Fawad Ahmed’s cricket dreams come true

CHESTER-LE-STREET, England, Sept 1 AAP – Fawad Ahmed completed one dream journey with his breakthrough performance for Australia and believes he’s started another towards a possible Ashes call-up.


The former Pakistani refugee claimed his first full international wickets in Saturday’s 29-run Twenty20 loss to England, finishing with an impressive 3-25 in only his second appearance for his adopted nation.

The 31-year-old leg-spinner made a wicketless debut in Australia’s 39-run win in Southampton on Thursday.

But he truly signalled his arrival with his performance at Chester-le-Street.

Ahmed blew a kiss to the sky in a sign of his faith after dismissing England opener Michael Lumb to claim his first international wicket.

“I was always praying and making prayers that I would play for Australia and play good cricket and that was the moment,” Ahmed told AAP.

“When you take a wicket for your country and are representing the country, there’s nothing better, so it was to say thank you.

“… The dream has come true. I’ve waited for a long time to be included and been through a really tough time since I start my cricket.

“It was a great moment for me and I’ll remember this forever in my life.”

Ahmed fled to Australia from Pakistan in 2010 as an asylum seeker after receiving death threats for supporting women’s rights.

He became qualified to play for Australia in June, when a change in government legislation allowed his citizenship to be fast-tracked.

After a patchy showing on recent tours with Australia A, Ahmed’s performance on a batsman-friendly wicket on Saturday offered the strongest sign yet to back up calls for his selection in the home Ashes series in three months time.

Ahmed admits he’s felt the pressure of expectations and talk he could be the man to finally fill the spin void left by the retirement of Shane Warne.

But he backs his ability and believes he can get himself in contention for a Test call-up, if he takes his opportunities in the coming one-day series against England.

“There is a big series coming up against India (in October) as well so I’m looking forward to the limited overs,” Ahmed said.

“If I’m having a chance in the future for the Ashes that’s all well and good.

“I’m pretty hopeful I’m going to play good cricket for Australia in all formats for the next few years but it’s really hard to compare me with Shane Warne.

“Australian people are used to having a Shane Warne in their side.

“Nathan Lyon has bowled really well in the Test cricket as well but they’re still expecting someone like the Shane Warne. It’s not going to be like that.”

Ahmed says he has a tough journey ahead but he’s showing signs he has the nerve for it.

Australian T20 skipper George Bailey entrusted him with bowling the final over of England’s innings and he responded by taking two wickets – including clean bowling Jos Buttler – and conceded only eight runs.

Ahmed said his confidence continued to grow because of great support and belief from his teammates, officials and the public.

“The whole nation is with me, even back in Pakistan everybody is really supporting me,” he said.

“And in Australia’s it’s amazing. The way the people love me, Cricket Australia, the government. My morale is getting higher and higher every day.”

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Abbott proud of best-ever policy package

The coalition’s policy war chest is the best ever taken to an Australian election by an opposition, Tony Abbott reckons.


But there’s still scepticism about the party’s costings released two days before voters hit the polls.

Hours after shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s policy costing announcement revealed a coalition government would deliver $6 billion to the budget bottom line by 2016/17, plus pay down $16 billion of national debt, Mr Abbott was heralding the efforts of his team.

“No opposition has ever gone to an election with a more carefully, comprehensively and thoroughly prepared set of policies,” the opposition leader told reporters on the outskirts of Melbourne on Thursday night.

He said almost 800 pages of coalition policy has been closely scrutinised by three public finance experts, and in many cases, also the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

But he refused to publish the working papers behind the figures, saying no political party ever does so.

And he defended those key policies that haven’t been processed by the PBO, saying “some policies inevitably were finalised late in the day”.

“I am happy to submit myself and to submit our work to the judgment of the Australian people,” he said.

He was quizzed about projected savings, including the $1.1 billion stemming from stopping asylum seeker vessels.

Coalition calculations assumed that by the end of 2014 the number of people arriving by boat would return to “the long-term average” but Mr Abbott did not say what that was.

He said it would drop further to 50 people per month or less by the end of 2016.

“We think we can do better than that,” Mr Abbott said, adding that they would stop the boats.

“But for the purposes of our costings document and we’ve been very conservative,” he said.

Mr Abbott was asked about his controversial paid parental leave scheme and how the coalition had calculated future receipts on the 1.5 per cent levy imposed on big business to pay for the plan.

“These are issues to do with the ramp up, they’re quite technical,” Mr Abbott said, insisting the scheme is fully costed and fully funded and has faced the scrutiny of the PBO.

Mr Hockey admitted the coalition’s projected $6 billion surplus in 2016/17 was not hugely different to Labor’s $4.2 billion figure for the same year, as shown in the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook.

But the shadow treasurer insists coalition spending will drive growth in the economy.

“We’re turning the direction around from Labor, which is increasing debt and deficit, to ourselves who are starting to pay it off,” Mr Hockey told ABC TV.

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Al-Qaeda group claims Baghdad attacks

An al-Qaeda front group has claimed responsibility for a wave of bombings across Baghdad, part of a surge in violence sparking worries of a return to all-out bloodshed.


The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant said the attacks carried out on Wednesday, when nationwide violence killed 75 people and wounded more than 200, were retribution for the executions this month of people convicted of terror-related offences.

The group, formerly based solely in Iraq, has since expanded its reach to neighbouring Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has been embroiled in a 29-month conflict with rebels, of whom the al-Qaeda group are a critical part.

“The new wave organised by the lions of the Sunni people … was a response to the crimes of the Safavid government with the executions of a group of Islamists from the Sunni people in Iraq,” said the statement posted on Friday on jihadist internet forums.

It referred to Iraq’s central government using a pejorative for Shi’ite Muslims, referencing the former Safavid empire that ruled what is now modern-day Iran.

On August 19, Iraq put 17 people to death, all but one of them on terrorism-related charges.

“The operations were carried out despite the heavy presence of security forces, who placed tens of thousands of their donkeys and their animals just in Baghdad and around Baghdad, which as become a big, closed prison for its residents,” the statement said.

Further details of the attacks would be published in future, the group said, without elaborating.

It only described the targets as “official and security and military places, and the places of the Rafidhiyah and the head of the Safavids”, another negative term for Iraq’s Shi’ite majority.

In fact, most of the targets hit on Wednesday were busy streets and markets as civilians were packed in rush hour traffic, with 71 people killed in Baghdad and nearby towns. Four others were killed in the country’s north.

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Rudd in hot water with NSW over navy move

Kevin Rudd has been accused of chasing Queensland votes as he angered the NSW premier with plans to shift Australia’s main east coast navy base from Sydney to Brisbane.


“A phone call would’ve been nice,” Premier Barry O’Farrell told Mr Rudd when the pair crossed paths near Garden Island on Sydney Harbour on Tuesday after seeing the prime minister’s plans splashed on the front of a Sydney newspaper.

“We stand to lose 4000 direct jobs all because we have a federal political leader so spooked by the polls he will do anything, even use defence infrastructure, as a tactic to try and win votes north of the NSW border,” Mr O”Farrell said.

Mr Rudd fired back, saying the premier should spend more time looking after the transport infrastructure needs of western Sydney.

“The Royal Australian Navy is not Premier O’Farrell’s property,” he said.

Under Mr Rudd’s plan, a re-elected federal Labor government would appoint a top-level defence committee to look at moving the navy’s Fleet Base East at Sydney’s Garden Island to Brisbane by 2030.

“This would include a major strategic decision to deploy the navy’s most important ships where they will be best placed to protect Australia’s interests and quickly respond to challenges,” Mr Rudd said.

Garden Island could be redeveloped to cater for the burgeoning cruise ship industry and defence-related jobs could be created in Brisbane and potentially Darwin, Perth, Townsville and Cairns.

But Mr O’Farrell was unhappy about the prospect of losing the base, which injects about $470 million a year into the state economy and employs 6700 people.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who was campaigning in Newcastle, wasn’t against shifting military operations.

“What I am against is policy on the run by a desperate government against the advice of their White Paper which came out just a few months ago,” he said.

Jobs were also on Mr Abbott’s agenda as he visited the NSW Central Coast.

If the coalition wins government, the long-term unemployed would receive a $6500 bonus if they can find and keep a job for two years.

Jobseekers who moved to a regional area for work would receive an additional bonus of up to $6000, or $3000 if they moved from a regional area to a capital city.

“These sensible, targeted measures will help get people off welfare and into new jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Labor also attacked Mr Abbott’s promise to scrap means testing of the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate, saying it would put a hole in the budget.

The rebate saving was set aside by Labor to cover $8.8 billion of the cost of the national disability insurance scheme.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey is expected to lay out some of the coalition’s policy costings during a debate with Treasurer Chris Bowen in Canberra on Wednesday.

Later in the day, Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott will face off in the third debate of the election campaign at a people’s forum at Sydney’s Rooty Hill RSL Club.

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Charities to be hit by PPL scheme: Macklin

Families Minister Jenny Macklin claims charities and universities will face a hit to their coffers if the coalition persists with its generous paid parental leave scheme in government.


The coalition plans to impose a 1.5 per cent levy on more than 3000 companies to help fund its $5.5 billion a year scheme.

But the business levy does not qualify for franking credits so shareholders will lose tax breaks on their dividend payments from listed companies, many of which will have to pay the impost.

Ms Macklin says charities, universities and foundations will be among the losers, citing tax office statistics that so-called imputation credits are a growing source of revenue for many of those organisations.

“They, too, will be contributing to Tony Abbott’s unfair and expensive paid parental leave scheme,” she told ABC Radio on Friday.

“There’s a lot of people who are very concerned about it.”

Under the coalition plan working women will receive six months’ parental leave on full pay, capped at $75,000, plus superannuation. It will apply for babies born from July 1, 2015.

Earlier this week, it emerged self-funded retirees and mum and dad investors could be $1.6 billion worse off because the business levy does not qualify for franking credits.

Ms Macklin dismissed comments by prominent feminist icon Eva Cox that Mr Abbott’s scheme was better for women.

The Labor government has an 18-week scheme, paid as a welfare entitlement at the national minium wage – $622 a week pre-tax.

“I am a feminist and I’m very proud of our scheme,” Ms Macklin said.

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Dateline is a multi-award winning international current affairs program with a brief to provide stories for Australians about life beyond Australia’s shores.


The program is presented by George Negus, one of Australia’s most respected journalists, and is made up of a team of acclaimed producers and ‘video journalists’.

Commissioned in 1984, it is Australia’s longest-running international current affairs program.


Dateline reporters are considered pioneers in ‘video journalism’ – the art of traveling alone on assignment to film and report stories without the encumbrance of a conventional camera crew. Using small, lightweight cameras and minimal sound and lighting equipment, the program’s reporters are able to gain unique and independent access to people, places and stories.

Meet the Dateline team.


Dateline’s awards include:

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Dateline at the Logies


Dateline screens on SBS TV on Wednesdays at 8:30pm and is repeated on Thursdays and Mondays at 2:30pm.

Dateline also broadcasts across the US on cable network ‘Link TV’ and has an audience reach of 5 million.

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‘Saddam’s cousin will die’

They have been convicted of crimes against humanity and will be hanged within 30 days.


“The Iraqi Supreme Court has confirmed the death sentence on Ali Hassan al-Majid, Sultan Hashim al-Tai and Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti,” court chief Judge Aref Shaheen told a press conference.

Asked when the three would be executed, Judge Shaheen replied: “According to Iraqi law, sentence must be carried out withing 30 days, no more.”

Majid, widely known as “Chemical Ali” for using poison gas against ethnic Kurds, was the executed Iraqi dictator’s most notorious hatchet man, Tai was his defence minister and Tikriti was armed forces deputy chief of operations.

The three were sentenced to death on June 24 after being found responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Kurds in the so-called Anfal campaign of 1988.

An estimated 182,000 Kurds were killed and 4,000 villages wiped out in the brutal campaign of bombings, mass deportation and gas attacks.

“Thousands of people were killed, displaced and disappeared,” Iraqi High Tribunal chief judge Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifah said after he had passed sentence in June.

“They were civilians with no weapons and nothing to do with war.”

’Thanks be to God’

Majid, 66, was the last of the six defendants to learn his fate in the Anfal case – the second trial of former Saddam cohorts on charges of crimes against humanity since the fall of the feared regime in 2003.

He muttered only “Thanks be to God” before being led from the court.

Saddam’s regime said the Anfal campaign was a necessary counter-insurgency operation during Iraq’s eight-year war with neighbouring Iran.

It involved the systematic bombardment, gassing and assault of areas in the Kurdish autonomous region, which witnessed mass executions and deportations and the creation of prison camps.

Saddam, driven from power by a US-led invasion in April 2003, was executed on December 30 for crimes against humanity in a separate case and charges against him over the Anfal campaign were dropped.

Saddam’s former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was hanged for crimes against humanity on March 20, while the dictator’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, the ex-chief of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, were hanged on January 15.

’I am not apologising’

Over the course of the Anfal trial, which opened on August 21 last year, a defiant Majid said he was right to order the attacks.

“I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate the villagers,” he said at one hearing.

“I am not defending myself. I am not apologising. I did not make a mistake.”

Iraqi Kurds were jubilant following the verdicts but initial plans to execute Majid in the Kurdish town of Halabja have been scrapped so the hanging does not appear to be motivated by revenge, an Iraqi government official said.

On March 16, 1988, Saddam’s troops strafed Halabja with chemical gases, killing 5,000 Kurds in one of the biggest military operations against the people of the northern Kurdish region during the Iran-Iraq war.

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the Anfal verdicts were as “flawed” as in the previous trial of Saddam over the killing of Shiites from the village of Dujail in the 1980s.

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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.


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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Nick Lazaredes – Video Journalist











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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.


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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