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  • Iran, powers pledge new nuclear talks

    Both Washington and Tehran were upbeat after Iran agreed to hold fresh nuclear talks with world powers next month and made a "breakthrough" proposal to allow spot checks on its nuclear sites.

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    After the talks deal on Wednesday, Iran said it was hopeful for a "new phase in our relations" with the international community.

    The White House said Iran had shown a greater level of "seriousness and substance" than ever before at the two days of talks in Geneva.

    Germany was also positive, saying the latest talks had boosted hopes for a diplomatic solution but a wary Russia warned there was "no reason to break into applause".

    European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters the next meeting would convene in Geneva on November 7 and 8.

    She read from what she underlined was an unprecedented joint statement agreed with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and herself as chair of the international negotiating team.

    The EU is at the helm of the so-called P5+1 group - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany - which has spent years trying to reach a deal with Iran amid fears that it is developing nuclear weapons.

    The Islamic republic vehemently denies that and insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

    The statement described this week's Geneva talks as "substantive and forward-looking", calling Iran's plan a "proposed basis for negotiation".

    The talks were the first between all parties' nuclear negotiators since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a relative moderate, succeeded conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

    They ended a six-month freeze over Iran's refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for easing the international sanctions battering its economy.

    Amid signs of a thaw with the international community, Rouhani has pledged transparency on the nuclear program and engagement with major powers to try to remove the sanctions.

    "We hope that this a beginning of a new phase in our relations," Zarif told reporters.

    While the details remain under wraps, Iran's lead nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said its proposal involved "proportionate and reciprocal steps by both sides".

    He said the proposal had the "capacity to make a breakthrough".

    Iran's plan contains three steps that could settle the nuclear dispute "within a year", Araqchi has said, the first achievable "within a month or two, or even less".

    He said that snap inspections of Iran's atomic facilities were part of the last step.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran's presentation at the talks was "useful", showing a "level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before".

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cautioned however that "a great deal more work that needs to be done".

    But Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov was less than upbeat.

    "The talks were difficult, sometimes intense, and sometimes unpredictable. One of the reasons is the extremely low level of mutual trust - practically the absence of the required level of trust," he said.

    "There is no reason to break into applause. Things could have worked out better," he said.

    Iran has already drawn red lines, saying it will not accept demands to suspend uranium enrichment or ship stockpiles of purified material abroad.

    "We will not back down on our rights," Zarif said.

    Israel's International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday the country was watching the talks "with hope and with concern".

    "We see the worrying signs and we don't want Geneva 2013 to turn into Munich 1938," he said on Israel's army radio, referring to Britain and France's failed bid to avert war by agreeing to Nazi Germany's annexation of swathes of Czechoslovakia.

    Israel has not ruled out a military strike to halt Iran's nuclear drive.

  • We’ll assess Senate carbon options: Milne

    Australian Greens leader Christine Milne has left open the possibility of flicking the government's carbon tax repeal legislation to a Senate committee, delaying a vote until well into 2014.

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    The government will introduce a package of eight bills to parliament in November hoping the Senate will consider them before Christmas.

    However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has acknowledged an unsympathetic upper house may stymie that timetable.

    Asked if the Greens and Labor would use their controlling numbers in the Senate to send the bill to a committee, potentially delaying the vote for months, Senator Milne told reporters in Canberra on Thursday: "We'll look at all the parliamentary options that we have when the legislation is introduced.

    "Rest assured, given the opportunity to vote on it we will vote on it and vote against any repeal."

    How the Greens would deal with the parliamentary process depended on "how things come through".

    Both the Greens and Labor have said they will block the repeal of the carbon tax, prompting threats from Mr Abbott of a double-dissolution election.

    But Senator Milne said the prime minister would "run a mile" from going to the polls next year.

    "I don't think Tony Abbott will have the courage to face the people," she said, adding the Greens "absolutely" did not think it was in the national interest to rush to an election.

    There has been speculation that Mr Abbott may wait for the half-Senate changeover in July, which will transfer the balance of power to the more like-minded mix of the Palmer United Party bloc and conservative independents.

  • Long term, short term view keeps All Blacks on top

    Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock's decision to commit to four-year contracts were indications of the New Zealand Rugby Union's early planning for the arrival of the 2017 Lions, according to the body's head of player services Chris Lendrum.

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    The Canterbury Crusaders duo, whose agreements were announced last weekend, became the second and third players contracted through until the tour after Otago Highlanders utility Ben Smith signed a four-year contract earlier this year.

    The trio join 15 other players considered to be likely to be in coach Steve Hansen's plans for the All Blacks side he hopes will defend the World Cup in England in 2015, while at least 10 others in that bracket are signed through until 2014.

    "We have cyclical factors and pinnacle events within that cycle and clearly rugby World Cups are obvious (targets)," Lendrum told Reuters at NZRU headquarters in Wellington.

    "We are focused on 2015 but also thinking about who are the players who will be core players who can then take us through to the Lions in 2017.

    "We are starting to turn that page now but four to five years in rugby is a lot of seasons.

    "The guys in high impact positions, there is a lot of rugby to go through but for the guys like Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock we are confident they can get there."

    The NZRU operates a policy of not picking overseas-based players for the national team, which is seen as a major tool in their battle to retain talent in the country.

    Of the players signed through until 2014, focus would now likely turn to securing young forwards Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina and Luke Romano as well as backs Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Israel Dagg until 2015 and beyond.

    Players like Conrad Smith (32) and Cory Jane (30) however fall into a second category - likely to be in Hansen's plans for England but with 2017 probably a step too far.

    A similar approach was applied prior to the 2011 World Cup, Lendrum said, where short-term the All Blacks aimed to be 'the best defenders of the Webb Ellis trophy' in 2012 while longer term, younger players were locked up with an eye on 2015.

    "If there was a player we weren't quite certain about and were important for the first goal for 2012 and then they thought, or we thought, they weren't going to get through to 2015 then those players were important to the here and now of winning All Blacks games," Lendrum said.

    That decision as to when it might be time for a player to leave New Zealand rugby, he added, was normally driven by the All Blacks management with input from the Super Rugby franchise coaches and the organisation's talent identification programmes.

    "The hard conversations are often delivered by the coaches, (who) are critical. They provide constant feedback on the way the team is performing," Lendrum said.

    "At the end of the day it's what's best for (the player) and sometimes for their legacy it is best to let them go so they're not just flailing around at the end of their career. That's a horrible, lasting memory to have of a player.

    "A lot of times you just know. It might be physical reasons, or just that you look at a player who can see that there are a bunch of young kids coming through."

    Lendrum's biggest concern at the top end of the market was always money, with French and Japanese clubs providing the biggest challenges to keeping players in New Zealand.

    Rival codes like rugby league, and to a lesser extent Australian Rules, were targeting younger development players he said, while rival Super Rugby franchises from Australia were also looking at provincial or age-grade players.

    "The focus is on not keeping all players. You can't," he added. "You have to keep as many of the right players as you can.

    "We can't compete on money so we want them to look at us and think we provide the best environment, best coaches, best pathway to the All Blacks and say 'I want to stay here because it can make me the best player I can be'."

    (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

  • CBA unveils tap-and-go smartphone payments

    Commonwealth Bank customers may soon be able to ditch their wallets.

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    The bank has announced a plan to roll out small stickers which customers can attach to the back of their smartphone and tap on counters and checkouts to make payments under $100.

    The stickers, which are about one-third the size of a regular credit card, will be activated and controlled via a revamped online banking app and will work with Android phones and iPhones.

    Some Android phones have in-built contactless payment technology, meaning they will not need the sticker, but the bank did not specify which models have the appropriate technology.

    The strategy reflects an increasing hunger among Australians for mobile banking and tap-and-go payments, Commonwealth Bank said.

    Three years ago, 88 per cent of the bank's online banking logons were via a desktop computer. Today, 56 per cent log on via a mobile device.

    Meanwhile, Commonwealth Bank said contactless payments by their customers have risen six-fold in the last 12 months.

    The Thursday unveiling came as retailer Coles announced a trial of 5000 of its own smartphone stickers, which use the same technology.

    Contactless payments in Coles stores increased by 70 per cent in the last year, the company said.

    A recent report from MasterCard, who helped pioneer the technology, said Australia was among a handful of "nearly cashless" countries.

    It said just 14 per cent of the total value of consumer payments in the country are now made using cash.

    But Matt Barr, the head of Australasian innovation at MasterCard, told AAP cash still dominated small value payments.

    He predicted tap-and-go smartphone technology would "keep Australia at the forefront of the evolution of electronic payments".

    Commonwealth Bank said it will begin rolling out the stickers in the coming months.

  • Marquez’s world title to lose: Doohan

    Only a mechanical mishap or uncharacteristic mistake will stop Marc Marquez from becoming the youngest ever MotoGP world champion at Phillip Island on Sunday, according to five-time title winner Mick Doohan.

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    The 20-year-old Spanish rookie only needs to finish eighth or better to clinch the 2013 crown at the Australian Grand Prix, provided Yamaha rival Jorge Lorenzo fairs worse.

    Marquez holds a commanding 43-point series lead over countryman Lorenzo, whom he pipped for second place at last Sunday's Malaysian GP in Sepang.

    If he outscores Lorenzo by seven points in Sunday's race, he will be become the first rider in 35 years to win the championship in his debut season in the top category.

    "The championship is his to give up at the moment - although the likelihood of that is very, very remote," Doohan told AAP on Thursday.

    "Marquez really needs to have some sort of mechanical problem or some other mishap for Lorenzo to have any chance going forward from here.

    "Marquez has been very, very consistent. If he doesn't win, he's generally on the next step of the podium and he only really needs to be in the top three or four to win the championship this weekend.

    "He knows he just needs to keep it together. The pressure is really to not do anything too crazy."

    Doohan said he had been blown away by Marquez' performance this season - posting six wins and 14 podiums in just 15 races - but he also noted his dramatic rise owed something to Australian two-time world champion Casey Stoner's retirement.

    "I've seen plenty come and go through the ranks and he's up there with the best of them, without a shadow of a doubt," said Doohan.

    "But let's not lose sight of the fact what he's jumped on to. He's jumped on to the factory Honda machine which Casey Stoner was on.

    "He's still got to perform but ... I think you would've seen a different Marquez had he gone into a tier-two team.

    "He was pretty much given the magic carpet to ride, he just had to stay on the thing - and he did that superbly."

    Doohan, victorious at Phillip Island in 1998, said Marquez would still have to fend off a very hungry Lorenzo, who has nothing to lose in trying to defend his title at the famed Victorian circuit.

    "Without a doubt he (Lorenzo) is going to give it his all," he said.

    "Whether or not that means taking extra risk - I don't think he needs to. That extra risk is probably more likely to turn into tragedy than victory.

    "If he just keeps it together, remains focused on what he's trying to do and pushes as hard as he can to try to pressure Marquez into making some type of mistake, that's really the only option he has."