscar.

Patton (1970)

Franklin J. Shaffner’s landmark biopic helped educate a nation about US General George S. Patton, the controversial World War II tank commander. Played with incomparable gusto by the great George C.Scott, the film – a game-changer for its no-holds-barred view of a man relieved of his war duties – is preserved in the US Library of Congress for historical importance.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is released in cinemas on Thursday.

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V8 Supercars field the smallest yet because of cost-cutting

With just one seat to be officially confirmed, the V8 Supercars field will be the smallest yet as even the top teams face a financial squeeze.
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Two entries have dropped out and another is doubtful, reducing the car count to 25.

Of the confirmed entries, only backmarker team Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport hasn’t nominated a driver for its reduced one-car effort.

In a reversal of his planned retirement from full-time racing at the end of last year, V8 veteran Russell Ingall is expected to sign with LDM for at least one more season.

LDM is one of two competitors – along with Dean Fiore – who handed back entries to V8 Supercars because they couldn’t afford to run them. And fellow owner/driver Tony D’Alberto is scrambling to find funding for his solo entry.

D’Alberto has until the mandatory pre-season test day at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 15 to confirm his participation in the 14-event V8 Supercars championship or also relinquish his entry.

This V8 season, which starts with the March 1-2 Adelaide 500, will be the first in recent years in which there hasn’t been a full field of 28.

Even if 26 turn up, it will still be the smallest line-up since V8 Supercars took over the running of what was formerly the Australian touring car championship in 1997.

The field was purposely reduced by V8 authorities from a high of 32 cars in the late ’90s to 28 to increase the value of each entry, which is known as a Racing Entitlement Contract.

A REC is required for each car entered by an owner and REC holders are entitled to a share of V8 racing’s end-of-year profits.

But because of the V8s’ poor two-year interim TV rights deal, there was no payout last year and this year is also likely to see the teams get little or nothing.

Along with a tough sponsorship market, the lack of a dividend – which was as much as $800,000 a year until the teams reduced their shareholding in the sport from 70 to 35 per cent in 2011 – has put most teams under financial pressure.

Melbourne’s D’Alberto is making a last-ditch effort to find funding to take his entry to another team, with reports he is looking to partner with retired Sydney driver Jonathon Webb’s Tekno Autosports squad, which was also forced to cut back to one car for NZ star Shane Van Gisbergen.

Even champion team Triple Eight is in need of a bigger budget, selling the bonnet space on its Red Bull-backed Holden Commodores to upgraded minor sponsor Caltex.

Triple Eight’s main rival, Ford Performance Racing, has taken a hit to its budget despite winning the Bathurst 1000, losing major sponsors on top of reduced factory backing.

Erebus Motorsport, mainly privately funded by wealthy owner Betty Klimenko, is looking for replacement sponsors for both its Mercedes-Benz AMGs (down from three cars last year).

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

Voter fatigue won’t dull Labor’s chances of Griffith victory

If anyone in Australia can lay claim to a solid case of voter fatigue, it’s the good burghers of Griffith.
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On Saturday, many in the electorate will be voting in their fifth election in less than two years.

”Intuitively, it must fatigue voters,” said Paul Williams, a Queensland political expert and senior lecturer at Griffith University.

”It must … have a dampening effect on people’s enthusiasm to engage electorally.”

Granted, two of those elections – the 2012 Brisbane City Council poll and the byelection in retiring premier Anna Bligh’s seat of South Brisbane – fell on April 28.

But both those came hot on the heels of the March 2012 state election and, since then, there has been last year’s federal election.

”Given that areas within Griffith are generally heavily populated with university students, people with at least one degree and possibly double degrees, or have high incomes, you’d expect voter fatigue to be less of a problem than it would be in more outlying areas on the fringes of the city,” Williams said.

”There’s no doubt there will be some people in Griffith who won’t turn out on polling day, despite having turned out last year in the general election, simply because they’re over politics.”

The Griffith byelection will be the first real test of leadership for both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

But it is also a hard electorate to pigeonhole, with a demographic ranging from young, broke share-houses to some of Brisbane’s most wealthy.

Based on last year’s election results, the north-west of Griffith is Glasson heartland. He easily outpolled former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the affluent suburbs along the eastern stretch of the Brisbane River, such as Hawthorne, Bulimba and Balmoral, despite (or perhaps because of) Rudd’s signature appearances along the famed Oxford Street cafe strip. That is offset by the southern and western parts of the electorate, such as Dutton Park, Carina and bohemian West End, which are firmly in the red column.

Williams is hardly Robinson Crusoe in predicting a Labor victory.

With Labor winning each of the aforementioned elections, not many are rating the LNP’s chances. Indeed, one online booking company has Labor’s Terri Butler at almost even money to win, with an ALP victory paying just $1.08 last week.

History suggests those odds are justified.

The last – and only – time a federal government has gained a seat from an opposition in a byelection was in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in 1920. This, coupled with some missteps by the new government has many observers thinking Glasson’s best chance came and went last September.

”The Abbott government hasn’t got a record to run on. It’s got four months of accidents,” Williams said. ”It hasn’t got anything it can point to, to say ‘This is what we’ve done since the election.”’

But don’t tell Glasson’s supporters that. Campaign insiders point to Griffith’s moderate nature and are predicting a very close race, perhaps even a narrow Glasson victory, by as much as 1.5 per cent.

”Griffith isn’t a Labor or a Liberal electorate, it’s a moderate electorate,” said a source on the Glasson campaign.

It was that moderation, he said, that made Rudd, a member of the middle-of-the-road Labor Unity faction, so popular with voters within the electorate.

”When all is said and done, I think this is a toss-up. It won’t be the walkover that’s been suggested by many.”

While Williams agrees the final margin may be tighter than expected, he pours water on the Glasson optimism.

”Clearly the Labor brand is not as damaged as people suspected and that’s been reflected in a couple of federal polls,” he said.

”My argument has long been that the Labor brand wasn’t the problem. It was the Gillard/Rudd feud that was the problem. Take those two actors out and a lot of the damage has been repaired.”

Williams is tipping a swing towards the ALP that, given the party’s existing 3 per cent margin, would result in a solid victory for Butler – and Shorten.

But Glasson isn’t going down without a fight. It was hard to fault his performance in the general election, or his impressive grassroots campaign.

But there have been some subtle differences. LNP headquarters has taken more control of this campaign. Media queries are directed through party HQ, which is a departure from last year when the candidate handled most queries himself. That increased control of head office has also been felt by campaign staff and volunteers on the ground.

Things have changed on the Labor side, too. The ALP is taking the fight to Glasson much more aggressively that it did last year. And having a candidate on the ground for the duration of the campaign, as opposed to Rudd who jetted across the country in his role as prime minister, does tend to sharpen a campaign’s focus.

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

Lead-footers hit the highway in NT

Low traffic: Peter Styles said there were no speeding deaths on the highway for 10 years. Photo: David McCowen Peter and Chris Jackson with their Aston Martin V8 Vantage on the Stuart Highway. Photo: David McCowen
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Northern Territory police have hit out at drivers who exceeded 200km/h during the first hours of a trial of open speed limits.

The territory has removed speed limits on a stretch of the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs as part of a 12-month study. The road was not subject to speed limits until 2007, when 130km/h maximums were introduced.

Northern Territory Transport Minister Peter Styles said he had not seen any irresponsible drivers on the highway but was disappointed when told people had driven at more than 250km/h on public roads.

”This is a long section of road with very low traffic volumes,” he said.

”This road is not an autobahn. If people want to do those speeds, then I suggest they go to Germany.”

Mr Styles said the road was selected for a trial without speed limits because it ”has not had speed-related deaths on it for a 10-year period”.

Assistant Commissioner Jamie Chalker, of Northern Territory police, said increased patrols would operate in the trial zone.

”We will be encouraging people to drive safely, to drive to the conditions,” he said. ”Don’t try to push the boundaries … we will not accept stupidity on our road. Please do not come here to treat this as a racetrack. Don’t treat this as a place to drive recklessly.”

Critics of the trial, including the Transport Workers Union and the Australian Automobile Association, say it increases risk and will threaten life on the roads.

Fairfax Media spotted several high-performance machines on the stretch of road at the start of the trial, including a classic Ferrari F355, a supercharged Chrysler coupe and a 1000cc Yamaha superbike.

Dozens of motorists hit a 200-kilometre section of the road in the first hours of the trial on Saturday, including Aston Martin owners Peter and Chris Jackson.

”It was beautiful,” Mr Jackson said. ”The car was built for it so I pushed it over 250km/h. I’ll have to go home and wash the bugs off it now.”

Alice Springs residents have been split by the decision to trial open speed limits.

Gary Partridge used to work in roadhouses in the bush and said it was ”about bloody time” the government reinstated open limits.

”No one really speeds on that road anyway, most people do 130 or 140km/h,” he said.

Other residents said they appreciated being given the opportunity to decide what was responsible on the road.

But many do not support the trial, including Rob Manning, a travelling salesman who spends many hours on outback roads.

”I used to drive on that road when it was on an open speed limit … many times over 200km/h,” he said. ”But I don’t agree with it – 130km/h is enough.”

Richard Giltrap drives 50-metre-long triple road trains out of Alice Springs, often having to avoid ”idiots on the road”.

”They overtake when it is unsafe all the time,” he said. ”[The trial] shouldn’t happen, shouldn’t be allowed … There will be one accident and that will be the end of [it].”

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

What went wrong with the Nintendo Wii U?

With sales of more than 100 million, Nintendo’s original Wii easily won the last round of the console wars. Like Mario jumping over a man-eating flower, the Wii’s sales leapfrogged both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, ushering in a golden age of mainstream gaming. Key to this success was the revolutionary Wii remote, a gesture-based controller that removed the complex controls of other consoles. Combined with a family-friendly range of games, it captured the imagination of the masses, from six-year-old girls to 60-year-old grandfathers. So how did Nintendo get it so wrong with the Wii’s successor, the Wii U, which has crashed and burned like an out-of-control Mario Kart?
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Released in November 2012, early sales of the Wii U were strong despite a relatively soft range of launch titles. The first shipments quickly sold out, but the happy story ended there with sales rapidly declining. The Wii U sold a mere 2.8 million units in the whole of 2013 – less than the new Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One sold in just two months. It’s also a fraction of the number of original Wiis sold over the same length of time when it was first released.

As a result, Nintendo’s share price has taken a beating, profit fell 30 per cent, and top company executives have taken major pay cuts. The Wii U is in dire straits. Even Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata – whose salary has been halved – hasn’t beaten about the bush, admitting the company’s sales suffered ”a huge gap from their targets”.

Issues have included the Wii U’s name, which sounds very similar to Nintendo’s earlier console, and an advertising campaign that failed to convey the Wii U was actually a new console. Many gamers mistakenly believed the Wii U was just a new controller for the older Wii.

According to Marla Fitzsimmons, marketing manager at Nintendo Australia, the company quickly realised this. “One of the challenges was to explain to consumers that Wii U was a new console and new controller, and not just a controller for Wii.”

The biggest physical difference is the new gamepad, which combines a standard control pad with a large touchscreen. While the Wii U still uses the Wii remotes, the new gamepad is central to the Wii U experience and requires the dexterity of an experienced gamer on twin control sticks and buttons. Many see this as the biggest flaw of Wii U, reintroducing the barrier the original Wii successfully removed.

But Nintendo doesn’t see it that way. When asked if upcoming games would place emphasis on the remotes instead of the gamepad, Fitzsimmons says: “Our job continues to be to get out there to consumers and show them the entertainment and fun that the Wii U offers, and that includes showing them all the great things you can do with the gamepad.”

It appears mainstream gamers will need to adapt to the gamepad if they hope to enjoy upcoming games, but with so few Wii U consoles out there, software publishers are loathe to invest. Electronic Arts announced an “unprecedented relationship” with Nintendo at the launch of the Wii U, but a year later had no Wii U titles in development. Key 2013 titles from other publishers, such as BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V and Tomb Raider, all skipped the Wii U. This leaves Nintendo relying on its internal studios to deliver the bulk of Wii U games. But based on known releases for 2014, it seems Nintendo plans on releasing fewer games than it did in 2013.

Despite this, Fitzsimmons claims 2014 will see a resurgence in sales resulting from games sales, saying that “we feel there’s more momentum with the upcoming line-up”. Australia’s top physical gaming retailer EB Games echoed this, saying “Nintendo is definitely stepping up to the plate when it comes to the software on offer”.

Now that the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are available – both delivering raw performance exponentially more powerful than the Wii U, and both selling like hot cakes – Nintendo faces an even tougher time as casual gamers flock to the increasingly high quality games offered on smartphones and tablets.

Nintendo HQ in Japan is responding with a management shake-up and share buy-back, while Nintendo Australia remains slightly more optimistic. ”Our upcoming line-up is incredibly strong,” Fitzsimmons says. ”We feel that the Wii U is in a much better position in 2014.”

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

Smart light bulbs: Belkin v Philips

Plugged in: Philips’ smart light bulbs.The simple light bulb is looking like the cornerstone of the smart home, with the ability to turn your lights on from across the room or around the world.
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At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Belkin unveiled its new WeMo LED light bulbs as part of its home automation range, while Philips touted its latest BR30 downlight bulb.

These smart light bulbs are designed to work with a normal light socket, although the Philips Hue is only available with a screw fitting (you can buy bayonet adaptors). The Belkin bulbs will be available with either bayonet or screw fittings.

Both support the ZigBee short range wireless protocol, which looks destined to become the backbone of home automation and is already built into some smart meters. Both starter kits come with a central ZigBee hub which connects the lights to your home Wi-Fi network, letting you control them from your Android and Apple gadgets.

The new Philips Hue BR30 is a 630-lumen downlight, joining the original 600-lumen Philips Hue bulbs. You can choose from millions of colours to suit any mood, set timers, use GPS-based geofencing and take advantage of the If This Then That online automation service.

You can’t adjust the colour of the 800-lumen Belkin bulbs. Their selling point is tight integration into the Belkin WeMo ecosystem which already includes smart light switches, power adaptors and motion detectors. You can also set timers and tap into If This Then That.

The writer travelled to Las Vegas as a guest of LG.

The verdict

Philips’ coloured lights are great for setting the mood but Belkin’s wider WeMo ecosystem makes it the more practical choice for people looking to really embrace home automation.

Belkin$US129 (2 bulbs + hub)belkin南京夜网/au

Philips$US199 (3 bulbs + hub)philips南京夜网.au

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AFL drafts top crime fighter

Veteran detective Gerry Ryan. Photo: Jason SouthThe AFL has recruited one of Victoria’s highest-ranking detectives to work as an anti-corruption investigator as part of a major revamp of its integrity department.
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He is expected to work in the areas of match fixing, illegal betting, improper associations, supplement abuse, and performance-enhancing drug use and trafficking.

The move comes as professional sports in Australia have been targeted by international illegal betting syndicates as potential areas for expansion, and follows warnings from the Australian Crime Commission that some codes are vulnerable to corruption.

Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan from Victoria Police’s crime department will move to the AFL with a brief to liaise with Australian and international law-enforcement agencies that specialise in sports-related crime.

He oversaw last year’s investigation into allegations that a series of Melbourne soccer games were fixed as part of an international betting scam. It resulted in six arrests.

The appointment is part of an investment by the AFL in anti-corruption measures following the Essendon supplements scandal that immersed the competition in controversy throughout the 2013 season.

New measures put in place include:

■Bans on injecting players other than for a specific medical condition.

■Tougher gambling restrictions for AFL players and officials.

■Broader integrity examinations for club officials and employees.

■Bans on undesirables from entering changing rooms and coaches’ boxes.

■Mandatory reporting of anti-doping claims.

■Witness protection rules.

■Wider anti-tanking rules.

Superintendent Ryan, a 40-year police veteran, has long been involved in top-level football and has been president of VFL club Sandringham since 2006. He will resign that post with his AFL appointment.

He told Fairfax Media: ”We have seen from what has happened around the world that sport is at risk. People said match fixing would never reach Australia, but we know with the recent soccer investigation that it has.

”Asian betting is massive and Australia sits in a vulnerable position because of time zones.

”I am looking forward to working with the AFL’s integrity team to protect the game and the industry.

”The supporters need to have faith in the standards maintained in the competition.”

Australian Football League general counsel Andrew Dillon said Superintendent Ryan’s investigative skills and experience would be strong assets in the integrity area.

”Gerard Ryan is uniquely suited to this important role. He has a deep understanding of the Australian football environment and also an intimate knowledge of the risks that Australian sport faces from corruption, drugs and organised crime,” Mr Dillon said.

”In addition to many significant achievements at Victoria Police, he was more recently senior investigating officer in Operation Starlings, which investigated allegations of match fixing within the Victorian Premier League, and he has managed Purana taskforce’s collaboration with Victoria Police’s sporting integrity intelligence unit in relation to a number of sport-related investigations for Victoria.”

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