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  • Chopper’s stories became basis of legend

    They might not have said it so openly or loudly while he was alive, but they made no bones about it at his memorial service.


    "Chopper" was a "bulls*** artist".

    Mark Brandon Read, once a feared criminal who served more than 23 years behind bars, a man who had his own ears cut off by a fellow inmate and who was certainly responsible for plenty more gruesome behaviour, made a lot of it up.

    Reading from a script prepared by Read's family, the celebrant who conducted Thursday's service in Melbourne told of the time when Chopper was interviewed in Pentridge Prison by a young journalist.

    "Some of what he told that young reporter was true, some borrowed and some of it was absolute bulls***," he said.

    The tale Read told turned into a book that sold more than 300,000 copies and, as the 80-or-so mourners heard, "the book became the basis of a legend".

    It was a legend from which Read made a living once he served his final prison term, a 13-year stretch in Hobart's Risdon for shooting a bloke in the stomach.

    Read, who died last week aged 58, was buried at a private funeral on Monday.

    According to his wishes, Thursday's public service was held to give anyone who wanted to say anything a chance to get it off their chest.

    Not many seized the opportunity and those who did spoke of a misunderstood kid who probably suffered from ADHD and who could be a thorough gentleman when he wanted.

    Prison social worker Bill Sutcliffe described "Chopper" Read as a "great survivor and a great entrepreneur".

    Another mate, Craig, who declared himself "an old criminal like Chopper", spoke of a man with a code of honour.

    "I'll give Mark one thing, he never robbed old people and he never touched kids."

    Cameron Miller, whose son Shaun made a close friend of Read before dying last year of a heart disease, said he would always remember "a good man with a big heart".

    Others spoke of "an utter gentleman", a talented artist and a champion of the underdog.

    By his own admission, though, Read, who was never convicted of murder, was a gentleman who killed as many as seven people.

    If you can believe it.

  • US conservatives vow to continue fight

    Adrift but unbowed, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives sifted through the ashes of their Republican Party's capitulation, insisting their failed fight over Obamacare was worth flirting with US economic disaster.


    The Thursday morning after their legislative defeat promises a political hangover for many Tea Party-backed Republicans in the House of Representatives.

    Their strategy of standing against President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law during a fiscal crisis yielded little except a two-week government shutdown, a near default on US debt, tanking poll numbers and an internal battle that has alienated moderates and set the direction of the party itself into question.

    "We lost today," Republican congressman Mick Mulvaney acknowledged as he strode through the basement of the US Capitol, where weakened Speaker John Boehner had convened his caucus to break the news that Wednesday's deal to avert default would only minimally nick "Obamacare".

    But "if folks think we're done fighting about spending, debts, deficit, Obamacare, religious liberties (and) equal protection, they're wrong".

    He wasn't the only undaunted Republican.

    "We fought the right fight", it was "absolutely worth it", proclaimed congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who launched the House's Tea Party caucus in 2010.

    Bachmann and others link their crusade against Obamacare to a demand for dramatically reduced federal spending, saying the monstrous US debt - currently at $US16.7 trillion ($A17.53 trillion) and counting - will only drag down the nation's economy.

    And by giving in on the debt-ceiling fight, some argued it will be tougher for hardliners to press their case in future budget battles, including one expected to consume Washington later this year when Democrats will want to remove automatic spending cuts favoured by many Republicans.

    "Because we capitulated on this one, we blinked ... I think we have less credibility going into the next" fiscal fights, said congressman Thomas Massie.

    The Tea Party-backed freshman has flouted economists to insist that the US Treasury would be able to avoid default for significant time even if it could no longer borrow new money.

    "Americans want somebody to stand up to the establishment here, and that's what we did," Massie said.

    The movement's current flag-bearer, Senator Ted Cruz - another freshman - has become the poster child of congressional intransigence, incurring wrath for helping send the government careering into shutdown.

    But he insisted on Wednesday the fight he and House conservatives have waged was a "remarkable victory" and "a profile in courage".

    Some fellow Republicans warned against such characterisations.

    "First of all we should block out Ted Cruz," Republican congressman Peter King told reporters when asked the path forward for the party.

    King has repeatedly stressed that Republicans could be cast into the political wilderness after the shutdown and default threat debacles, which polls show are being largely blamed on conservatives.

    "We're alive, that's the important thing, (but) it certainly wasn't a win," King said of the fight.

    Tim Huelskamp, one of the most conservative House members, said the crisis showed it pays to confront the Washington establishment.

    "We did lose the battle, but if you go outside the Beltway ... we are winning the war," if only in red states, Huelskamp offered.

    "Finally someone is pushing back against an administration that has had excesses for five years.... So there's a value in actually fighting back."

    Many among the group which critics have derisively called the "debt default deniers" liken the latest failed showdown to a sports match where losing players gain key experience.

    "Sometimes when you lose, you win for next time," said Republican congressman Matt Salmon, who left congress in 2000 only to win another term 12 years later.

    "You learn your opponent's weaknesses, you learn somewhat about your strengths, and you learn how to capitalise on all those things."

    But if that means employing the same tactics in three months' time, when congress must negotiate a broad budget deal or go through another circus simply to keep government open another 90 days, moderate Republicans may well revolt.

    "Where we are today just demonstrates that this was not a smart thing to do in terms of a strategy ... and it's time to move on," Senator Kelly Ayotte said, bristling when asked what lessons Tea Party conservatives could learn from the last two weeks.

    "If they're saying that the defunding issue is going to come up in three months again, then they've learned nothing from this," she fumed.

    But Salmon said this month's fiscal stand would be worthy of a repeat.

    "I have no regrets of fighting the fight," he said.

    "It's not over. This is Round 1."

  • Councils to be paid from Lehman collapse

    Local governments and charities across Australia are set to get some of their money back from collapsed American investment bank Lehman Brothers.


    PPB Advisory, the liquidator of Lehman Brothers' Australian assets, has approved a scheme to recover $US45 million and $A3 million from insurance policies held in the US and Australia.

    This means that 320 creditors will receive between 44 cents and 54 cents in the dollar from their investments with Lehman Brothers, which collapsed in 2008, PPB chairman Stephen Parbery said.

    Those creditors include a group of 72 councils, charities, churches and private investors who had launched a class action against Lehman Brothers prior to when liquidators were appointed to the bank.

    "By settling the insurance policies, we're now in a very good position to reach a settlement in relation to class action creditors and we're also in a very good position to now put before the court a way to deal with the other 250 contingent creditors," he said.

    It is PPB's priority to reach a settlement in that class action so distributions can be made to creditors in early 2014, he said.

    The long-running class action was led by Wingecarribee Shire Council, in southern NSW.

    Mr Parbery said attempts to settle that case have been problematic due to the risk of jeopardising an insurance recovery.

    "The insurance policies might have been voided if we'd actually settled the claim with the class action parties without approval of the insurers," he said.

    "These are very complex matters of working out what are the rights of people that buy products."

  • Seat gone, but Vic Liberal wants to stay

    The most high-profile victim of Victoria's electoral boundary redistributions says she hopes to remain in parliament despite her seat being abolished.


    Liberal frontbencher Mary Wooldridge will lose her seat of Doncaster while the northern Victorian seat of Rodney, held by the Nationals, will also go.

    Ms Wooldridge said she hopes to remain in parliament.

    "I want to continue as a member of the Napthine government after the next election and am confident that a suitable opportunity will be found," she said in a statement on Thursday.

    In a major shake-up of electoral boundaries, 15 seats will be abolished or have their names changed.

    The changes will even up the number of electors in each seat and are the result of a growing population in Melbourne and shrinking populations in some regional areas.

    Victorian National Party leader Peter Ryan said country people are the big losers in the changes.

    "This is a disappointing outcome for country Victoria in the first instance, the seat of Rodney, a National Party-held seat, has been abolished and that means one less voice in this parliament on behalf of country Victorians," he told reporters.

    Rodney MP Paul Weller said the Electoral Boundaries Commission had made its decision, despite a number of submissions from his constituents.

    He would not be drawn on whether he would seek to contest another seat in the November 2014 election.

    "We have got to wait for the dust to settle and we will have a look at it, see what opportunities arise," Mr Weller told reporters.

    The changes are expected to make it tougher for Labor to hold several seats including Ripon, Monbulk and Ballarat West.

    Member for Ballarat West Sharon Knight said the redistribution would make her battle to retain the seat even tougher.

    "I think it makes a marginal seat a bit more marginal," she said.

    Ms Knight, whose seat will now be known as Wendouree, will lose the Labor area of Sebastopol from her electorate.

    Labor state secretary Noah Carroll described the redistribution as "fair across the board".

    He said all preselections would be finalised before Christmas.

    Mr Carroll expects "carnage" when the Liberal and National parties field candidates against each other in country Victoria.

    Liberal state director Damien Mantach said the party was analysing of the new boundaries and would have further discussions about preselections, particularly for new seats and those that have changed dramatically.

    "In regards to those MPs whose seats have been abolished or dramatically redrawn, the premier, state president, state director and the administrative committee of the party will have discussions with affected MPs to determine the best course of action in relation to preselections," he said.

  • Verhaeren appointed Aust swim coach

    New national head swimming coach, Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren, has been tasked with preparing Australia to knock the Americans off their world No.

    1 perch.

    Just over a year after the dire London Olympics campaign, 44-year-old Verhaeren became the final piece in the jigsaw to rebuild Australian swimming on Thursday when he became the first foreign head coach.

    While he's been signed up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Swimming Australia has made a clear longer term goal to be the world's No.1 swimming nation by 2020.

    Having guided Dutch swimming for the past seven years, Verhaeren has been hired partly for the technical expertise that also helped greats Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn to gold medals at the Sydney and Athens Olympics.

    He'll continue a rebuilding already well underway - in the coaching ranks and administration - with James Magnussen, Cate Campbell and Christian Sprenger all winning world titles this year after Australia failed to win a single individual gold medal in the pool at the London Games.

    "Our vision is to be number one in the world in the future ... from the Olympic podium right through to grassroots," said new Swimming Australia president John Bertrand.

    "That's a huge challenge.

    "Jacco is that type of person who's wanting to challenge the existing way of thinking ... such that we are going to get to the next level of expertise faster than the rest of the world."

    Verhaeren, who also helped Dutch sprint sensation Ranomi Kromowidjojo to the women's sprint double at the London Olympics, was delighted to take on the role in a country with Australia's great history in the sport.

    "Australian swimming is extremely well respected on the international stage and to have the chance to work with the athletes and coaches in this role is humbling," he said in a statement.

    "In the Netherlands we are a small swimming nation that has worked hard technically to maximise every opportunity.

    "We've had some success working on those technical elements and I hope to bring that focus and drive to this new role in Australia."

    SA's director of high performance and Verhaeren's direct boss, Michael Scott, hailed Verhaeren's coaching experience at five Olympic Games and eight world championships as the key to the team's success in Rio and beyond.

    "The high-performance unit fundamentally is focused on achieving its aspiration of being number one in the world by 2020, and to do that we need to track the best people. Jacco fits that bill," he said.

    Verhaeren resigned as technical director of the Dutch swimming federation this week and will fill the spot left vacant since Leigh Nugent's March resignation in the wake of the London Games campaign and the fall out over the Stilnox controversy and investigation into the poor team culture and performance.

    His signature completes major changes in Swimming Australia positions.

    Bertrand took up the presidency in August following the resignation of Barclay Nettlefold after alleged inappropriate behaviour.

    In April, former Hockey Australia chief Mark Anderson was confirmed as the new SA CEO while former Australian Institute of Sport director Scott was named as the high-performance director.