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.

LONDON: 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 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, Mr Philpott tried to leave the dock as the jury listened to the telephone call the couple made to emergency services when the fire took hold in the early hours of May 11. Mrs Philpott was heard screaming on the tape, while her husband 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.

Mr 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, Mr Philpott told his wife: ”Make sure you stick to your story.”

The jury heard that the fire broke out on the morning Mr Philpott was due to attend court with his ex-mistress, Lisa Willis, to discuss where their children should live. He had made numerous reports to the police that Ms Willis had threatened him and his family, Mr Latham said.

The family had previously lived under unconventional arrangements, with Mr Philpott, his wife and Ms Willis sharing a home with the 10 children, plus a child Ms Willis had by another man. But Ms Willis had broken up with Mr Philpott three months before the fire and taken her children with her.

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

Agence France-Presse

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WASHINGTON: The liberal President who emerged from the election and reintroduced himself at last month’s inauguration reappeared at the State of the Union address, outlining a second-term agenda that would tax the rich, boost the minimum wage and force action on climate change.
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With damaging automatic spending cuts set to begin in just over a fortnight, Barack Obama ignored Republican demands to cut the deficit, instead promising policies to stabilise spending, while increasing revenue by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and maintaining benefits.

”We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama was even more aggressive on climate change, insisting that if Congress failed to pass legislation to cut carbon pollution, he would direct cabinet to come up with executive actions his office could take.

As he spoke, he was repeatedly interrupted by ovations from Democrats, while the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, glowered over his shoulder, offering only occasional applause.

As expected Mr Obama detailed immigration reforms, calling for changes to allow many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens – a measure the Republican Party has embraced.

More controversially, he said he would pursue an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

”Working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher,” he said.

On foreign policy, Mr Obama announced a further 34,000 troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year and signalled the US would continue its war against terrorism with a far smaller commitment of troops, suggesting drone strikes would remain crucial.

”We will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali,” he said.

Mr Obama promised to ”maintain the best military in the world”. Tellingly, in the next breath, he spoke of reducing waste, suggesting the Pentagon would face budget cuts.

The strongest rhetoric of the speech was reserved for gun control. Mr Obama introduced the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot dead in a park in Chicago last week, as he addressed his proposed gun reforms.

Sitting with the first lady, they were among two dozen people affected by gun violence invited to attend, including a police officer shot 12 times responding to a shooting in a Sikh temple.

”They deserve a vote [in Congress],” Mr Obama said. ”Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

”The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

”The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

”The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote,” he said to swelling tears and cheers within the chamber.

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Shortage … a recruitment push by the government to boost the number of teachers has not been very successful.A $16 MILLION federal Labor commitment to stem the shortage of maths and science teachers by fast-tracking bankers, accountants and engineers into classrooms has recruited only 14 participants.
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The Teach Next scheme was announced by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, during the 2010 election, when she promised that Labor would bring 450 mid-career professionals into teaching over four years.

Teach Next was supposed to help address teacher shortages in regional and hard-to-staff schools and reduce the numbers teaching outside subject areas.

However, just 14 participants have been placed in schools after two intakes and every state and territory, except Victoria and the ACT, has declined to participate or has pulled out.

Half of the promised funding – $8.1 million – had been redirected to Teach for Australia, a program that places high-achieving non-teaching graduates in disadvantaged schools.

Participants in Teach Next are parachuted into schools after six weeks’ intensive training at Victoria’s Deakin University, eventually earning a postgraduate diploma of teaching after two years. Grants of up to $10,000 are offered to contribute to course costs and assist with relocation.

”This is about bringing people into teaching from all walks of life,” Ms Gillard said when she announced the scheme at her old school in Adelaide, Unley High, in 2010. ”Teach Next will help reduce teacher shortages in crucial subject areas like maths and science and help create a teaching workforce with greater diversity.”

Associate Professor Damian Blake, from the school of education at Deakin University, said Teach Next had attracted a lot of very highly qualified people.

The first intake of the program last year attracted 71 applications and the second attracted 521 applications.

However, Professor Blake said the program had been stymied by different legislation and regulations in each state and territory. Some jurisdictions did not allow people to teach in schools unless they were fully qualified while others had requirements on teaching certain subjects.

A NSW education department spokesman said NSW had agreed to take 10 Teach Next recruits during the first year of the program, but only two candidates were identified as eligible.

A spokeswoman for the federal School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the number of states which had chosen not to offer vacancies had reduced the number of teachers taking part.

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Julia Gillard meets Lowitja O’Donoghue yesterday.IT WAS a day unlike any other in the national Parliament since the 2010 federal election, and no one called it better than the man who is often held responsible for the bitterly combative atmosphere that has dominated what passes for political debate.
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”So much of what happens here passes people by. Sometimes it even annoys them,” Tony Abbott observed. ”May this be an occasion when the Parliament lifts people’s spirits, makes them feel more proud of our country and more conscious of our potential to more often be our best selves.”

Earlier in his remarks, the Opposition Leader congratulated Julia Gillard on the ”fine” speech that preceded his own. ”So often in this place we are protagonists,” he said. ”Today, on this matter, we are partners and collaborators.” And they were.

The occasion was the passage through the House of Representatives of legislation to recognise the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – and generate momentum for recognition in the nation’s founding document.

That it coincided with the fifth anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations delivered by Kevin Rudd, and was witnessed by many of the country’s most respected indigenous leaders, made it all the more poignant.

Kevin Rudd wasn’t there, but only because he was honouring an undertaking to address a reconciliation event marking the anniversary in Adelaide.

As remarkable as the level of unity was the capacity of Gillard and Abbott for plain speaking. While Gillard spoke of ending ”the great Australian silence” and healing the ”fabric of the nation”, Abbott was even more evocative and direct.

”This is the stain on our soul that prime minister Keating so movingly evoked at Redfern 21 years ago,” he said, noting that Australia was a blessed nation in every respect but one – the failure to ”make peace” with the first Australians.

”We have to acknowledge that pre-1788, this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now and, until we have acknowledged that, we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people,” Abbott said.

”We only have to look across the Tasman to see how it all could have been done so much better. Thanks to the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand two peoples became one nation. So, our challenge is to do now in these times what should have been done 200 or 100 years ago: to acknowledge Aboriginal people in our country’s foundation document. In short, we need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people.”

The immediate result was to inject a large dose of confidence into those who will lead the campaign for constitutional recognition, including emerging indigenous leaders Jason Glanville and Tanya Hosch, who put the case for change to the National Press Club.

”Lots of us were surprised and delighted by not just the bipartisanship, but by the language that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition used to describe what’s possible,” Glanville, the chief executive of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, said later.

But, for all the goodwill and optimism reflected in the passing of the legislation, four questions were left hanging after the hugs and the handshakes – questions that will determine whether the referendum ultimately succeeds or fails.

The first concerns the wording of the question, and whether it will reflect the recommendations of the expert panel, co-chaired by Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler, who toiled for more than a year before producing a 300-page report on the best way forward.

Rather than simply suggest a minimalist new preamble that acknowledged Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and risk being defeated because it was tokenistic, half-hearted and, according to the panel’s legal advice, capable of having unintended consequences, the panel proposed meaningful change.

It said the recognition should be included in the body of the constitution; that the last vestiges of racism in the constitution should be repealed (including the section that contemplates state laws that exclude indigenous Australians from voting); that indigenous languages be recognised as part of the national heritage; and that there be an explicit prohibition of racial discrimination.

The latter suggestion prompted the concern, articulated by Abbott, that ”we have some reservations about anything that might turn out to be a one-clause bill of rights”.

Abbott alluded to the challenge during his speech on Wednesday, when he spoke of the need to come up with a form of words that satisfies ”reasonable people” as being fair to all.

”It won’t necessarily be straightforward to acknowledge the first Australians without creating new categories of discrimination which we must avoid, because no Australian should feel like a stranger in their own country,” he said, before adding: ”I believe that we are equal to this task of completing our constitution rather than changing it.”

Dodson reflects the view of the panel when he says the prohibition on discrimination has nothing to do with a bill of rights and everything to do with eradicating the inherent racism that is embedded in the constitution. Moreover, he says the recommendations flowed from a year-long consultation process and advice from the country’s most eminent constitutional lawyers.

While the wording of the referendum question will be developed by a parliamentary committee, Dodson says any retreat from the panel’s recommendations would have to be negotiated.

Tanya Hosch, the deputy director of the recognition campaign, is confident that fears about the proposed change will be allayed as people become more informed.

”It’s important to remember people had equal concerns about native title and Mabo,” she says. ”They had equal concern about the apology and the sky didn’t fall in. Instead, we’ve become stronger and better as a nation.”

The second question is when the referendum will be put. The original plan was for it to be put at or before the September 14 federal election. As Gillard explained on Wednesday, this prospect had seemed very ”close at hand” at the time of the apology, but became problematic after the 2010 poll produced a hung Parliament.

”In difficult and volatile times, we have not yet found the settled space in our national conversation to make the promised referendum a reality,” she said.

While Gillard’s expectation is that legislation for a referendum will pass next year, Abbott spoke of the next Parliament – that is, the next three years – finishing ”the work that this one has begun”.

Like the expert panel, Hosch and Glanville are not hung up on a time frame, saying the important thing is to put the referendum when it has the best prospects of being overwhelmingly supported. ”We need to remember that in 1967 they campaigned for more than 10 years with meagre resources to get that result,” says Hosch.

That referendum resulted in indigenous people being counted in the census and gave the federal government the power to make laws for their benefit, but fell short of recognition.

The third question is whether the campaign is capable of winning the kind of support that saw the 1967 referendum not only succeed, but win almost 91 per cent of the popular vote, remembering that Australian voters have approved just eight of the 44 referendums put to them since federation, most recently in 1977, and the record under Labor is even worse – just one success in 25 attempts.

Here, the challenge is to do more than promote recognition as simply correcting an oversight of the constitution’s architects – and the speeches by Hosch and Glanville go a long way to highlighting some of the practical consequences of recognition.

Hosch spoke of the role recognition could play in safeguarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture – and enabling ”our children and grandchildren” to be enriched by it. ”Some will dismiss this as symbolism, and say it won’t change a thing; won’t educate a single child; won’t create a single job and won’t improve health, life expectancy and living standards,” she said.

”That’s not only beside the point, it’s plain wrong. Symbolic statements not only have intrinsic worth, they remind us of duties and obligations to each other. Who would dismiss the Gettysburg Address as a mere symbol? It changed America.”

Glanville spoke of the impact of the apology, which resonated deep into his own family history, describing it as a watershed in Australian history.

”It was the day we faced the truth about a searing chapter of our history. And that truth has helped to heal many. There is still much pain, but I know people today who are mentally and physically healthier since that moment, and I have no doubt it is because of what Kevin Rudd did and said that day,” he said.

”To my mind, constitutional recognition would have a similar power for the whole of the indigenous community. I only wish such a moment had come sooner, for the sake of those who needed to see it most.”

A final question, and one that deeply worries veterans of the 1967 campaign such as Lowitja O’Donoghue and Shirley Peisley, is whether the referendum is capable of garnering the support of the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Among those who are, at best, still to be convinced, is Kutcha Edwards, the singer, songwriter and activist who was taken from his family the year of the 1967 referendum and had five siblings who were ”stolen and institutionalised”.

In the foreword to Where Were You?, a book published to mark the fifth anniversary of the apology, he writes: ”The inter-generational trauma still needs to be healed. The memories don’t stop. The scars are on our souls.”

Edwards stresses that he doesn’t want to be disrespectful and that he isn’t speaking for his family, but says: ”I want to remain a sovereign Mutti Mutti man. That’s just me. I’m all for walking down the road together, but I don’t want to concede my sovereignty. If they want us to move forward, sign a treaty.”

Herein lies another question: will a successful referendum represent a final settlement between those who were here first and those who invaded? Or will it be like the apology: another important and long-overdue step towards ”making peace” with the first Australians.

In truth, constitutional change would not constitute the last chapter in Australia’s reconciliation journey. But it would, as Jason Glanville put it, constitute a fresh start.

Michael Gordon is national editor.

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EIGHT years ago, the mental health of the St John of God brother William Lebler was considered so poor he had to keep a card containing important information handy.
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His ”early stage dementia” and ”borderline mental retardation” was presented as so bad that a magistrate released him from having to face trial on horrific child abuse charges, including 14 indecent assaults on a child under 12.

But this week there was no information card in sight nor any form of official supervision when Fairfax Media found Br Lebler enjoying a purposeful morning’s outing into Sydney’s bustling city centre.

His solo outing began about 11am on Monday when he was seen arriving in a cab in Pitt Street, after which he had coffee in a cafe.

Then walking slowly with a cane, he moved on to Pilgrim’s House, where he appeared to attend a meeting. An hour later, he was back outside the cafe where he sat with a man and a woman who later walked down the street chatting to him.

Br Lebler’s outing has raised concerns that even as inquiries into child abuse involving religious institutions get under way in NSW and at the national level, suspected paedophiles associated with religious orders are still not being properly supervised.

The need for tougher mental health assessments on suspected offenders is also being felt, especially those connected to the Catholic Order of St John of God.

It is understood Br Lebler was one of several brothers associated with the order who have been allowed to move about unsupervised despite being implicated in allegations relating to when they worked at the order’s school at Morisset and at orphanages in Melbourne’s outer east and in New Zealand.

In 2005, Br Lebler was the subject of an unsuccessful extradition attempt by New Zealand authorities for charges of abuse at the Marylands School in Christchurch in the 1950s and ’60s.

During the hearing, the NSW Local Court magistrate Hugh Dillon heard evidence that the then 83-year-old Br Lebler suffered from borderline dementia and other old-age-related mental health issues.

Mr Dillon noted evidence that Br Lebler kept a card handy to remind himself of important information.

As a result of this and other evidence relating to Br Lebler’s mental state, he ruled that Br Lebler would not be able to mount any defence other than to say ”I don’t remember” and would not get a fair trial due to ”his infirmity and the passage of time”.

When Fairfax Media attempted to speak to Br Lebler this week, he turned around but then his companions moved to block the filming and Br Lebler left by himself in a taxi.

His trip to the CBD has outraged and concerned those who counselled his alleged victims.

The psychologist Michelle Mulvihill, who was employed by the order to counsel the alleged victims in the late 1990s, described Br Lebler as ”having the second biggest list of complainants” associated with his time at the order’s homes and schools in Victoria and NSW.

Dr Mulvihill said she was not surprised at Br Lebler’s day out, adding that it proved the order was not supervising suspects and there were questions about his actual mental state eight years ago.

Efforts to contact Br Lebler on Tuesday, at the Surry Hills aged care facility, were unsuccessful.

Head of the St John of God order in Australia Provincial Br Timothy Graham said while Br Lebler had travelled in a taxi unaccompanied he was met by his sponsor when he went to attend an Alcoholics Annymous meeting the city.

”Brother Lebler religiously attends AA meetings,” he said.

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WARATAHS coach Michael Cheika has called for an end to Australia’s cumbersome two-pronged player contracting system.
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Faced with 21 of his 35-man squad coming off contract at the end of this year, many of whom are Wallabies, Cheika said the system was a nightmare to work within.

”We make it more difficult for ourselves by having the two components,” he said at the Super Rugby season launch in Melbourne on Wednesday. ”It’s not great, in a competitive environment, having it split like that. It should be one negotiation, [the franchises and the ARU] should be working together in one negotiation because our goals should be the same.”

In Australia a Super Rugby side signs a player for a certain amount before the ARU agrees to a ”top-up” payment in the case of players wanted for Wallabies duties. It can create uncertainty when a club offers what it believes it can to keep a player but the ARU’s valuation either does not make the deal competitive enough against another team’s or is at odds with the club’s assessment.

Recent examples were Test halfback Will Genia, who agreed to terms with the Force before a last-ditch bid by the Reds kept him in Queensland, and five-eighth Quade Cooper. The Reds signed Cooper on a three-year deal but dissatisfaction with the ARU component on Cooper’s part led to a months-long stalemate that escalated into a full-blown and costly public meltdown.

In the case of the Waratahs, Cheika faces a triple threat this year. Under the limitations of a salary cap, he has to balance players such as Berrick Barnes, Sitaleki Timani and Wycliff Palu – who have signalled their intent to play overseas – several long-time Wallabies he hopes to retain, plus a handful of players who stepped into the Test arena for the first time last year and will be looking for improved deals and ARU top-ups.

”What I have to do, especially with the players who are on top-ups with the ARU, is make the place as difficult as possible to leave,” he said.

”Obviously we do our best from the financial side and we hope the ARU values the player as much as we do. That’s what it comes down to.”

The situation is much the same for the other provinces, although they have fewer Wallabies to factor in.

In New Zealand, the NZRU centrally contracts all players then tops them up if they make national teams.

Last year’s Arbib review found Australia’s federated structure had worsened the divide between Super Rugby teams and the ARU, but ARU chairman Michael Hawker backed ”central organisation but local delivery” as the best model.

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Jane DeGabriel, left, and Deb Stevenson monitor the bats in the park lands.IT IS hard to work out where the racket is coming from among a rustic clump of stringybarks in Centennial Park. Then the black blobs hanging from the branches become visible: a colony of perhaps 1000 grey-headed flying foxes has set up camp, chirping, screeching and wriggling their way through another misty morning.
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”What you can hear are alert calls, babies calling to their mothers, and territorial calls as well,” said the CSIRO ecologist Adam McKeown. ”At this time of year, males are just starting to establish territories, younger males are play fighting with each other.”

It’s census time for flying foxes, as scientists try to work out how vulnerable the species is. Though listed as protected, it has been eight years since a survey was completed, and not all bat colonies, known as ”camps”, were studied at the same time.

Starting on Thursday, a three-day national effort involving hundreds of volunteers from NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT will all count bats using the same method, and be repeated every three months over a four-year period if funding continues.

It should show whether the best estimate of between 300,000 and 400,000 remaining bats is accurate, and whether the population is in serious decline, as other studies have found.

Some experts have said the species, so often maligned as messy, noisy nibblers of fruit trees, could be ”functionally extinct” in the wild by 2050.

Part of the problem is flying foxes are notoriously mobile – colonies constantly reform and move – and bats can travel up to 120 kilometres a night to forage for food.

”Bats move around – these animals here in Centennial Park might be in Gordon tomorrow,” said Jane DeGabriel, a programs and policy officer with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Ms DeGabriel was undertaking a training program before the census, being run by the CSIRO, to ensure bat watchers across eastern Australia will all use the same counting methods.

There are thought to be roughly 300 grey-headed flying fox camps in eastern Australia and researchers plan to measure as many of them as possible between Thursday and Saturday.

The program is supported by the NSW Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, who promised that the state would commit resources to the full four-year study.

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Fairfax journalist Julie Power having finishing touches applied before her photoshoot.MY TRANSFORMATION from an average Aussie woman to a 1950s pin-up gal took three hours and a small bottle of champagne.
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To get the hourglass figure idealised in the 1940s and ’50s, I was trussed, plucked and taped. A girdle shaved four inches off my waistline. Sparkly Wizard of Oz shoes lengthened my legs.

I had to learn to jut my hip out just so, how to angle my foot inward so it looked longer and leaner (a technique perfected by the father of pin-up photography, Gil Elvgren) and hold my hand in an unnatural shape.

Funnily enough, my legs were shot separately to my body – and photoshopped back on later – because it was impossible to keep them that way for very long.

My shoulders were pushed back. I sucked in my stomach on command to add definition to my shape.

My hair was set in tight rollers and laquered with 1950s American hairspray.

My ”girls”, as breasts are called in the pin-up biz, were given enough cleavage for me to share with Christina Hendricks of Mad Men.

A little black beauty spot made me feel like my mum when she competed for Miss Northern Rivers in the 1940s.

Finally, I learnt to ooh when the photographer Sasha Dobies surprised me in sexy lingerie hiding behind a big red book.

By the time it was over, I felt hot, I felt beautiful. But the photos were too much for my twin sons and my partner. He said: ”I liked the old Julie.” You’ve got me. Happy Valentine’s Day, darling.

Julie Power’s makeover was provided free of charge by SherbetBirdie南京夜网.

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Ian Macdonald arrives at the ICAC inquiry.IAN MACDONALD’s business partner, who is considered a ”crucial witness” in a corruption inquiry is understood to have checked himself into a mental-health centre.
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John Gerathy, the business partner and lawyer of disgraced former minister Ian Macdonald, has told the Independent Commission Against Corruption he is ill and unable to give evidence.

The Herald has learnt that Mr Gerathy, who was due to appear this week, has told investigators he will not be well enough to attend.

The inquiry is investigating allegations that Mr Macdonald, as resources minister, subverted a government coal tender for the financial benefit of his friend and colleague Eddie Obeid. Mr Obeid and Mr Macdonald are both former ALP upper house members.

It was revealed that Mr Gerathy, who has a business called Bagman Properties, has bankrolled Mr Macdonald to the tune of more than $550,000.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said Mr Gerathy was a ”crucial witness” and that it was his handwriting on documents that showed intimate knowledge of the proposed sale of Cascade Coal to publicly-listed company White Energy.

Mr Gerathy’s document noted that the Obeids, codenamed ”The Irish”, were to receive $60 million and that Mr Macdonald was to receive $4 million from his friend Greg Jones’s $60 million share of Cascade. ”This matches perfectly with the deal done by the Obeids with Cascade, did you know that?” Mr Watson asked Mr Macdonald. When he said he did not, he was asked how would his partner Mr Gerathy know about it and not him. ”John often had many businesses and operated completely and utterly independent of me. I’m not, I don’t live in his pocket,” Mr Macdonald said.

Financial records show that Mr Gerathy, who was appointed by Mr Macdonald to the Wine Council and the Homebush Motor Racing Advisory Board, has been making regular payments into Mr Macdonald’s’ bank account totalling $450,000. He repaid a $100,000 debt of Mr Macdonald’s.

Six days after the ICAC issued Mr Gerathy with a notice to produce records of financial dealings with Mr Macdonald, a caveat appeared on Mr Macdonald’s property registering the money as a loan.

”Do you see any connection between the two? It seems a bit fishy doesn’t it?” Mr Watson asked. ”Oh, it’s not fishy,” replied the former minister.

Mr Watson suggested once the Cascade sale came through, Mr Gerathy would be repaid ”and you’d be rolling in clover”. Mr Macdonald denied it.

Mr Gerathy appeared briefly at the ICAC last year when he was caught by the corruption inquiry arranging for a former clerk to remove the file of Tianda Resources from his previous law firm.

The inquiry heard damaging evidence that after Mr Macdonald appeared at a private sitting of the commission last September, he immediately rang Mr Gerathy, his good friend and business partner.

”Did you attempt to retrieve this file from Shaw Reynolds shortly after being told by Mr Macdonald that he had been called here and had been giving evidence?” Mr Watson asked Mr Gerathy at the time.

”Not, not, that is not my recollection, Mr Watson,” Mr Gerathy answered.

The file was that of his former client, Hong Kong-based businessman Alan Fang, of Tianda Resources. Mr Fang recently told the inquiry that both the Obeids and Mr Macdonald discussed doing a coal venture before Mr Macdonald called for the tenders.

Mr Gerathy’s former law partner told the inquiry last year that as soon as he discovered Mr Gerathy’s conveyancing clerk had beaten him to the Tianda file, he demanded it be returned immediately. When he opened it, crucial documents were missing.

Mr Gerathy, who denied removing any material from the file, was told he would be recalled to the witness box, but because of his illness that now seems unlikely to occur.

Mr Macdonald will return to the witness box on Thursday.

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Orange tales … the shop where Ian Macdonald says he works.LOCALS in Orange are abuzz with gossip about the former mining minister, who appears to have fallen on hard times.
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On Tuesday, Ian Macdonald told the inquiry he had been too busy to read all the transcripts of the evidence, saying: ”I do cleaning and work associated with a shop and I’m pretty busy.” Yesterday, he said again he had been occupied because ”I have to earn a living”.

Several people have spotted the 63-year-old former minister at a premium greengrocers, Fresh on Woodward, an attractive small shop that specialises in fresh produce and gourmet preserves.

Annette Nunn, who owns the butcher shop next door, said Mr Macdonald’s wife, the former bureaucrat Anita Gylseth, had been working in the grocery most days of the week, but Mr Macdonald did not seem to do much.

”I couldn’t tell you what he does there,” Ms Nunn said. ”I see him sitting out the front talking … He might take boxes out the back occasionally.”

The owner of the grocery shop, Margot Connors, said she could not comment.

But a friend of Ms Connors told the Herald the Macdonalds had intended to buy the business, but could not get a bank loan. She had been told they now hoped to lease it.

Mr Macdonald has certainly had trouble with the bank. In evidence before the ICAC on Wednesday, he explained that when he sold his home in Northbridge, anything he had left over was ploughed into paying off some of the mortgage he had over his farm on Canobolas Road in Orange.

Pressed about how he was going to repay a questionable loan to a friend’s company, Mr Macdonald said: ”I haven’t got the funds to pay it unless I sell my property, and I’ve been in the process of selling my property, properties for over a year.”

Curiously, the Central Western Daily reported this week that Mr Macdonald had in fact recently taken his property off the market.

When contacted by telephone, Ms Gylseth declined to clarify the arrangement regarding the grocery shop.

”I am not interested in you getting a story right,” she said. ”You disgust me.”

Ms Nunn said she and her husband were not impressed by the evidence that had been given to the inquiry.

”He can go and jump in the lake as far as we’re concerned.”

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