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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Business confidence up for now

Business confidence in Australia hit a two-year high on the change of federal government in September.

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But it is not clear how much that will have been dented by the political shenanigans in the United States over the past two weeks that saw a debt default only just avoided.

The political standoff that started with the failure of the US Congress to pass its budget at the end of last month, resulting in a partial shutdown of government, has already taken its toll on consumers’ post-election confidence in Australia.

The deadlock was only resolved on Thursday with a deal to lift the $US16.7 trillion ($A17.53 trillion) debt ceiling for now, and only hours before the world’s largest economy would have sunk into technical default.

The deal will allow the government to be funded until January 15 with the debt ceiling raised until February 7 to allow its budget negotiations to resume.

“It will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner,” International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said in a statement after the agreement was passed by Congress.

But Westpac economist Elliot Clarke believes US budget concerns will linger.

“At this point, the only thing that is certain is that this crisis has had a material impact on (US December quarter) activity and, more importantly, on the confidence of business and consumers,” he said in a note to clients.

He expects US growth in the quarter will have been cut in the region of 0.5 percentage points.

However, relief that a deal had been struck, however temporary, helped to lift share prices in the Asia region, while the Australia dollar remained steady at around 95.50 US cents.

Meanwhile, the National Australia Bank quarterly business survey – a broader report than its monthly surveys – found confidence recovering close to its long-run average since 1989.

NAB Group chief economist Alan Oster said this improvement in the September quarter likely reflected a number of factors – an improving housing market, the weaker Australian dollar, better consumer confidence and lower interest rates.

“Fundamentally, however, it appears to reflect a reaction to the political change,” he said.

However, actual business conditions weakened further to a four-year low, pointing to below-trend growth in the overall economy.

Mining conditions were particularly weak at a fourteen and a half year low, reflecting slowing Chinese economic growth weighing on commodity prices and receding mining investment.

Economists will be hoping Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens will give his take on recent events on Friday when he delivers his first speech since July.

Aussie clothes importers urged to join Bangladesh accord

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Critics describe it as industrial homicide, and some of the world’s leading multi-national retailers are accused of being complicit.

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This is because they’re sourcing clothes made by garment workers in Bangladesh who are sometimes paying with their lives so Westerners can buy cheap clothing.

Over the past 12 months, more than a thousand workers have perished in clothing factory accidents in a country that’s become the second largest exporter of garments after China.

Greg Dyett reports.

(Click on audio tab above to hear full item)

The clothing export industry is worth $20 billion to Bangladesh, by far the country’s biggest source of export income.

In recent years, big brand Western retailers have turned to Bangladesh for raw materials and finished clothing because the cost of production is now cheaper than China’s.

But critics say it’s a lethal trade, where workers are exploited and corruption is rife.

Undercover investigations by journalists have found some factories forcing workers to do 19 hour shifts.

They’re locked inside the buildings which have become deathtraps when a fire breaks out.

In April, more than 11 hundred people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka – the country’s worst industrial accident.

Many other clothing workers have died in fires and other accidents.

Western clothing retailers are now being put under pressure by activists and trade unions to do more to prevent such deaths.

Michele O’Neil is the National Secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.

“Bangladesh has grown because it’s so much cheaper than China, as has Cambodia, as has Sri Lanka, as has India so those four countries are all significantly cheaper to manufacture garments in now than China but we still have a problem across the globe so it is important to not just think this is a Bangladesh issue, it’s an issue about trying to lift the standards of the workers that make our clothes around the world.”

Michele O’Neil’s union is encouraging Australians to put pressure on retailers to get them to sign what’s known as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

She says if retailers are going to source from one of the cheapest places in the world, they have to take responsibility for the supply chain.

The accord provides for sanctions for non-compliance.

“It’s enforceable by law in that countries of origin of those companies that are actually signatories to it, so it’s not relying on a corrupt legal system in Bangladesh. It’s also genuinely multi stakeholder so it has the involvement of trade unions both in Bangladesh and globally. It involves the businesses, it involves civil society organisations and community campaign organisations in supporting it also and has ILO involvement so it is important because it has those characteristics, sometimes companies make commitments or sign on to codes or deeds or the like that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, we think this accord has some substance to it.”

In the case of Australia, Michele O’Neil says five companies have signed on: Target, K Mart, Cotton On, Forever New and the Speciality Fashion Group which is Katies and Millers.

Woolworths is not among the signatories – at least not yet.

Woolworths, which owns Big W, provided this statement to SBS.

“Big W and Woolworths is committed to ensuring the factories with whom we work with provide safe working conditions for their employees. We have strict sourcing guidelines in place around ethical sourcing. All factories in Bangladesh from which BIG W sources products have been audited over the last 12 months.We have been working through a number of issues with (our) industrial (department) and on the proposed implementation of the Accord in Bangladesh. We support the aim of the Accord and have already indicated our intention to sign in the near future.”

Associate Professor of International Business at RMIT University in Melbourne, Sharif as-Saber is a native of Bangladesh.

He says one of the critical issues is governance.

“Companies will need to maintain efficiency but they need more profit, they need quality products but that should not be at the expense of workers rights that should not be at the expense of human rights and that needs to be assured and that insurance should be provided not only by the government of Bangladesh, that insurance should be provided by other governments linked to the product and marketing and the markets and also on United Nations agencies including International Labour Organisation.”

Professor as-Saber says while maximising profits companies will always be the overriding objective of business, he’s convinced the Western multi-nationals will recognise the benefits of improving the lot of the garment workers.

“I think in the longer term it is very much to their benefit because they’re securing a market, they’re creating a market, they’re building a market more sustainable in nature and at the same time people are benefiting and they’re also benefitting and the outrage among the population globally will be minimised and they will be regarded as sustainable producers and suppliers.”

 

Detroit beat Boston to level MLB series

Detroit’s reshuffled lineup erupted for five runs in the second inning on Wednesday en route to a 7-3 victory over Boston that knotted baseball’s American League Championship Series.

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After the Tigers’ potent offence combined for just six runs over the first three games of the best-of-seven series, manager Jim Leyland reshuffled his batting lineup and saw the move pay off, with the Tigers levelling the set at two games apiece.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Leyland said of the shake-up, which was welcomed by Torii Hunter.

Hunter replaced struggling Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot and contributed a two-run double.

Jackson, who had been batting .091 in the playoffs until Wednesday, was demoted to eighth in the batting order and went 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs-batted-in and a run scored.

“I think it just helped me relax,” Jackson said of the move. “I think that was the goal, and I just wanted to go up and be patient and get a pitch to hit.”

Slugger Miguel Cabrera, batting second instead of third, also had two hits, drove in two runs and stole a base for the reigning American League champions, who host game five on Thursday.

The winners of the series will take on the National League champions in Major League Baseball’s World Series.

St. Louis lead Los Angeles 3-2 in the NL Championship Series after the Dodgers clawed back a game on Wednesday.

Adrian Gonzalez clubbed two homers and pitcher Zack Greinke was effective through seven innings as the Dodgers won 6-4.

Gonzalez’s 428-foot blast in the third inning was the first home run of the National League Championship Series for the Dodgers.

The playoff now shifts to St Louis for game six on Friday. The Cardinals need to win one of the next two to reach their second World Series in three years.

The Dodgers played like a desperate team on Wednesday, busting out of their hitting slump by belting four home runs in game five. Heading into Wednesday’s game they were batting just .223 as a team.

Carl Crawford and AJ Ellis also hit homers for the Dodgers, who finished 11 games ahead of Arizona to win the NL West Division this year.

Greinke appeared to be in for a short outing as he loaded the bases in the first inning in front of a crowd of 53,183 at Dodger Stadium.

But the 29-year-old Greinke worked through it and eventually got Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to hit into a double play to end the inning, stranding the three baserunners.

Greinke allowed two runs on six hits and struck out four in seven innings. He also chipped in at the plate with an RBI single in the second inning. It was one of two runs the Dodgers got in that inning to open the scoring in the contest.

The Dodgers are trying to become just the second team in NLCS history to rally from an 0-2 series deficit to win. The Cardinals did it in 1985 against Los Angeles.

Furloughed US govt workers return to work

The US federal government is back open for business.

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The Obama administration changed the government’s status to “open” early on Thursday, more than two weeks after a partial shutdown took hold when funding from Congress ran out.

Minutes after President Barack Obama signed a hard-fought deal struck in congress, the White House directed all agencies to reopen promptly and in an orderly fashion. Furloughed federal employees across the country are expected to return to work on Thursday.

“In the days ahead, we will work closely with departments and agencies to make the transition back to full operating status as smooth as possible,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Unless they are told otherwise, all employees should return to work on their next regularly scheduled work day, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said. For most workers, that means they’ll be expected to clock in on Thursday morning.

But the administration also said agencies are strongly encouraged to be flexible where they can, including by allowing telework, flexible scheduling and excused absences in cases of hardship. Many federal workers may be unable to return to work on such short notice.

The White House encouraged federal workers to check OPM’s website for additional instructions about returning to work.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed since the shutdown started on October 1. The measure Obama signed on Thursday restores government funding through January 15. It also extends the nation’s borrowing authority through February 7, averting a potential default.

Genia responds to Wallabies pay cut call

Wallabies halfback Will Genia says he understands a middle ground may have to be found following calls for the cash-strapped code to slash player payments.

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A new Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to end the days of Australian rugby players earning a guaranteed $14,000 per Test win, loss or draw.

The ARU board meets on Monday to discuss ongoing negotiations with the Rugby Union Players’ Association, after the code posted a $19 million deficit in the past two years.

The Wallabies’ dismal results this year, winning just three of their nine Tests to drop to No.4 in the world, have impacted on attendances and sponsorship.

One of the ideas floated has been to introduce an incentive-based pay system, with former World Cup-winning skipper Nick Farr-Jones claiming Wallabies should be paid far less for defeats.

While Genia said he didn’t have an opinion on the matter either way; he conceded there may need to be an element of give and take.

“With the things the way they’ve gone at the moment, the pressure is obviously building, building and building,” said Genia, who has stood in as Wallabies captain on occasions.

“You’ve got to find a middle ground in between. And it adds pressure when the team isn’t doing so well.”

Genia, who will play his 50th Test for the Wallabies in Saturday’s third Bledisloe Cup match in Dunedin, said he hoped any discussions would be held in good faith.

“We’ve just got to understand, if it is to take pay cuts, or get paid less based on performance, you do it because you are all driving in the same direction,” he said.

“Those conversations obviously have to be had, and whatever it is we just deal with it.”