HOW astoundingly brilliant is the new Chris Lilley series? The comedian has physically transformed himself to play a group of diverse characters who all bear the Lilley trademark of exaggerated personalities and punishing self-delusion. There’s the bow-tie-wearing ballet dancer from the Sunshine Coast, Jake (classic Lilley catchphrase: ”Calm the farm”); incredibly uptight Adelaide yuppie Lisa; and Indian-born Sydney princess Biswa. Ja’mie and S.mouse have been made redundant.
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OK. My Kitchen Rules isn’t the new Chris Lilley series, although if it were it would certainly make amends for Angry Boys. But Channel Seven’s hit reality cooking series – actually, hit is probably an understatement at this point – does unexpectedly share a viewpoint with the comedian’s work. Lilley is fascinated by his characters’ extremes, and in casting the latest series of My Kitchen Rules, its producers have put together a fascinating cross-section of contestants who are equally pushing the limits.

All reality shows, including the previous three series of My Kitchen Rules, look for extremes in the casting process, fitting them under easy labels such as ”the villain” or ”the top bloke”. This time, however, their characters also speak to the growing breadth of Australian society. The notion of Australian egalitarianism is dissipating under the weight of financial inequality, self-important billionaires and political divisiveness, and as a country we’re slowly starting to accept that we’re a broad, increasingly strange coalition of people.

Last week on My Kitchen Rules, Jake and his sister Elle hosted the other pairs they were competing with at their family’s expansive Queensland residence. For their main course, Jake chose to serve T-bone steak, which didn’t fit his profile at all. Another contestant, Tasmanian abalone diver and father Mick, astutely noted that Jake had probably rarely eaten a T-bone, having been raised on scotch and eye fillet. Jake thought a T-bone was exotic; Mick knew it was everyday fare.

Those contrasts are some of the fascinating elements that fuel audience fascination with the series. As a reality show, My Kitchen Rules is sharply made, but the hook of hosting a dinner party at your home that is judged doesn’t just resonate on a personal level, it provides a view inside lives that aren’t entirely familiar to us any more. Even with the artificial constraints of mainly capital-city residents, the cross-section of competitors is far more eclectic than most of our fictional dramas or comedies allow for. Solve that mystery, Dr Blake.

My Kitchen Rules is very much Australia’s show, both in terms of content and ratings.

When the show launched in 2010, it was written off as a MasterChef clone but, as the runt of the reality litter, it survived and then prospered. Last week, several 7.30pm episodes drew blockbuster-level audiences of more than 2 million people in the mainland capital cities, exceeding 3 million nationally. Many of us are watching creme brulee nightmares and the matching comedy of social manners and awkward status.

Whether it’s culturally harder to cast a renovation show or not, the contrast with Channel Nine’s monochromatic The Block is readily apparent. Despite starting half an hour earlier at 7pm, the much-promoted spinoff, The Block All Stars, is being pummelled by My Kitchen Rules. The only thing Scott Cam’s show has more of is blatant product placement. It’s struggling to make 1 million viewers in capital cities – a ratings pass mark, basically – while MasterChef: The Professionals, which is going head-to-head with My Kitchen Rules on Mondays and Tuesdays, is doing even worse, despite being good viewing.

My Kitchen Rules has a formidable format, although it’s apparent the show has aired long enough for contestants to be familiar with its working and game the show’s structure and rules to their own benefit. Biswa and her companion, Jessie, who were portrayed as entertainingly horrendous people, judged rivals on their threat to them, not their food, and a show can sour with viewers if a flaw such as that becomes prominent.

There are few other worries, even if eliminations and a move into a central kitchen for contests take away the social insight. Judges Manu Feildel and Pete Evans are performing well, with the former revealing a sly sense of humour. No one has had the nerve to serve activated almonds to Evans yet but, if they do, I fully expect a shocked silence before Lilley pulls off his latex mask and takes a bow.

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In his show’s fifth season, the ‘Bondi vet’ takes his devotion to animal welfare overseas.HOW in the world do you operate on a goldfish?
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”Everyone says, ‘Why do you bother?’ but, at the same time, ‘How do you do it?’ ” says Chris Brown with a laugh as he discusses one of the more bizarre surgeries featured in the fifth season of Bondi Vet.

”You don’t do it in the water; you get the fish out of the tank. It’s amazing how you can keep a goldfish alive out of the water, while also under anaesthetic.”

Brown enjoys challenging himself. The 34-year-old negotiates one of television’s most hectic schedules, bustling between three separate Channel Ten shows and a number of writing gigs, all alongside working at the titular clinic. Rest is rarely an option; the man has been home about 10 days in the past two months.

In a way, he’s his own worst enemy. The immense international popularity of Bondi Vet has led him to field numerous overseas requests in the latest season.

”We’re keeping it fresh by travelling; being as much the vet in Bondi as the vet from Bondi,” Brown says. He ventures to the US, Fiji, Thailand, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, among other places.

Brown was conscious of the need for reinvention in the show’s fifth year and it promises to be an eye-opening experience, with stark international differences in veterinary care visible from the outset.

”The degree to which a country has developed economically is highly related to their attitudes towards animals,” Brown says. ”Places that are developing are often lacking in pretty basic care for animals, [so] you can make a really significant difference in a very short period of time.”

Despite the location shift, the core of the show – the bond between owner and pet – remains constant. It’s a universal thing, according to Brown. ”That passion, that care and wanting to really show that animals mean something – that was the element that needed to remain the same.”

Brown never wished this life upon himself, nor did he seek it out after a chance encounter with a talent scout in a Mosman pub. Fast forward nearly 10 years, though, and the boy from Newcastle is now a commentator, overseas reporter and travel correspondent, alongside his vocational calling.

”It was nothing I ever planned on doing, and I think that’s why there’s an innocence and relaxed outlook to it that comes through,” he says. ”I’ve never really been chasing it – it’s something that organically just happened.”

His other returning gig, sitting on the couch of The Living Room, means he is in the prime-time flagships on both Friday and Saturday nights for Ten, coverage that hasn’t harmed the chiselled veterinarian’s heart-throb status.

Even Living Room co-host Amanda Keller has professed repeatedly to having a crush on him, to which Brown laughs and replies, ”we sit on opposite sides of the couch”.

His poster-boy status is not something he feels entirely comfortable with – he continues to cop flak from colleagues at vet conferences – though by embracing it he hopes to, show by show, educate audiences and promote the profession.

”Hopefully, through the show, people get to see that it’s not just a 9-5 job. It’s all hours; it is demanding,” he says. ”If it can increase the awareness of what vets do, and if it can increase information about what to do with your pets … that’s what I’m proud of.”

Bondi Vet is on Saturday at 7.30pm on Channel Ten.

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Why the sad faces? All will be revealed when these spouses bare their relationships on the ABC.ALBERT Einstein was a man who believed in the limits of science. ”Gravitation,” he once professed, ”is not responsible for people falling in love.”
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He might have been curious, then, about a coming show pitting positive psychology, the so-termed ”science of happiness”, against love lives in crisis.

The ABC explored the emergence of the science with its 2010 show Making Australia Happy, whereby eight individuals, with identifiably low happiness ”scores”, were equipped with techniques from clinical experts to improve their overall contentment.

The reincarnation, Making Couples Happy, doubles the stakes, literally. Public call-outs were extended for couples seeking to improve their relationships, with video diaries sent in to the show.

Not surprisingly, for a show in which people have to unglamorously bare all about their love life to a national audience, the response was not overwhelming.

However, after interviews with the hosts, four were selected, each with their own problems and each of whom returned statistical scores of unhappiness when tested.

Some harbour too much explosive communication, others too little. Intimacy issues are a constant: ”We’re like passing ships in the night,” Alison remarks matter-of-factly of her 29-year marriage to Paul.

During eight weeks, the couples are forced to confront their issues, aided by specialists in the field, and every fortnight their happiness is measured to test the methods.

Married with children in Sydney, Laney had to persuade her understandably apprehensive other half, Darren, to take a punt on the show. They had seen relationship counsellors in the past to no avail and were struggling with balancing a family business, children and a marriage.

”[For us], the downside, which is a little bit of an embarrassment, was worth the upside of a happy marriage,” Laney says.

Each of the couple’s situations deliberately differed from the next, something that struck a chord with Darren. ”Coming from my experience, believing you should keep a lot of your relationship just between the two of you, I think what everyone will notice is the reality of all the couples on the show,” he says. ”Everyone has their issues.”

In this way, the show is as much about the four couples onscreen as every couple at home. Working with real-life case studies and not invented scenarios inevitably draws the public closer in a therapeutic sense.

For host and clinical psychologist John Aiken in particular, it was about taking scientific strategies and reworking them for television. After all, no one wants to watch an hour of talking heads, he says.

The show is intended to deliver tips to couples everywhere, a lofty prospect that excites Aiken. ”For me it’s kind of a dream job, because it gives you a national platform to make relationships accessible,” he says. ”It demystifies them and it empowers couples.”

Making Couples Happy is on Thursday at 8.30pm on ABC1.

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FRANK Rigby will give his wife of 64 years a flower on Thursdaymorning, but it won’t have anything to do with Valentine’s Day.
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‘‘He gives me a flower every morning,’’ says Beryl Edith Rigby.

‘‘We could be in the middle of the desert and he’ll find me a flower.

‘‘It’s not always a rose but I always get a flower – every morning.’’

So is the romantic Mr Rigby content with making every day feel like Valentine’s Day? Not a chance.

Today, as he has for six decades, the former Newcastle councillor has published a love poem to his wife in the Newcastle Herald.

‘‘She thinks I’m crazy,’’ says the lifelong Stockton resident.

‘‘And I think she’s right.’’

Mr Rigby met his wife, who he affectionately calls ‘‘Beb’’, in 1944 and the pair married five years later.

Mr Rigby said he started writing poetry as a way to share the wild tales he heard while working on the waterfront.

‘‘You’d hear some funny stories down there but you couldn’t tell them anywhere else,’’ he said.

‘‘I just tried to turn them around so you could tell them in mixed company and I’d put them to rhyme.’’

Eventually, he started penning poems for his wife and submitted one to the Herald for the first time in the early 1960s.

As the tradition continued, he soon found his audience growing to beyond his beloved.

‘‘It seemed like half of Newcastle was reading my poems – the paper should’ve been paying me to write them,’’ he said.

Mr Rigby said his wife cuts out the poems each year and adds them to her jewellery box. And she is looking forward to many more poems and years together.

He chalks up the success of their relationship to their special bond.

The couple founded the John Hunter Children’s Hospital charity, The Kids Club, which has since raised more than $3million.

‘‘We have done everything together – everything I did with the council and John Hunter Hospital foundation wasn’t just me, it was the two of us,’’ Mr Rigby said.

Though Mrs Rigby knows what to expect today, she says she always looks forward to his latest work.

But she can’t nominate a favourite poem.

‘‘They’re all beautiful,’’ she said.

LOVING: Frank still gives his beloved a flower every morning. Picture: Simone De Peak

BLISS: Frank and Beryl Rigby on their wedding day 64 years ago.

MOST club captains believe action is needed to improve the standard of Newcastle district cricket, but opinion is divided on how to achieve that.
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The Newcastle District Cricket Association is expected to reveal more details of its proposed eight-team premier league to the 12 clubs in the next two days, after an initial meeting with the presidents on February 4.

While support for the radical change to the competition appears weak among presidents and other powerbrokers, the captains are more open to the possibility.

Merewether have dominated the competition in the past year, winning two-day, 50-over, Twenty20 and SCG Country Cup titles, and vice-captain Troy Goodwin said the premier league was needed.

“It needs to go to eight teams for the good of Newcastle,” Goodwin said.

“If we want to compete in the Twenty20 comp in Sydney next year, cricket in Newcastle has got to strengthen.”

Stockton-Raymond Terrace skipper Nick Foster and University counterpart Josh Emerton are also supporters.

“They really do need to look at the premier league or cutting a couple of teams back, which will in turn make those players go to other first-grade clubs and make them stronger, which is obviously good for the entire comp,” Emerton said.

Almost three years ago, the NDCA proposed cutting the competition to 10 sides before five of the six clubs threatened to form a voting bloc to defeat the plan.

Veteran Charlestown skipper Steve Mace and first-season Wallsend captain Brett Jackson, whose clubs are struggling, both believe standards will rise only through mergers or cutting sides.

Neither supports a premier league.

“I think the competition has to bite the bullet and actually reduce the number of clubs, whether it be us merge with someone, or someone else,” Jackson said.

“I just think there’s definitely too many clubs and obviously not enough quality players in the top grade.

“With this premier league, who’s going to want to play in the second division?”

Jackson, one of the competition’s leading batsmen, said he would likely leave Wallsend if they were relegated, as he aspired to play the best standard of cricket possible.

Mark Littlewood (Belmont), Ben Woolmer (Wests) and Steve Christie (Waratah-Mayfield) are open to change to improve the competition but are unsure about the premier league until more details are released.

Hamwicks captain Kirk Mullard and Toronto skipper Joe Price believe the competition does not need big changes.

“You can’t have some clubs with the best players in the comp playing in the lower leagues, like for instance the rep captain [Littlewood],” Mullard said.

Hamwicks have won the past three minor premierships and lead the competition.

“It’s just evolution; it goes around in a roundabout,” Mullard said.

Mullard said that when he joined in the mid-90s Hamwicks ran eighth or ninth.

“We’ve been very successful, but we’re under no illusion that at some stage the run will come to an end.”

MEDICAL staff at Muswellbrook District Hospital say a plan to solve its emergency department woes by taking over nursing home beds is a ‘‘poor compromise’’.
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The hospital’s medical staff council chair Dr Mark Rikard-Bell tabled a signed letter at the February council meeting from 14 doctors at the hospital.

They totally disagreed with a plan to expand the emergency department into the on-site nursing home.

‘‘The emergency department is not as important as the care of the elderly,’’ Dr Rikard-Bell said.

‘‘We have struggled to keep both for many years and resent being coerced into accepting a poor compromise.’’

The Newcastle Herald reported in September complaints that the hospital’s emergency department was grossly undersized.

Doctors say the emergency department needs an estimated $10million facelift but has only got $4million.

Hunter New England Health wants to remove the 18-bed aged-care unit from the hospital’s ground floor to make way for the new emergency department.

However, it has not found a private aged-care provider, and building a new nursing home would be years away.

In the meantime, it is not accepting new nursing-home residents and its interim plans are to use hospital acute-care beds for the elderly residents.

‘‘This will primarily affect the surgical and cataract lists, once again disadvantaging the elderly,’’ Dr Rikard-Bell said.

‘‘It’s probably the worst emergency department in the state and it’s only an extra $2or $3million to fix it properly.’’

Hunter New England chief executive Michael DiRienzo acknowledged it was a difficult situation but said with the growing Muswellbrook population, the new emergency department would be best on the ground floor.

He said they were in discussions with Little Company of Mary Health Care to take over their nursing home licence and would move residents to elsewhere in the hospital when work starts in October.

‘‘No residents will be forced to leave Muswellbrook,’’ he said.

Dr Rikard-Bell has written to Upper Hunter MP George Souris with his objections.

WORLD No.1 Yani Tseng endured a rocky relationship with her golf clubs last year but now they have kissed and made up.
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Before Thursday’s Australian Open at Royal Canberra, Tseng said she broke down in tears when told by her coach to take the unusual step of thanking her golf clubs.

Having won four majors during 2010 and 2011, finishing fourth on last year’s LPGA Tour is considered a lean year by fans who expect perfection from the 24-year-old.

But the Taiwanese superstar, named in Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world last year, says she is now better equipped to deal with the pressure.

”My coach told me I should be more appreciative of what I’m doing right now and he asked me a question – ‘have you said thank you to your golf club?’,” she said.

”I started crying because I feel like I never did that to my club. My club is my best friend. I do my job and my club does his job, so I know my club is helping me to win in a tournament, too.

”I know it’s so funny but I always thank my caddie, thank my team. I never think about my club and then I started feeling very appreciative about everything.”

Last year, Tseng won three of her first five tournaments but missed three cuts and failed to crack the top 50 in five mid-season events.

Tseng will begin her Australian Open campaign in the same group as young guns Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko on Thursday morning.

”I know it’s been a tough year for me but, when I look back, I have three wins, I have 12 top 10s, so that’s still pretty good because all the people are putting high expectations on me, even myself,” Tseng said.

”Last year, I looked at lots of press and the news – it drove me crazy, people saying ‘Yani is struggling’ and ‘Yani can’t play golf any more’.

”I know winning is not easy and I feel very lucky right now.

”I just want to focus on enjoying this week, enjoying my travelling and just keep smiling.”

Leading Australian Karrie Webb couldn’t help but smile when asked about Tseng’s so-called ”rough patch” last year.

”Yeah, that was a terrible year she had last year – three wins, $1.5 million [prizemoney]. I would have hated to have had a year like that,” Webb said.

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“There’s been a lot of people who have been around the club for a long time as well, and they’ve all helped contribute to the success that we’ve had” … John Hutchinson.JOHN HUTCHINSON is on track to become the first player to complete a decade of service with the Central Coast Mariners after agreeing to a contract extension until 2015.
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The 33-year-old joined the Gosford club upon their entry into the A-League in 2005 after a decade in the National Soccer League, first with home-town club Morwell Falcons, then with Northern Spirit.

His time with the Mariners was broken only by a four-month loan spell in 2011. That was with their sister club, Chinese side Chengdu Blades, then under the guidance of inaugural Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna.

After looking as though his career might be wound up by the emergence of several brilliant youngsters at Central Coast, Hutchinson – who played his early career as an attacking left-winger – reinvented himself as a holding midfielder in the past two seasons, effectively filling the hole left by Rostyn Griffiths.

The club will commemorate his decade at Bluetongue Stadium with a testimonial match to be played before the next A-League season.

”It would be good if that happened and if it does I’d like a lot of people to come back and celebrate the day with me,” Hutchinson said. ”There’s been a lot of people who have been around the club for a long time as well, and they’ve all helped contribute to the success that we’ve had.”

Despite having played in three grand finals without tasting the ultimate success, Hutchinson is proud of topping the table twice with the Mariners. Coach Graham Arnold, widely credited with transforming and extending Hutchinson’s career, said the Maltese international was the kind of player you could build a club around. ”’Hutch’ … is one of the true servants of the club,” Arnold said.

■ Brisbane Roar captain Matt Smith will miss the rest of the season after hip surgery. He will be out for up to four months. “I am bitterly disappointed to be out for the rest of the season,” Smith said.

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ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA prop Dan Hunt has thrown his support behind coach Steve Price, saying the embattled mentor had the approval of the team.
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Following Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy’s decision to reject the Dragons, Hunt, who won a 2005 Jersey Flegg premiership under Price, said the coach should be the club’s long-term option.

”I’ve got a great relationship with him and he knows how to get the best out of me,” Hunt said.

”I’d love him to stay as our coach. I don’t think there is a decision to be made. Pricey is our coach for 2013 and we’ll deal with whatever comes in the future.”

The Dragons’ four-month pursuit of the premiership-winning coach ended when Bellamy committed to the Storm until at least the end of 2016 on Monday.

Although St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust said he would work through potential coaching options, Hunt insisted the innuendo had not been a distraction.

”We’ve got Pricey’s back all the way,” Hunt said.

”We weren’t too worried about the Bellamy stuff; we don’t really buy into that type of stuff.

”We’ve got our ranks pretty closed and we’re buying into what Pricey is coaching and we believe in him. I think it’s disrespectful to Pricey to talk about it; he is a really good coach.”

A slight calf strain has kept Hunt, 26, in Wollongong as most of his teammates prepare for their first hit-out of the season against North Queensland in Cairns on Saturday.

Hunt, fellow prop Michael Weyman (knee) and the overlooked centre Nathan Green are among the top players not travelling with the squad. He expects to play in next Friday’s annual Charity Shield clash against South Sydney.

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Grounding the ball … last year’s awarding of Billy Slater’s try against Manly would not be a try this year.REFEREE boss Daniel Anderson has appointed former players Luke Patten, Matt Rodwell and Justin Morgan as video referees for 2013.
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Anderson, who also intends to have two officials in the video referees’ box for all matches, announced the trio as part of a push from the former NRL coach to increase the number of former players among the refereeing ranks.

The trio will take part in a level-one referees course before the start of the season, with Patten to make his debut alongside Steve Clark in the Charity Shield match on Friday, February 22.

”They will be part of a two-man team to ensure no errors occur upstairs,” Anderson said.

The obstruction rule, which was the subject of great debate in an error-plagued season last year, was again discussed at Wednesday’s briefing.

Anderson admitted there would still be some grey area around the rule this year but believed he had minimised the uncertainty with new interpretations.

He had instructed referees to penalise a blocker if he made any contact with the defensive line, encouraging players to stop before the line or run through it without impeding a defender.

The message had been relayed to all 16 coaches, who had worked overtime in the off season to ensure players were aware of it.

”You can’t run at defenders and initiate contact and the defensive line cannot be disadvantaged,” Anderson said.

Regardless of whether the impeded defender had any chance of making a tackle, the referees would penalise the offender, even if the infringement was made at the ruck and the try was scored out wide.

It’s an interpretation that Australian coach Tim Sheens believed could provide more obstacles than answers. Sheens was concerned coaches and players would try to exploit the rule.

But Anderson defended the decision to penalise all contact made by decoy runners, regardless of its impact on the play, and insisted there couldn’t be exceptions to the rule based on how far the play had gone after the impact.

Under the new interpretations, the attacking team would not be penalised if the defender initiated the contact on the blocker.

He also gave a detailed explanation of how the video review system would work under the new rules.

If the on-field referees wanted to double check a ruling, they would have to make a ”live decision” – try or no try – before sending it up to the video referee for review.

The decision could only be overturned if there was sufficient evidence to suggest the on-field referee’s live decision was incorrect.

”There was too much going upstairs last year,” Anderson said. ”Referees have an instinct and are usually in the best position to make a call and we want them to have the confidence to do that.”

There was also some clarification on the banned shoulder charge. A player would escape penalty if he attempted to wrap his arms around the ball-runner.Explained: The NRL’s rule adjustments

LIVE DECISION, TRY: If the referee thinks it’s a try but wants to review the play, he will signal after calling time off and initiating the review. His original decision can only be overturned if evidence suggests otherwise.

LIVE DECISION, NO TRY: The onus is on the referee to make a live decision before asking the video referee to review his initial decision. If he thinks it’s not a try, he will signal after calling time off and initiating the review. His original decision can only be overturned if evidence suggests otherwise.

GROUNDING THE BALL: Billy Slater’s try, pictured, when he grounded the ball with his arm but has lost control. It was called a try last year but would not be a try this year.

BLOCKING: Referees will penalise players who don’t attempt to catch the ball but impede the path of the chaser.

OBSTRUCTION: If a defender initiates the contact with the block runner, it is not deemed to be an obstruction.

SHOULDER CHARGE: If a defender makes no attempt to use his arms on the attacking player in the tackle, he will be penalised for a shoulder charge. The defender doesn’t have to wrap his arms around the ball carrier but must at least attempt to.

OBSTRUCTION: If the block runner initiates contact with a defender, the attacking team will be penalised, even if the impeded player has no chance of making a tackle. The block runner must stop or run through the line.

OBSTRUCTION: The ball-runner is not permitted to run behind an active block runner, regardless of the depth, if he disadvantages the defender. A try was awarded last year but wouldn’t be this year.

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A BRITISH couple accused of killing their six children in a house fire started the blaze themselves as part of a ”plan that went horribly wrong”, a court has heard.
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Prosecutors claim that Mick Philpott, 56, and his 31-year-old wife Mairead set fire to their house in Derby, in the English Midlands, last May in a bid to frame his ex-girlfriend and claim custody of the four children they had together.

The Philpotts, along with a third defendant Paul Mosley, 46, each denied six counts of manslaughter at Nottingham Crown Court on Tuesday.

As their trial opened, Philpott sobbed and tried to leave the dock as the jury listened to the frantic telephone call the couple made to emergency services when the fire took hold in the early hours of May 11, 2012.

Mairead Philpott was heard screaming on the tape, while her husband choked back sobs and told the operator: ”I can’t get in.”

The jury heard that neighbours tried to rescue the children, aged five to 13, but were overwhelmed by smoke and flames. When police carried the children’s bodies from the house, their father had to be restrained.

”It must have been quite clear the plan had gone horribly wrong,” prosecutor Richard Latham told the court.

Philpott was overheard at the hospital saying: ”It wasn’t meant to end like this.”

Police later made secret recordings of conversations between the couple. In one extract, Philpott told his wife: ”Make sure you stick to your story.”

The jury was told the fire broke out early on the morning Philpott was due to attend court with his ex-mistress, Lisa Willis, to discuss where their children should live.

The court heard that a fortnight before the tragedy, Philpott told friends he had a plan that would help him win his children back.

”[Ms Willis] was being set up as the culprit,” Mr Latham said.

Mosley is accused of having planned with the Philpotts to rescue the children from the fire. AFP

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AN AUSTRALIAN diplomat knew that Melbourne man Ben Zygier was being held in an Israeli prison before he died in his cell, the government has admitted, amid reports that Mr Zygier was a Mossad agent known as ”Prisoner X”.
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Fairfax Media can also reveal that Mr Zygier was one of at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens being investigated in early 2010 by ASIO over suspicions they were spying for Israel.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr was forced into an embarrassing backflip yesterday as he ordered his department to investigate the Zygier case.

His office was forced to correct earlier claims that the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv knew nothing of the case until after Mr Zygier died in prison in December 2010 when his family – a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne – asked for his body to be repatriated.

In a revelation that raises questions about the extent of the Australian government’s knowledge, Senator Carr’s spokesman said an Australian diplomat – who was not the ambassador – was aware that Mr Zygier, 34, was being held by Israeli authorities.

The revelation follows a report by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent that said Mr Zygier was the notorious ”Prisoner X”, an inmate held in the utmost secrecy in a special section of Israel’s maximum security Ayalon prison.

The report stated Mr Zygier, a husband and father of two, moved to Israel around 2000 and became a Mossad spy. But something went tragically wrong with his intelligence activities and he reportedly committed suicide in a tightly guarded cell, where he was held in solitary confinement.

His father, Geoffrey Zygier, executive director for B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, did not comment on Wednesday.

The government acknowledges Mr Zygier died in jail but Senator Carr’s spokesman could not confirm that it was Ayalon prison. The Foreign Affairs Department refused to say who the official was or when it knew of the case, saying only that the department would hold an ”internal review” of its handling of the case.

As Fairfax Media reported in 2010, ASIO was investigating at least three dual citizens for their links to Mossad. Mr Zygier was one of them. It is understood Mr Zygier changed his name to Ben Allen and obtained an Australian passport in his name that allowed him to travel to countries such as Iran and Syria that normally bar entry to Israelis.

The issue has sparked a political storm in Israel, where opposition politicians demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lift a veil of secrecy surrounding Mr Zygier’s imprisonment and death and brief the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

Outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neema vowed that ”if true, the matter must be looked into”.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy refused to comment. But the Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, who by chance met the Israeli ambassador on Wednesday, said she had expressed her concerns about the case and ”he has undertaken to communicate my concerns back to the appropriate officials in Israel”.

Warren Reed, a former officer with Australia’s external intelligence agency ASIS, said it was implausible that an ambassador would not be told of an Australian national being held in prison – whether or not his knowledge would be acknowledged. ”On anything like that, the ambassador would be personally briefed,” he said. ”They would have to be aware of something potentially that big and explosive.”

Kevin Rudd, who was foreign affairs minister at the time of Mr Zygier’s death, said through a spokesman he supported the DFAT review of the case.

Greens leader Christine Milne urged Senator Carr to take up the issue with Israel.

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GATHERED on one side of the cabinet table were the newly-installed Prime Minister Julia Gillard, her Treasurer Wayne Swan and her Resources Minister Martin Ferguson. On the other were the heads of Australia’s three big mining companies: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.
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Absent were the key people from the Treasury – the ones who really understood the tax being discussed.

As the then Treasury head Ken Henry later told a Senate committee: “We were not involved in the negotiations, other than in respect of crunching the numbers if you like and in providing due diligence on design parameters that the mining companies themselves came up with.”

The smartest people were kept out of the room. They were ferried draft agreements and asked to examine them quickly. They were unable to test with the miners the propositions they were putting to the government.

The 1½-page heads of agreement signed by the ministers and executives on July 1, 2010, replaced the 40 per cent resource super profits tax with a much weaker 30 per cent minerals resource rent tax applying only to coal and iron ore. An “extraction allowance” cut the actual rate paid to 22.5 per cent. It would be paid only if the profits themselves reached a much higher hurdle.

And then there was the drafting error.

The agreement allowed “all state and territory royalties” to be deducted from the tax.

Ferguson thought the words referred to “royalty rates that applied, or changes to royalty rates that were scheduled to apply in the future, as at 2 May 2010”.

The interpretation made sense. Those were the royalty rates referred to in the original super profits tax. Agreeing to refund whatever any state government chose to charge in the future would expose the Commonwealth to an uncontrollable expense.

But read baldly, that’s what the ministers had signed up to.

Western Australia promptly lifted its iron ore royalty from 5.6 per cent to 7.5 per cent. It now grabs money the ministers believed the federal government would get.

Appearing before the Senate, treasury official David Parker later tried to explain the less-than-precise drafting this way: “This is a document which is 1½ pages long. One could say that the heads of agreement is, to use a musical analogy, a rather staccato document.”

The agreement allowed the mining companies to do more than deduct their royalty payments from the new tax. It allowed them to ”grow” the amount they could deduct at the long term bond rate plus 7 per cent, if low profits meant they owed less resource tax than the royalty payments.

The concession means the miners are unlikely to pay much of the new mining tax for some time to come.

Julia Gillard and her ministers brought peace on July 1 2010, but at a heavy financial price.

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No comment … John Singleton and Ray Hadley.SYDNEY’S 2GB radio station is in crisis after a clash between morning show star Ray Hadley and the network’s managing director which has embroiled the company’s biggest shareholder, John Singleton.
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Sources told Fairfax Media that Macquarie Radio Network’s managing director, Rob Loewenthal, had on Tuesday suspended Hadley for the rest of this week for allegedly verbally abusing Richard Palmer, a young digital content manager who had been hired last October to improve 2GB’s website.

But Hadley, unhappy with his suspension, phoned his friend John Singleton, sources said.

Singleton, the majority owner of Macquarie Radio, decided that Hadley would remain on air, overruling his managing director.

Embarrassingly, Loewenthal had already allowed an email to be sent to staff on Tuesday telling them Hadley would not appear on his show until the following Monday.

The alleged bullying is understood to have happened last Thursday morning while the staff of The Ray Hadley Morning Show were preparing for the day’s program. Hadley summoned Palmer into his office and verbally abused him in front of his staff, accusing him of not uploading a podcast quickly enough, sources said.

Hadley was angry because ”[Palmer] was running the IT and he suggested that Ray’s staff could do more of the production work, more uploading. They disagreed. Ray backed his staff”.

“[Hadley] dragged this bloke in and humiliated him”, one source, who had been briefed on the matter, said. Palmer was “visibly upset, crying”.

Palmer formally complained to Loewenthal, who took the unusually serious step of suspending the network’s star presenter, before Singleton intervened.

Neither Hadley nor Singleton returned calls on Wednesday. The Macquarie Radio chairman, Russell Tate, declined to comment, as did Loewenthal. Palmer would not comment.

A source familiar with the situation said: ”You’ve got a majority shareholder who makes it very hard for experienced management to make a call, when the bloke who owns all the shares intervenes.”

This week is not the first time Hadley has been accused of displaying an excessive temper.

Last October he denied allegations that he or his police officer son assaulted a 17-year-old boy at a party held at their north-western Sydney home. Hadley admitted to his listeners that he did have to ”escort” the drunken 17-year-old off his property but at no time was the boy attacked by anyone.

At the same time Hadley was being disciplined for alleged bullying in Sydney, the Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, was announcing new measures aimed at clamping down on workplace bullying, including a mechanism that would allow victims to seek help from the Fair Work Commission.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

When Brooke Clark spent a day getting primped and preened for a retro-style Valentine’s Day photo shoot that channelled her heroine Marilyn Monroe, she wasn’t doing it for a man.
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The $650 Valentine’s Day package was a gift to herself.

”I love myself. Why should Valentine’s Day be only for people in a relationship?” says Ms Clark, a 23-year-old drama teacher from Moorebank.

Jodi G, who was shot surrounded by a huge red heart wearing vintage lingerie, is a lover of all things retro, right down to vintage cars.

“All my life I’ve been into the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s,” says Ms G, a 41-year-old from Sandy Point in Sydney’s south.

She plans to give her glam photos to her boyfriend of 20 years on Valentine’s Day, hoping they will take the relationship ”up a notch”.

While sexy pin-up photographs of women like Betty Grable were originally created by men for men, the tables have been turned in what could be the ”pin-up girls’ ultimate revenge”, says the American art historian Maria Elena Buszek. She says a new generation of artists are remaking the pin-up by celebrating their bodies and taking control by posing for mostly female photographers.

”Why should the frat boys be the only one to appreciate a curvy figure?” writes Ms Buszek in Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture.

Most women do the photo shoots for their own pleasure, says Sasha Dobies, whose retro photography studio, Sherbet Birdie at St Peters, worked its Valentine’s Day magic on this reporter and Ms G. They produce beautiful photos that look cheeky and sexy, yet suitable for hanging on the wall where anyone, from a mother-in-law to the neighbour’s children, can see them.

”Women are taking power over their bodies, over their sexuality and their appearance … and using it in a way that isn’t about men,” Ms Dobies says. ”It’s a non-threatening, non-sexual way to do something where you get to reveal parts of your body … and where you get to luxuriate in an hour-glass figure.”

The curvy retro style is attractive to today’s Australian women, says Bek Morris of the retro photography studio Bexterity in Campbelltown.

” I get a lot of curvier women saying they’re so glad they can find clothes that suit them,” Ms Morris says.

”No one caters these days to women who have actual body shapes, with boobs and bums. Most clothes are made for size six supermodels.”

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WHEN Ben Zygier died in a maximum-security prison in Israel he was under investigation by the spy agency ASIO, which suspected him of using his Australian passport to spy for Israel, Fairfax Media can reveal.
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Benji, as he was known by those close to him in Jerusalem’s Jewish community, reacted angrily when Fairfax Media confronted him in early 2010 with allegations that he was working for the Israeli security agency Mossad. “Who the f–k are you?” an incredulous Mr Zygier told Fairfax’s then Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis. “What is this total bullshit you are telling me?”

He expressed shock at the suggestion he was under any kind of surveillance and said that he had also changed his name for personal reasons.

”I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to,” Mr Zygier said. ”I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”

“He was at first angry, then exasperated that I wouldn’t accept his denials at what I was putting to him,” Koutsoukis said. “He told me he was like any other Australian who had made aliyah and was trying to make a life in Israel.”

Fairfax Media spoke to Mr Zygier after learning that ASIO was investigating at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens who had all emigrated to Israel

in the previous decade. ASIO would not comment. On Wednesday the agency again refused to comment.

Each of the men had travelled back to Australia separately to change their names and obtain a new passport, two intelligence sources said at the time in Koutsoukis’s story, published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

One man had changed his name three times, with others having changed theirs twice, the source said, from names that identified them as European-Jewish to ones that were Anglo-Australian.

The men had used the new passports to travel to Iran, Syria and Lebanon – all countries that do not recognise Israel and do not allow entry to Israelis, or anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport. Israel also bans its citizens from travelling to these countries for security reasons.

Fairfax Media was investigating the men’s involvement with a European communications company that has a subsidiary in the Middle East. The company’s chief executive denied the men were ever employed by the organisation.

It is believed Mr Zygier travelled back to Australia in 2009 to attend Monash University, where he was doing an MBA. Along with his Ben Zygier identity, he also used Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows.

A source observed him over several days sitting with a group of students from Saudi Arabia and Iran at the university’s Caulfield campus. The source said: ”[Australian Taxation Office] records from 2008 show that he applied for and was approved a HECS loan for postgraduate studies at Monash University where he is currently [November 2009] studying.”

Since 2006, Monash University has been involved in education in Middle Eastern countries.

Apart from his move to Israel and his MBA study, little is known about Mr Zygier’s movements over the decade before he died, except that he was working in insurance law at the Australian firm Deacons in March 2002.

It was well known that Israel approached immigrants to assist Israel by handing over their passports, an Israeli intelligence expert told Fairfax Media in 2010.

It is understood the ASIO investigation into Mr Zygier and the two other men began at least six months before the January 10, 2010, assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, widely believed to have been carried out by Mossad using passports obtained from Australia and Europe.

Three of those suspected of taking part in the assassination were travelling on Australian passports, using the names of dual Australian-Israeli citizens, authorities in Dubai confirmed.

There is no suggestion that the three Australian names linked to Mabhouh’s assassination are connected to Mr Zygier or the other men being investigated by ASIO.

After initially denying Australia had any knowledge that one of its citizens was detained in Israel, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, said some officers in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were aware.

The revelations raise questions about how much the Australian government knew about the conditions under which Mr Zygier was being held in the maximum security Ayalon Prison.

The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program, which named Mr Zygier as ”Prisoner X”, said he hanged himself in a cell that was meant to be suicide-proof.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.