Nick Lazaredes – Video Journalist

NickLazaredeshasspenthisentirecareerdevotedtobroadcasting–startingasacadetwithABCRadioinBrisbanein1985,followedbyseveralyearsreportingthroughoutAustraliaforthe”Countrywide”and”Landline”programsonABC-TV.

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In1992hewonAustralia'snationalDalgetyawardforRuralTVjournalism.

JustmonthsafterthecollapseoftheSovietUnion,NickmovedtoMoscow,whereheestablishedaTVProductioncompany,travelingextensivelyinRussia,Latvia,Kyrgyzstan,UzbekistanandAfghanistanreportingfortelevisioncurrentaffairsprogramsinBritain,Germany,FranceandtheNetherlands.

Later,NickwasthefirstforeignertoestablishapermanentmarketpresenceinRussia'svirginTelevisionindustry-distributingtelevisionprogramsfromAustralia,BritainandtheUnitedStatestoTVnetworksthroughoutRussiaandtheCommonwealthofIndependentstates.

NickreturnedtoAustraliain2000,initiallyworkingasareporterforSBSTVWorldNewsinSydney,andlaterasapoliticalcorrespondentinCanberra,beforejoining,Datelinein2001.

Inhis7yearswiththeprogram,NickhasfilmedandproducedreportsfromlocationsasdiverseasMadagascar,Moldova,Morocco,Georgia,Kyrgyzstan,RussiaandEasterIslandaswellasproducinganumberofinvestigativereportsfromGreece,TheNetherlands,Pakistan,Italy,Ukraine,theUKandtheUnitedStates.

HespeaksRussian,andhasastronginterestininternationalstrategicaffairs,counter-intelligenceandinvestigativejournalism.Outsideofwork,asalongtimecarerforhisautisticson,NickhasdevelopedastronginterestinadvocatingfortherightsoftheDisabledandraisingawarenessaboutAutism.

In2005hewasawardedtheNewYorkFestivalsSilverWorldMedalforBestNewsandDocumentarySpecial,andin2006hewasawardedtwoNewYorkFestivalsBronzeMedals;forBestNewsDocumentarySpecial,andBestSocialAffairsDocumentary.

In2007hewasafinalistintheNewYorkFestivalscategoryforBestNewsReporter/CorrespondentforhiscoverageofthearmedconflictbetweenIsraelandHezbollah,andthebombingofBeirutinAugust2006.

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Election blog: Spin and reality

One week out from election day, the gloves are well and truly off and the spend-athon begins, says our election blogger, ANU Professor John Wanna.

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Spin and Reality – November 16

Both leaders made very dissimilar pitches to voters in their official campaign launches (both held auspiciously in Brisbane).

Howard filled his launch (and the TV package drawn from it) with a bevy of Coalition characters – hoping to show a united team but risking looking like a gaggle of dissenting voices.

Rudd was the sole performer at his launch, leading from the front and looking presidential. He chose to keep his shadow ministers securely in the shadows.

Howard rolled out another $9.4 billion in electoral bribes – many in the form of direct payments to voters’ households – some universal and not means-tested.

Rudd, by contrast, spent far less in his follow up act, giving just $2.3 billion away to schools, training schemes, university scholarships and energy programs. He chose not to fritter money on individual families. Labor clearly feels confident it does not need to bribe voters further – beyond the ‘me-too’ tax cuts of $341 billion.

The so-called ‘educational revolution’ seems to be running on the smell of an oily rag rather than anything substantial.

So, with both sides pumping out +/- $60 billion in electoral commitments we now see them a little embarrassed by their largesse.

But politicians are not politicians if they allow reality to get in the way of a good argument.

We are now seeing the mother of all prize-fights about who is the most responsible party – after the most profligate of all election campaigns.

There are signs electoral advertising is getting dirty and desperate – especially from the Coalition’s side who are at their wit’s ends about why the polls won’t move in their direction.

The Liberals ran out former ALP MP Brian Courtice claiming Rudd is incapable of standing up to union heavies. Courtice said Rudd couldn’t go ‘3 rounds with Winnie the Pooh’.

Meanwhile Labor is turning up the heat on John Howard personally. Initially Labor ran respectful ads but reminded voters Howard was departing. Now it has cranked up the momentum asserting that you can’t believe anything the PM says and can’t trust any of his commitments he has given in the campaign.

The shadow boxing is over and the fight is on for real.

Behind the Messages – November 12

John Howard argues Labor are unelectable because they lack experience. This is reminiscent of Paul Keating’s assertion of 1996 that Asian leaders would not talk to John Howard as PM. To follow the Howard logic we would never have a change of government – surely not consistent with democratic practice – and, of course, Howard and Costello were themselves once inexperienced.

Kevin Rudd’s argument that Howard lied in 2004 over interest rates ('we'll keep interest rates down') is a little dubious given the key commitment from the Coalition was that they would keep interest rates lower than Labor – an untestable proposition now. Both parties have been going back to 1992, or even 1982 (and earlier) to prove their cases – surely an arcane gesture.

The most bizarre claim over the past week has been the statement by Howard that divorce rates would rise under a Rudd government and that there would be more broken homes and fewer children born! Howard chose to endorse Dick Blandy’s intervention that up to 400,000 jobs would be at risk if Labor came to power. Blandy is a conservative economist – so apparently his views are preferred by the government over those of other industrial relations scholars.

The 'sorry-not-apology' charade from Howard was an attempt to mollify the mortgage belt – but it drew parallels to the lack of an apology to Indigenous Australians for their historical treatment by white settlers. The resulting muddle just reminded people of the culture of plausible deniability that has beset this government periodically.

Finally, Kevin Rudd's message that he would set up a 'Razor Gang' to cut back the public service took us back some years (to Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke's tenures) but perhaps sensibly he provided no detail of where the cuts would fall. He promised $3 billion in savings. Even if Labor abolished all political advertising ($300 million – and which is most unlikely) he still has to gouge out another nine-tenths to meet his target ($2.7 billion). Disbelief seems to have been the most common reception to his announcement – although there would be some machinery of government changes if Labor won.

These mid-campaign messages have been lame concoctions – indicating both sides are getting a little desperate to inflict some damage on the other side and have it show in the polls.

Half-time but no respite – November 2

November 3rd is exactly half-way through the 42-day campaign. There's still 21 days to go and there's not much sign of excitement or movement in the campaign.

So far the election has been a succession of scoreless draws – lots of midfield play, lots of defensive errors, but no real howlers bouncing into the net.

The 'great' debates have usually been rehearsed and flat; no one really tying their opponent up in knots; and protagonists playing defensive politics rather than going for winners. Earlier in the week, the Nicholson cartoon that showed the 'worm' nodding off surely said it all.

Inexplicably, Tony Abbott did not take seriously enough his debate with his counterpart Nicola Roxon, and she was given a dream run playing alone.

However, the fact that Abbott is seen as a bit of a buffoon by both sides means the negative publicity may not switch many actual votes. He can assuage himself with the adage that all publicity is good publicity to some degree.

Gaffe hunters

The media generally has been preoccupied with gaffes and stumbles – they have been rewarded not only by high profile senior politicians (Tony Abbott, Peter Garrett) but also by some local candidates who have upset their own applecarts (eg. Labor’s Garry Parr in redneck Hinkler and Nicole Cornes in languid Boothby, or the Nationals Bruce Scott and Barnaby Joyce campaigning on draining the inland rivers even further).

Family First candidates seem to have mastered the knack of self-imploding, generally due to perverse sexual antics or viewing pornography on the web.

But these are all par for the course – part of the normal ebb and flow of election campaigns. They happen with unerring regularity only now are getting more attention by the intense touring media scrum.

The 'me-tooism' is becoming predictable and uninteresting. Some claim that almost 40 policies have been 'me-too-ed' by Labor so far.

Having said that this is an intentional strategy from the Opposition – not to give voters any reason to go back to Howard at all – even for the most small-scale policy bride or a few dollars here-and-there for pensioners. Hence, matching commitments are the order of the day. Consider just how much work for the Opposition’s backroom staff this intensive, rapid-reaction matching strategy entails. Their heads must be spinning as they replace the letterheads on the daily press releases.

The danger for Labor is that they do not look to have undertaken any original policy work themselves to ‘attract’ voters, and are instead relying on disaffected voters coming across from Howard. This segment of the electorate is largely undecided, soft in its support either way and as we go towards the final week is highly unpredictable in its final determination. The polling swings are not over yet and there is scope for a last minute drift enough to see the government hold on.

Interestingly the veteran Malcolm Mackerras said the only real interest in this election was who won the second Senate position in the ACT – either the Liberals Gary Humphries or the Green’s Kerry Tucker – a slightly uneven race but one made more open by the intense campaign by Get-Up with Save Our Senate.

When politicians turn chasers – October 25th

The strategies in week two of the campaign have focused on chasing the demographics. Targeting voters who have not yet made up their minds or whose support for one side is soft.

Pollsters are acutely aware which slice of the demographic pie their party is not reaching or is less warm to their messages. Hence, selective packages have been released to assist childcare and young parents, [wwww.worldnewsaustralia.com.au/region.php?id=140917®ion=7|the aged and frail, long-term carers, the disabled and self-funded retirees.w]

The grey vote in particular seems to be far more volatile this election, with the Coalition only conjuring some 45% of the over-50 vote. This is low by historical standards – as it usually attracts 52-55%. There is a perception in the aged demographic that this government has not done much for them in positive terms since pensions were set at 25% of the weekly wage, but have saddled them with the GST. Self-funded retirees may be profiting from the share market boom but feel the government has not really directed benefits their way.

Hence, the rash of cash handouts to specific groups. It is blatant vote-buying by politicians who suddenly pretend real concern about the plight of the groups targeted (but what about other non-targeted groups?). Its not 'policy' but straight out bribery and, naturally, it will work in many cases where voters trade off their support for tangible promises.

Every politician worth his or her salt is now out in the stumps pressing flesh and invading community venues where they may never have shown a face. Make no mistake, Kevin Rudd is right when he says this is going to be a tight race that will probably hinge on the last week – even last few days.

In such circumstances, meeting the voters is a crucial strategy – corny perhaps but evidence shows that people (especially undecided voters and those somewhat apathetic) will give votes to candidates they have met and who seem pleasant. Hard working politicians can attract up to 4-6% of the local vote according to some sources (although there is a real debate about how much a local member can shift the vote relative to the general swing). Put another way, voters can spot duds even if they are minor celebrities.

So it’s a case of 'après the Great Debate, now onto the electorates'.

The Great Debate – October 22

The Great Debate was punchy and reached beyond the rehearsed banter.

This was certainly a pugilistic bout. Straight-talking and impressive. There were episodes of direct engagement and feisty personal attack ('I don’t blame others as Mr Rudd does', 'the Treasurer did not have the commitment to argue the case to the cabinet'… etc)

The format was balanced with time for interrogation and counter-questioning.

The main themes boiled down to future commitments from Labor with much talk of ‘new directions’, versus the previous record of the government (and Howard’s defence of it). For most of the debate the discussion was about the pressures on Australian working families – despite the economic boom and full employment.

Howard did best when he stuck to his main script and centred his message on the economy. He performed worst when he moved onto Rudd’s policy strengths and tried to match Labor’s policy commitments (such as the education revolution, Iraq). Howard looked to be having an instant makeover when he pretended to have more serious policies on climate change and was about to talk to defence chiefs about our troops in Iraq.

Rudd was more impressive when he focussed on the government’s shortcomings and sketched out his convictions and aspirational goals for the future. But on many key issues Rudd did not sufficiently differentiate himself from the Coalition, preferring a bob-each-way. He sold his very similar tax policy well, which eliminates the tax cuts for those earning over $180,000 in favour of an educational subsidy for the costs of schooling.

Both leaders did less well explaining why their tax cuts would not feed directly into higher inflation and interest rate hikes.

Howard will draw some succour from the event because he did not lose and matched it mostly point-for-point with Rudd. The Labor leader will take heart because he has put his wobbly start to the campaign back onto an even keel. He did not overwhelm Howard but certainly gave viewers a much better view of his style and approach.

While Howard looked a bit tense and wooden, Rudd looked relaxed and a little impish.

I suspect this will be the one and only formal leaders’ debate in this campaign.

Fear, tax and a bit of loathing – October 18

Although both sides committed themselves to a positive campaign, it didn't take long for them to get down and dirty.

Negative advertising commenced from the first days of the official campaign with the Government highlighting both the lack of experience of the Rudd team and the union domination of the front bench – an attack that will probably raise concerns among Labor’s softer supporters and peel off some of its lead in the polls.

Labor nationally has adopted the 'victim' pose – claiming every response from the Coalition is part of an orchestrated 'fear campaign' .

Labor has taken a more positive approach in its national advertisements but under the radar has run local campaigns attacking individual Coalition members. Interestingly, both leaders have used the Internet to make lightening responses to attacks – often recycling the attack with the intention of lampooning it with a countering message. US campaigning tactics have arrived with a bang.

ALP YouTube site

Liberal YouTube site

Tactically, the government has been challenging Labor to front up with its policies early. It wants to dictate to Labor when it should release its major policy statements (such as its tax plan). This is despite John Howard fighting the 1996 election (when he was last in Opposition) stating categorically that he was managing the campaign according to his own logic and timing. Touche.

Labor announced its first non-policy with a three page lot of waffle on supposedly reviewing the $6 billion worth of

Commonwealth land assets that may be released for housing estates.

There is no detail, no figure of how much would be released, no sites indicated, and no consideration of the problems involved (eg Defence firing ranges, custodial landholdings etc). The non-policy was further undermined perhaps maliciously by the Coalition venturing that a Labor government would sell off treasured army bases close to the CBD of the major capital cities. Perhaps an own goal.

The Coalition raised the stakes for Labor with an ambitious set of tax cuts that managed to make everyone winners to some degree. It is premised on massive surpluses occurring into the future –- with the government proposing to give us around half of the additional revenue back through tax relief.

The biggest issue here (and this may reflect the fact that this policy was put together in a hurry after the leadership turbulence at the Sydney APEC meeting) was that the Treasurer was only prepared to fiddle with the tax scales rather than commit to a more fundamental reform of the tax system generally.

Even under Costello's scheme the Commonwealth government will still be taking more tax than it needs, and more tax than it is currently taking today. The tax policy is a major splurge of money $34 billion over the forward estimates) but hardly a major reform.

However, the Coalition's tax gambit poses problems for Labor. It cannot allow the Coalition to have a free run on this issue and not counter with anything. Labor was planning a more complex set of changes – perhaps like last time when they went to considerable lengths to appear to be offering tax relief when they were not giving anything back in aggregate terms.

Last time, too, clumsy calculations undid the package and showed Labor was either amateurish or deceitful. Labor can match the package but then look to be doing another ‘me-too’ which will play into the government’s hands. Or it can craft an alternative and hope to sell it as a better bribe, but this will be expensive and consume the money Labor was hoping to spend on other priorities.

If Labor delays while it 'studies' the government’s proposals, it risks handing over the momentum to the Coalition.

The opinion polls early next week will determine how both sides continue to respond to each other. If the Coalition have regained ground, Labor will be pressured to release its own taxation policy and perhaps begin more attack ads, if there is little movement, Labor may feel it can stick to its schedule and get a lift later in the campaign with a set of cuts.

Although the great debate is early in the piece – it will give us a better idea of how the two major parties are intending to fight this fight. With few real policies out in the marketplace, we can expect most discussion to focus on their comparative records, experience, visions for the future, aspirational spin.

In previous elections these debates have not involved much in the way of personal attacks on rival leaders, but with so much at stake this time around, it may be a very different story. It will be velvet glove stuff.

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Iraq policy ‘fatally flawed’

Major General Tim Cross, the top British officer involved in planning post-war Iraq, says he raised serious concerns with then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the possibility of the country descending into chaos.

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But Mr Rumsfeld “ignored” or “dismissed” his warnings, the general told the Sunday Mirror newspaper.

Second slamming of policy

Yesterday, the head of the British army during the 2003 invasion launched a fierce attack on the United States over its handling of troubled Iraq since.

General Sir Mike Jackson branded US post-invasion policy “intellectually bankrupt” and says Mr Rumsfeld was “one of the most responsible for the current situation in Iraq”.

The comments from both top military officers come at an embarrassing time for the British government, which has tried to soothe reported tensions with the United States over Iraq by insisting it will not cut and run from the southern province of Basra.

General Jack Keane, a former vice-chief of staff of the US army, says last month there was “frustration” in Washington at the deteriorating security situation in the British-run area – triggering an angry reaction from some quarters in the British military.

‘Lack of detail’

“Right from the very beginning we were all very concerned about the lack of detail that had gone into the post-war plan – and there is no doubt that Mr Rumsfeld was at the heart of that process,” the 56-year-old says.

“I had lunch with Mr Rumsfeld in Washington before the invasion in 2003 and raised concerns about the need to internationalise the reconstruction of Iraq and work closely with the United Nations.

“I also raised concerns over the numbers of troops available to maintain security and aid reconstruction.

“He didn’t want to hear that message. The US had already convinced themselves that Iraq would emerge reasonably quickly as a stable democracy.

“Anybody who tried to tell them anything that challenged that idea – they simply shut it out.

“Myself and others were suggesting things simply would not be as easy as that.

“But he ignored my comment. He dismissed it.

“There is no doubt with hindsight the US post-war plan was fatally flawed – and many of us sensed that at the time.”

‘Cut and run’

The Sunday Times newspaper, citing government department officials, said Britain was preparing to hand over control of Basra to the Iraqi army as early as next month, in a move which would spark renewed claims from Washington that Britain was preparing to cut and run from Iraq.

Around 5,500 British troops are training Iraqi security forces.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Defence Secretary Des Browne wrote a joint article in Friday’s Washington Post newspaper saying it was “time to set the record straight” after weeks of “misplaced criticism”.

“The question some people have asked is: have British forces failed in Basra? The answer is no,” they add.

“We believe we remain on track to complete the return of full sovereignty to the Iraqi people as planned.

“The United Kingdom is sticking to the mission we took on four years ago.”

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Abbott seizes momentum in final week

As former treasurer Peter Costello said last week, when the momentum’s with you the momentum’s with you – and all the momentum was with Tony Abbott in the final week of the 2013 election campaign.

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As the Rudd campaign ran out of puff, the opposition leader looked confident and energised, and barely put a foot wrong – with the exception of the internet filtering bungle.

As the polls increasingly pointed towards a thumping coalition win, the man once mocked as Tony “people skills” Abbott looked more and more prime ministerial.

He tried to play down the polls, repeatedly saying he doesn’t believe them and Labor could still “sneak” back into power.

But as the final week wore on, these protestations rang more and more hollow.

Mr Abbott’s popularity has clearly been on the rise.

He was mobbed during a campaign appearance at Sydney Markets on Wednesday, with one man even getting on bended knee and kissing the opposition leader on the forehead.

He mixed easily with workers at the Austral Bricks factory near Launceston, and at a leather factory in outer Brisbane.

Blue-collar Penrice Soda workers in Port Adelaide, one of the safest of Labor seats, even gave the Liberal blueblood a warm reception.

As did shoppers in former treasurer Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley, where he provocatively conducted a mall walk on the second last day of campaigning.

Mr Abbott hit a host of Labor marginals in week five of the campaign. Hindmarsh in Adelaide, Lyons in Tasmania, Reid, Kingsford Smith and Lindsay in Sydney.

In Brisbane, where Kevin Rudd was supposed to sweep all before him, the opposition leader stopped in at Petrie in the outer north, and in neighbouring Lilley.

The headline in that city’s only metro paper on Thursday summed up just how far ahead the coalition is.

“RUDD FREE ZONE” blared the Murdoch-owned Courier-Mail, predicting the prime minister would lose even his own seat of Griffith on Saturday.

Rudd had all the momentum in 2007, when John Howard became only the second sitting prime minister to lose his seat at an election.

The tide is with Mr Abbott this time – and Rudd could well suffer the same indignity he visited upon Howard six years ago.

It would be sweet revenge, delivered by Mr Abbott on behalf of his former boss and mentor.

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Sharks progress no problem for the NRL

NRL head of football Todd Greenberg denies that Cronulla reaching the grand final would be difficult for the code if the Sharks are still under an anti-doping investigation.

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The prospect of fifth-placed Cronulla playing in the October 6 season decider appeared more realistic after they dismantled the ladder-leading Sydney Roosters in a 32-22 win on Monday night, securing their spot in the finals.

The AFL was at pains to head off a similar scenario with Essendon, securing an interim report from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority on their ongoing investigation into that club’s controversial 2012 supplements program ahead of the finals series.

However the NRL has been steadfast from day one of ASADA’s probe into rugby league and Cronulla’s 2011 supplements program that it will take no action until the ASADA investigation is finished.

ASADA interviews with Cronulla players were only completed last week, leaving the likelihood the investigation will still be going during, and after, the NRL finals.

The possibility of the Sharks winning the first premiership in their 46-year history would seem a worry for the code should the club subsequently face sanctions, even though the period being investigated dates back to 2011.

Hypothetically, it could force them to consider taking 2014 competition points from the reigning premiers.

But Greenberg, who’s only been in his new role for less than month, insisted it’s a scenario that’s not being discussed in the corridors of power at Rugby League Central.

“I don’t think it would be (a difficult problem),” said Greenberg.

“(NRL CEO) Dave Smith has spoken about this already and I am going to say the same thing, (the ASADA probe) is a serious issue and we are taking it seriously.

“It’s my information the investigation is some way from being completed.

“It’s really important we don’t pre-judge it and we wait for the facts.

“When we have the facts, we’ll act upon them.

“I have no idea of that timeframe. We will be led by ASADA and what they tell us.”

Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce said the club were basking in the satisfaction of the win over the Roosters less than a month after they were hammered 40-0 by Trent Robinson’s side.

And, despite all the turmoil surrounding the Sharks, the veteran administrator saw little sign of stress among the players and staff.

“I admire the leadership that (coach) Shane Flanagan has shown and I admire the resolve from the players and the Shire is right behind the team,” Noyce told AAP.

“I’ve been here four months now and I sense externally there’s more talk about (the investigation) than internally. The interviews have been ongoing and they are all finished now.

“I am sure the players sense that there’s support from head office, support from their managers and support from their families and certainly support from the NRL.

“It’s a feeling of everyone sticking together.”

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Three silvers for Kiwi rowers

New Zealand added three more medals to their haul from the world rowing championships in South Korea on Sunday.

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Fiona Bourke and Zoe Stevenson came within a whisker of gold in the women’s double sculls at Chungju, fading in the last 50m as the Lithuanian pair of Donata Vistartaite and Milda Valciukaite timed their run to the line impeccably.

Lithuania stormed home in 6min 51.82sec to New Zealand’s 6:51.86, with Ekaterina Karsten and Yuliya Bichyk of Belarus third in 6:55.90.

The Kiwis pushed their bow in front with 300m to go but a bad stroke cost them the win with only a few metres to go.

Bourke said their race plan to match the Lithuanians came close to success.

“But unfortunately there were a few speed bumps along the way which gave the race away in the end.

“We’re impressed with what we’ve done to date, and neither of us have much experience in the small boats,” she said.

“There’s a bit of fire in the belly for next year – disappointment is the biggest feeder for training and we hope to come back in 2014 in Amsterdam to take it out.”

The Kiwi lightweight four of James Hunter, James Lassche, Peter Taylor and Curtis Rapley also took silver, tracking winners Denmark all the way and mounting a strong threat over the last 500m.

Stroke Curtis Rapley said the closeness of the finish reflected the race’s intensity.

“We kept to our own game plan and we nearly came through. The Denmark crew is a top quality crew and you can’t give them an inch.”

The Danish four clocked 5:55.68 for the win, with New Zealand second in 5:57.28 ahead of Great Britain’s third-placed 5:59.98.

Emma Twigg rounded out the day with a strong finish in the women’s single sculls, taking silver in 7:33.57 behind Australian Kim Crow, who dominated the race throughout with 7:31.34.

Although disappointed to miss out on gold, Twigg said Crow’s early work was hard to pull back.

“Obviously gold was what I came here for but silver is pretty good.

“Kim put a lot of distance in the early part of the race, but I didn’t stay in touch as much as I would’ve liked.”

New Zealand had already picked up a gold on Saturday (NZT) when Olympic champions Eric Murray and Hamish Bond won the men’s pair, while Rebecca Scown and Kayla Pratt took bronze in the women’s pair.

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PM’s launch will focus on jobs

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will talk up Labor’s plans to grow jobs and highlight the opposition’s secret plan to cut services when he launches the party’s election campaign on Sunday.

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Mr Rudd will officially launch his bid for re-election on Sunday in Brisbane, where he will continue to push the opposition to reveal what Labor says are plans to cut funding to hospitals, schools and jobs to pay for their expensive paid parental leave scheme.

One person who won’t be there is former prime minister Julia Gillard who doesn’t want to distract from her successor’s “powerful message”.

Mr Rudd says he understands and he’ll continue to acknowledge her contribution.

“I’m in the business of acknowledging all strong, positive contributions of those who have gone before me,” he said.

“Julia’s one of those, Paul Keating’s one of those, Bob Hawke’s one of those, Gough Whitlam’s one of those.”

The prime minister will continue his focus on jobs with plans to boost apprenticeships and strengthen the TAFE system.

Labor will introduce new rules for Commonwealth government building contracts and some projects that are more than 50 per cent Commonwealth funded – that 10 per cent of total labour hours worked must be by apprentices.

“Apprenticeships for us are a number one, two and three priority,” Mr Rudd told reporters in the marginal Country Liberal Darwin seat of Solomon on Saturday.

“Unless we are producing the apprenticeships of the future, we’re not building properly for the future as well.”

Mr Rudd says Labor had funded hundreds of thousands of apprenticeships and traineeships since coming to office.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced last week a plan to give HECS-style loans for apprentices to buy tools and equipment.

Resources Minister Gary Gray told Mr Rudd on Friday that he will be sky diving on the day of the launch and will miss the event.

The prime minister says he’s not sure if former Treasure Wayne Swan will attend.

But Mr Swan has tweeted in response to shadow treasurer Joe Hockey that he will be attending.

“@JoeHockey I’ll be there reminding people of the cuts you & Abbott would make & the $11B hole in your costings after the 2010 election.”

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Risks remain in global economy: OECD

Australia’s next federal government faces a world that’s still a long way from a sustainable economic recovery.

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The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest report on the world’s biggest economies says North America, Japan and the United Kingdom are expanding while the euro area as a whole was no longer in recession.

Growth in China – Australia’s number one trading partner – also appears to have passed a trough, but recent financial market turbulence points to difficulties in a number of other emerging economies.

“While the improvement in growth momentum in OECD economies is welcome, a sustainable recovery is not yet firmly established and important risks remain,” the Paris-based institution said in a 2013 economic update released on Tuesday.

The group’s findings tally with the current Labor federal government’s view that Australia continues to face economic headwinds from offshore that could dampen domestic growth.

The OECD believes the euro area remains vulnerable to renewed financial, banking and sovereign debt tensions.

At the same time, there are potential serious negative economic consequences if there’s a repeat of earlier episodes of “deadlock and brinkmanship” over fiscal policy in the United States.

It also says there’s a risk recent financial market volatility and strong capital outflows in some emerging economies could intensify, exerting an additional drag on global growth.

“As emerging economies contributed the bulk of global economic growth in recent years, and since their share of global output has increased so much, this widespread loss of momentum makes for sluggish near-term growth prospects for the world economy,” the OECD says.

It believes major economies should keep interest rates low, but also thinks the US Federal Reserve should gradually reduce its pace of quantitative easing by buying back US debt.

In China, subdued inflationary pressures create room for monetary policy easing if growth were to flag, but authorities need to be cautious because of strong credit growth.

The OECD’s latest outlook did not include Australia.

But in May it forecast Australia’s growth to slow to 2.6 per cent in 2013, before picking up to around 3.2 per cent in 2014.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release June quarter growth numbers on Wednesday.

The report’s expected to show Australia is growing at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent.

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DIAC ‘derailing’ asylum child case: lawyer

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has tried to derail legal proceedings to prevent it transporting a critically ill asylum-seeker child from Darwin to Sydney against her doctors’ wishes, the Federal Court has heard on Friday.

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On Wednesday, two Northern Territory doctors were granted a temporary injunction by the Court to prevent DIAC from moving the two-year-old, who has chronic heart disease and Down syndrome.

But she had already been flown out on Wednesday morning before the order was made, a day after her paediatrician expressed concerns about her health, the court has heard.

“We wanted to find her and make sure the parents understood the seriousness of the illness, but we didn’t know where she was,” Dr Paul Bauert, director of paediatrics at Royal Darwin Hospital told AAP.

“We didn’t know she’d gone to Sydney. That just highlights the poor communication we have.”

Dr Bauert says Darwin doctors are frustrated by DIAC’s repeated transfer of asylum-seeker patients to other parts of the country without proper care plans and handovers in place.

DIAC issued the girl and her family bridging visas on Wednesday morning before flying her to Sydney, where a spokesman said the family had wanted to go.

But the doctors’ barrister Simon Lee said DIAC was attempting to derail legal proceedings by granting the visas.

“It seems bizarre that if a paediatric cardio specialist from Darwin is indicating he has concerns about this young child, the very next morning (she) is granted a visa and transported out,” he said.

“It all happened very quickly.”

Ms Angela Hanson, representing DIAC, said she didn’t know whether the family was aware of the doctor’s concerns before they left, and said DIAC wasn’t aware an injunction was being sought until after it was granted.

Mr Lee said DIAC would not give him her parents’ names, which Ms Hanson said could not be given out to lawyers “as a matter of privacy”.

The girl’s treating doctor was instructed to send his letters to a department PO Box rather than an office address, which Justice John Mansfield said “seems a bit cagey”.

“It’s not through lack of trying,” Dr Bauert said of the breakdown in communication.

“The Australian Medical Association have been in meetings with DIAC trying to get this sorted out for the last three years, and still there’s multiple kids falling through the cracks like this one.”

The hearing has been adjourned until Wednesday.

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Rudd calls for Syria chemical attack probe

Australia is urging Syria to allow United Nations weapons inspectors access to a Damascus site where a deadly chemical attack is alleged to have occurred.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd flew back to Canberra on Saturday to receive an intelligence briefing on the escalating Syrian crisis, after reports the United States was weighing up a possible military strike against the Assad regime.

The world is calling for answers amid claims Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in an attack on the outskirts of Damascus last week.

“For me it is gut wrenching to see this unfolding,” Mr Rudd told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

“The thought that these sorts of attacks could occur against unarmed civilians … is like a medieval barbaric scene, rather than something we’d expect on our television sets in the year 2013.”

Australia will use its presidency of the UN security council, which it will assume next week, to call for “full and unfettered” access for investigators to the site where the attack occurred.

UN weapons inspectors are in Syria but have not been given permission to investigate the latest claim.

“The burden of proof now lies with the Syrian regime to establish their culpability or absence of culpability on this matter,” Mr Rudd said.

He said he had sought information about Australian troops attached to UN missions in the Golan Heights, both on the Syrian and Israeli sides of the border, and troops active on the Lebanese border.

He will also seek reports on other military personnel serving in the region.

“Our concern is of course for their well being,” Mr Rudd said.

Defence chiefs have said Australian personnel were trained in handling chemical weapons attacks and were equipped appropriately to handle an attack should there be “any proliferation” of the Damascus incident.

Asked if he had an open mind on any military involvement, Mr Rudd said: “I think it’s unproductive and I think it is unwise to begin to speculate on any form of action and what shape that may take.”

“The business of responding to an international crisis, as this is emerging as one, is to take it calmly and methodically, step by step.”

The prime minister also refused to comment on the appropriateness of US cruise missile strikes against the regime.

“I won’t go to the question of military strategy or military tactics,” he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott also stopped short of backing military action after receiving a “confidential” briefing on the Syrian situation later on Sunday.

“The important thing is to get to the bottom of what’s happened and the best way for that to happen is to allow UN inspectors on the ground to make an assessment,” Mr Abbott told ABC TV.

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Brooks’ phone hacking trial delayed in UK

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks over allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World has been delayed for legal reasons.

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The trial of Brooks and seven other defendants, including Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson, was due to start at the Old Bailey on September 9 but is now expected to begin on October 28.

Brooks, 45, denies a total of five charges, including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to pay public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide evidence.

Former Sun and NotW editor Brooks, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, and former news editor Ian Edmondson, 44, also deny conspiracy to intercept mobile phone voicemails between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006.

Coulson, 45, who previously edited the now-defunct NotW, denies the same charge.

He and NotW former royal editor Clive Goodman, 55, are also accused of two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Brooks denies two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

In the same trial, she and former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, are charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide material from the News International archive between July 6 and 9, 2011.

Brooks’ racehorse trainer husband, Charlie Brooks, 50, and News International head of security Mark Hanna, 50, will also appear in the same trial over a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by allegedly hiding documents and computer equipment from police between July 15 and 19 2011, a charge also faced by Brooks.

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Egyptian Islamists call new demos

Islamist supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have called new protests against the army in a test of their ability to mobilise support seven weeks after his overthrow.

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In recent days, dozens of senior and mid-level members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, disrupting the organisation’s structure, and raising questions about its remaining strength.

The call for demonstrations by loyalists of Morsi, who remains in custody at a secret location, came a day after his predecessor Hosni Mubarak was released from jail to house arrest at a military hospital.

The release stirred little interest in Egypt, which has been rocked by political unrest since Morsi’s July 3 ouster by the military after massive protests against him.

Nearly 1000 people were killed in a week of violence between Morsi loyalists and security forces, sparking international concern and condemnation.

Friday was set to be a test of the remaining strength and commitment of the Islamists, who called for “Friday of martyrs” protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers.

In recent days, dwindling numbers of demonstrators have showed up to rallies, their ranks thinned by a fierce crackdown.

Communication by telephone has stopped altogether, and many Brotherhood members are in hiding, avoiding their homes, a mid-level member of the group told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“We no longer receive directives and we don’t really know what we should do anymore. Most of our direct leaders are detained,” the member from the Nile Delta said.

Among those detained is the group’s supreme guide Mohamed Badie – the first time a Brotherhood chief has been arrested since 1981.

Morsi himself is being held at a secret location and faces charges related to his 2011 escape from prison and of inciting the death and torture of protesters.

His continued detention even as Mubarak is released to house arrest has stirred comment, particularly as Mubarak also faces charges of complicity in the deaths of protesters.

But in the face of the deadly unrest that has rocked Egypt in recent days, there was no indication that activists would take to the streets, as they have done before, to protest Mubarak’s transfer.

“A year ago, it would have been difficult to imagine his release without popular protests against it,” said Barah Mikail, a Middle East specialist at the FRIDE think-tank.

“Today, everything else that is happening has moderated the effect”.

Mubarak is still on trial and faces his next court session on Sunday, when Badie and several other Brotherhood leaders will also appear before a court.

Washington on Thursday sidestepped questions about Mubarak’s release from jail, but called for Morsi to be freed.

“With respect to the Mubarak trial and decisions made, this is an internal Egyptian legal matter,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“Our position on Mr Morsi remains the same. We believe there should be a process for his release,” Psaki said

But there has been no sign that a crackdown against the Brotherhood will slow.

The latest arrest was that of Ahmed Aref, one of the few remaining spokesmen for the group who had not been detained.

At the same time, attacks against Christian institutions, which have been blamed on Islamists, have continued.

Dozens of Christian churches, schools, businesses and homes – mostly in the rural south – have been attacked, allegedly by Islamists angry at the Coptic Church leadership’s endorsement of Morsi’s ouster.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the government for failing to protect churches, and the Brotherhood for failing to halt incitement against Christians.

Violence has also continued to target police and soldiers, including three who were killed in a drive-by shooting near the Suez Canal town of Ismailia on Thursday.

The unrest has prompted international criticism of the authorities, but the United States has stopped short of halting its $US1.3 billion ($A1.45 billion) a year in mainly military aid.

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Reynolds plays down Pearce NRL match-up

South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds says he can’t afford to focus on a personal duel with Sydney Roosters rival Mitchell Pearce for fear of taking his eye off the bigger picture.

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Pearce will go head-to-head with the man most believe will take over his sky blue NSW State of Origin No.7 jumper next year, with Friday night’s NRL minor premiership playoff at ANZ Stadium a perfect stage for the Souths youngster to push his case.

But Reynolds said team goals were his only focus, with the Rabbitohs attempting to collect their first meaningful piece of silverware in over 40 years.

“I’m not too worried about the match-up between me and him,” Reynolds said on Tuesday.

“If I focus too hard on that I’m sure I won’t have a good game or do my part for the team.

“He’s a great player and a great competitor, you can’t fault anything he’s done this year.

“He’s been one of the best halves this year … it’s a good rivalry, a good challenge coming up against good halves in the comp.

“It’s a good challenge to see where I’m at.”

With Reynolds and teammate John Sutton going up against Pearce and James Maloney, there is the very real possibility that Friday night’s clash of halves pairings could be a case of NSW Origin present against NSW Origin future.

Sutton was part of the extended Blues squad for the opening two games of this year’s series while Maloney played all three games at five eighth, but Reynolds denied the playmakers would decide the winner at ANZ Stadium.

“These games are usually won through the middle or built on field position,” Reynolds said.

“It’s exciting playing against one of the best teams in the comp – they’ve been the form team of the comp the whole way through.’

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