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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