Oct 09

US deadlock sparks selloff on markets

The Australian sharemarket has slumped to its greatest daily loss in seven weeks, joining a sea of red in Asia as fears grow of a US government shutdown amid political deadlock.
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The battle between US lawmakers over the budget prompted heavy selling in the region, with the ASX/S&P 200 Index closing 1.67 per cent lower to 5218.9 points.

The Nikkei 225 closed 2.06 per cent lower, South Korea’s Kospi ended trade 0.74 per cent down, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was 1.44 per cent weaker late on Monday. Shares in London opened 1 per cent lower.

A possible short-term shutdown was expected to have ”modest macro-economic effects”, with a two-day halt in government activities forecast to shave an annualised rate of 0.1 percentage points off US fourth-quarter growth, brokerage Goldman Sachs said on Monday.

The threat of a shutdown also foreshadowed future political tussles over the debt ceiling, which is seen as a greater risk for global financial markets than the budget battle.

The Australian dollar lost ground, falling to US92.81¢ on Monday morning as investors shied away from risky assets amid the uncertainty. The currency slipped again after weaker than expected Chinese manufacturing data renewed concerns of an economic slowdown. It was buying US93.06¢ late on Monday.

Australian 10-year government bond yields were also weighed down, falling to as low as 3.76 per cent on Monday morning after closing last week at 3.88 per cent.

Yields on three-year Commonwealth government securities followed suit, falling from a close of 2.76 per cent on Friday to 2.67 per cent early on Monday.

The local currency’s slide came ahead of the RBA’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, with some economists expecting the central bank’s board to be more vocal in its statement about the need for the dollar to weaken further as Australia rebalances away from mining-led growth.

The Australian dollar was trading around US90.03¢ during the Reserve Bank’s previous meeting on September 3, but edged higher before surging more than US1.5¢ after the Fed’s decision to delay tapering its bond-buying program.

The currency reached a three-month high of US95.24¢ on September 19.

While the renewed vigour in the dollar was seen as a point of frustration for the central bank, the RBA was widely forecast to keep the cash rate on hold at a 60-year low of 2.5 per cent as activity picked up in the housing sector.

”I think they will be quite happy to sit where they are for several months,” BT Financial chief economist Chris Caton said. ”Something has to happen dramatically – to the exchange rate or to the unemployment rate – to push them to another rate cut. On the other side of the coin, now they do have something of a worry about house prices. Housing is not in a bubble in Australia, but 15 or 20 per cent from now, it could be.”

Credit growth in the private sector remained subdued, rising by 0.3 per cent in August despite expectations a busy property market would fuel increased borrowing, RBA figures released on Monday showed.

Housing credit grew modestly at 0.4 per cent, the same level of monthly growth since January. It took the increase over the past 12 months to 4.7 per cent – the strongest lift since last September.

TD Securities-Melbourne Institute’s monthly inflation gauge, also released on Monday, saw the headline reading rise 0.2 per cent in September to reach a yearly gain of 2.1 per cent, near the bottom of the Reserve’s 2 to 3 per cent target.

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Oct 09

OZ douses talk of Glencore move

OZ Minerals has poured cold water on rumours that Glencore Xstrata is preparing a takeover bid, declaring it has received no contact from the Swiss giant.
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London media speculated over the weekend that Glencore had built a ”secret” 10 per cent stake in OZ – which mines for copper and gold in South Australia – and was preparing to launch a full takeover soon.

The speculation sparked strong interest in OZ shares, which rose 6.7 per cent in early trading on Monday, but eased after OZ distanced itself from Glencore.

”The company advises it has not received a substantial shareholder notice from Glencore nor has OZ Minerals been approached by Glencore in regard to any proposal,” said OZ in a statement.

Under ASX rules, shareholders must file a ”substantial shareholder” notice as soon as they own 5 per cent or more of a company.

Local pundits were sceptical about the likelihood of a takeover, with most suggesting such a move would be at odds with Glencore’s recently stated business strategy.

Glencore has recently opted to leave most of its undeveloped assets as they are, and focus instead on developing existing operations and bolt-on acquisitions.

Much of OZ’s value relates to the undeveloped Carrapateena deposit in South Australia, with its one operating mine – the nearby Prominent Hill – being closer to the end of its life than the start, and suffering from rising costs.

Wilson HTM analyst Cameron Judd said he did not expect Glencore to mount a full takeover for OZ. ”Never say never, but I don’t think it’s likely,” he said.

Mr Judd said the outlook for copper markets was generally strong and South Australia was a good place to mine, but buying OZ Minerals would be at odds with the cost reduction process, including the sale of copper assets, that Glencore has under way.

”Glencore, or another entity with balance sheet strength, is more likely to emerge as a potential joint-venture partner at Carrapateena, and that would be a scenario I think OZ Minerals would be happy with too.”

Carrapateena is considered highly prospective, but development is several years and many millions of dollars away.

OZ shares closed just 2¢ higher at $4.43.

OZ has in recent years been seen as a likely acquirer of assets, given it has long boasted a cash pile of almost $1 billion. But that cash pile has gradually been eroded by the Carrapateena purchase and dividend payments, to the point where it stood at just $432.9 million in the August results.

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Oct 09

Credibility in reserve

The cheer squad a-wishin’ and a-hopin’ for another Reserve Bank interest rate cut is nothing if not persistent, even if they’re reduced to advising the RBA to pretend to want to trim rates again. Too bad the squad is ignoring pretty much all the available evidence pointing to the central bank leaving monetary policy right where it is.
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Even the cheer squad doesn’t expect the RBA board to move rates at its meeting on Tuesday, which is why the doves are just pleading for the bank to reinstate an explicit easing bias instead. There would be a little problem with that though: it would destroy the RBA’s credibility.

It’s a simple matter to read the minutes of the September meeting and then ask: what has changed since September 3 and has that change made looser monetary policy more or less likely?

When the minutes of Tuesday’s meeting are released, they’re likely to record that the economies of our key trading partners have mostly continued to improve. Especially, all the scaremongering about a hard landing in China has receded as a wonderful growth rate of about 7.5 per cent is confirmed.

The ripple of headlines about capital flight from some emerging markets has faded, helped somewhat by the US Federal

Reserve’s dithering over tapering. Europe’s mess is no worse and is in some ways a little better, Italian politics notwithstanding.

The threat of financial market instability induced by a possible shutdown of the US government is there, but that doesn’t scare us as much as it used to. Having been to the brink before, the view over the edge isn’t quite as scary. Besides, the threat is not without some benefit to us while it’s credited with weakening the Aussie a touch.

So the international picture does not provide an argument for an easing bias, let alone an actual cut.

Domestically, the news also has been mostly positive while the negative bits were already factored in. The big transitional bet on domestic housing continues to head in the right direction as lower interest rates do their stuff – firming prices and thus encouraging more building, albeit not enough.

And, as the RBA continues to remind us, it’s still early days for the full impact of the past couple of cuts to work their way through the system. Besides, the RBA would look a little silly cutting rates again to stimulate housing further when it’s also firing warning shots about lenders and borrowers being in danger of getting carried away.

Yes, the labour market has remained soft, but that is as expected. Indeed, the RBA credits a continuing weak labour market over the rest of this financial year with keeping inflation down even as the Aussie weakens. No surprise or change of outlook there then.

Retail sales also have been soft and Wednesday’s ABS count of August sales won’t be good, but industry liaison is likely to tell the board there has been an election-related pick-up this month. The business and consumer confidence lift in anticipation of a change of government has carried through after the event.

More importantly for the bigger policy picture, the Tweedledees of the new government are maintaining the same sort of stimulatory fiscal policy as the previous Tweedledums, so the risk of a negative shock there has receded.

Our banks are officially strong and have money to lend if people and businesses want to borrow more, which the confidence thing and the housing pick-up should in time encourage them to do.

So, all that lot points to rates remaining steady and for quite some time. The only negative over the past four weeks has been the Australian dollar’s rise on the Federal Reserve delaying the start of tapering – but that’s about them, not about us, and it is only a delay.

Thus Tuesday’s should be one of the easier board meetings, with the main interest for members being just what seeds have been sown for a rate rise some time next year.

It is entirely reasonable for the RBA to fire warning shots when it spots problems developing – and it’s wise to take heed of those warnings. Yet the extrapolation of those warnings and some price rises into talk of a housing bubble has been inflated, so to speak. Inner Sydney and Perth are not the entire Australian housing market, and even in those two hot spots, all may not be quite what it seems.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.

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Oct 09

Racing club’s election tussle

The Melbourne Racing Club could be ”compromised” as it considers a $1 billion property project during the crucial spring racing season because of a stoush over its executive committee, a court has heard.
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MRC member Alistair Ewart has asked the Victorian Supreme Court to force the club to hold fresh elections for the committee after he was disqualified last month for the dastardly crime of electioneering. Apparently running any kind of campaign is forbidden – perhaps it frightens the horses.

Club CEO Brodie Arnhold has told the court that, with the Caulfield Cup carnival in full swing, the MRC is ”currently in the busiest time of the year”.

”The administration and operation of the MRC and its ordinary activities will be compromised by the absence of three committee members for the period it would take to hold a further ballot,” Arnhold said in an affidavit. With the potential purchase of a $15 million pokies venue and $10 million of grandstand renovations at Caulfield Racecourse on the committee’s agenda, Arnhold said that ”the present point in the calendar is the time at which the absence of three committee members will result in maximum detriment to the club’s operational functionality”. And there’s the $1 billion redevelopment of former car parks around the racecourse into ”a low-medium density residential zone, a mixed-use retail precinct and an area set for use for commercial and residential accommodation” to mull over.

This is Ewart’s third stab at a spot in the committee rooms. He fell short in 2011 and was disqualified last year, also for electioneering. There is also a history of conflict between Ewart and the club, with Ewart’s trophy business, Winning Edge, winning what he told the court were ”substantial damages” in a 2009 breach of contract case. Ewart denies breaching the rules and says the MRC didn’t follow its own disciplinary rules when cancelling his nomination.

Members were not told Ewart had been rubbed out and the election went ahead with him on the ballot paper. Arnhold told the court Ewart finished last with 1262 votes and incumbents Patricia Faulkner (1436 votes), Rod Fenwick (1555 votes) and Roger Donazzan (1411 votes) were re-elected. As the club has 11,000 members, that means thousands didn’t fill in the ballot paper. Ewart didn’t succeed in stopping the committee being confirmed at the AGM and the matter remains before the courts.Kohler pulls pin

Veteran finance commentator Alan Kohler has pulled the plug on his long-running ABC TV show Inside Business in order to ”have more of a sensible working life”.

Kohler has been juggling many hats – in addition to the Sunday morning show he appears nightly on ABC TV news presenting the finance report and writes four columns a week for websites Business Spectator and Eureka Report. After 12 years of filming Inside Business on Friday, the same day he writes a mammoth missive to Eureka Report subscribers, something had to give.

He said the move had nothing to do with conflict-of-interest criticisms. Kohler has been a News employee since selling his share in Speccy and Eureka publisher AIBM to the Murdoch empire last year. The last show airs on December 1.MONA tie-up flies

Flying roo Qantas has signed a sponsorship deal with Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, prompting the usual round of mutual admiration – this time featuring gambler and MONA God (that’s what it says on his parking space) David Walsh and Qantas flack Olivia Wirth.

”We are extremely proud as Australia’s national carrier to partner with MONA and drive visitors from both Australia and overseas to experience this fantastic museum,” Wirth burbled in a press release. Drive? Shouldn’t an airline be flying them?

Got a tip?

[email protected]苏州美甲美睫培训.au

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Oct 09

Campese wins prestigious award

OneCommAwards 13093013.jpg Photo: [email protected]苏州美甲美睫培训.a Terry Campese with the Ken Stephen Medal. Photo: nrlphotos苏州美甲美睫培训
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Canberra Raiders skipper Terry Campese could have been excused for wallowing in self-pity after injury wiped out two years of his career.

Instead, he deservedly won the Ken Stephen Medal at the NRL’s One Community awards on Monday after launching his own charity to help people worse off than him.

When knee problems ruined his 2011 and 2012 seasons he set up the Terry Campese Foundation, which this year has raised about $100,000 for local causes.

After a time in his career he would prefer to forget, Campese, 29, is aware how fortunate he is.

After a Raiders season littered with mass sackings and off-field turmoil, Campese’s work is one of the many feel-good stories gone unnoticed.

”That’s what my passion is, trying to help people in need,” Campese said in a video placed on the club’s website after his nomination earlier this year.

”We’ve helped a few people along the way, it’s definitely one of those things which puts a smile on your face, and puts life in perspective as well in how lucky we are.”

Campese used some of the initial funds raised to help fund a wheelchair for Queanbeyan seven-year-old Bailey Whitton, who was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and Tourette syndrome.

He invited Bailey’s family to a Raiders game, something his mother Tracy said the family would always remember.

”I was blown away Terry introduced Bailey to his family, it meant a lot to me he included Bailey and thought of him as normal,” she said.

”He’s teaching his kids that others with disabilities are normal, they’re to be included.”

Campese received $5000 for himself and the same amount for a charity of his choice for winning the game’s biggest honour for community work.

He edged out St George Illawarra captain Ben Creagh and Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley. Fifteen players had been nominated for the award.

Campese is an ambassador for children’s charities Ronald McDonald House, CanTeen and Raising Hope.

Like many of his Raiders teammates he is also heavily involved with Menslink’s ”Silence Is Deadly” campaign, which targets teenage male depression.

”I’m very honoured to have won the Ken Stephen Medal and represent the huge number of players who spend time in the community helping those less fortunate than us,” Campese said.

”I didn’t set up my foundation for the accolades. The recognition I love is seeing people’s face when you know you’ve made a difference.”

It is the second successive year Campese has been nominated. North Queensland captain Johnathan Thurston won the medal last season.

Terry Campese Foundation director Pamela Slocum admitted on Campese’s video she ”had a few hesitations” when Campese first approached her about setting up a charity.

She now knows she needn’t have worried.

”It’s hard to run these events every year and I thought I hope he’s really into it and not just putting his name to it, because often that is the case,” she said.

”He’s smart enough to know the name Terry Campese does help a lot, but that’s not the reason he does it.”

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Sep 12

Finegan says Larkham’s got the inside running for Brumbies job

Stephen Larkham during Brumbies training this year. Photo: Melissa AdamsStephen Larkham was the playmaker that drove the ACT Brumbies’ golden era and his former captain Owen Finegan believes he will replace Jake White and bring running rugby back to Canberra.
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Finegan said the indications he got last season were Larkham was being groomed to take over the top job. He thought coaches tended to want their teams to play the way they did, which would mean a return to Brumbies rugby from the early 2000s when Larkham was wearing the No.10 jersey.

Larkham was the flyhalf when the Brumbies won both their Super Rugby championships in 2001 and 2004.

He was also one of the great Wallabies playmakers and an essential cog in the 1999 World Cup victory. He has spent three years in charge of the Brumbies back line, the last two working under White, before the South African mentor asked for a release from the club.

From his own experience, Finegan felt the potential appointment of Larkham would lead to a more expansive game plan than the simpler one adopted by White in his two years in Canberra.

”If [Larkham] was to take it over that would be one thing you would see a fundamental shift in … and the rest of the side of their game, their defence, the lineout and the set piece … will remain the same,” Finegan said.

”I can see a more, I wouldn’t say flamboyant, but their structures were fairly simple and they’ve got a team that’s been there for two years so they’ve got the ability to be a bit more adventurous.

”The way that I played the game, the way the Brumbies played, is the way I like coaching at the moment – get them to have a go, run the ball, take risks, enjoy their footy – Stephen’s no different to that.”

Finegan felt Larkham had been groomed for the senior coaching role and was the likely successor to White. While White was meant to be with the Brumbies for four years, that would be brought forward a couple of years earlier.

”I just heard Jake talk that I’ll be here for four years and by that stage Steve will be more experienced, and that’s probably just fast-tracked the succession plan that they were looking at doing,” Finegan said.

Brumbies and Wallabies legend Jeremy Paul likened it to new Melbourne coach Paul Roos’ role – lay the foundations for the next coach to take over and be successful.

The former hooker felt Larkham was the right man for the job.

”[Roos] has gone into that spot looking to prepare someone for the next level. He’s openly come out and said I’ll come in here for three years build somebody up and whether or not we win a premiership, I’ve done my job,” Paul said. ”I like what Jake’s done [in rebuilding the Brumbies], obviously not particularly happy that he’s left, but also not particularly angry towards Jake because of what he’s done in two years for the organisation.”

Paul felt promoting from within would provide greater stability for a group that was relatively inexperienced – despite making this year’s Super Rugby grand final.

”I think the trust and the confidence in regards to the playing group would lie with [forwards coach] Laurie [Fisher] and [Larkham] so my preference would be with one of those two guys.”

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Sep 12

Buddy wanted in Canberra

Lance Franklin of the Hawks. Photo: Quinn RooneyHawthorn captain clinging to hope Franklin will stay putAlastair Clarkson puzzled on Franklin’s futureBuddy the centrepiece of looming player movements
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The ACT government hopes superstar Lance Franklin will be on show in Canberra next year regardless of what jersey he’s wearing.

Franklin is likely to announce this week whether he’ll be a Hawk or a Giant next year and former Sydney coach Rodney Eade believes ”Buddy” can emulate former Swans star Tony Lockett by being the figurehead that launches the Greater Western Sydney brand on and off the field.

ACT sports minister Andrew Barr has reaffirmed his desire to pencil in Hawthorn as one of four sides GWS will play at Manuka Oval next year.

Despite winning a second premiership with Hawthorn on Saturday, the superstar forward is tipped to sign with the Giants on a multimillion dollar six-year deal.

The ACT government is two years into a 10-year deal with the Giants where one pre-season and three home-and-away games are played each season in Canberra.

The Giants played cellar dwellers St Kilda, Gold Coast and Western Bulldogs in this year’s premiership, as well as a pre-season clash with Essendon.

But the Giants still attracted higher crowds at Manuka than in Sydney this year, and Barr says it has them well placed to attract the AFL’s big hitters.

”We’ll certainly ask for it [Hawthorn match], if we don’t get it this year then maybe the year after,” he said. ”We’ve already put in our requests, which were Hawthorn, Geelong, Gold Coast, Collingwood and Sydney Swans.

”The key thing is to ensure we get a variety of different clubs playing here in the pre-season and premiership matches. Gold Coast will continue as a Manuka rivalry, but for the other slots we certainly want to rotate teams through.”

Manuka Oval is undergoing a revamp including increasing its capacity to around 15,500 after floodlights were installed last year.

An avid Hawthorn fan, Barr believes the improvements give them a realistic chance of luring the premiers.

”The facilities are being developed as we speak getting ready for the cricket World Cup, it will be a much better experience for fans and players,” he said.

”We’ve spoken with the Giants and the AFL and everyone agrees the best thing is for every team to have played the Giants in Canberra over the 10-year period.”

Eade, now Collingwood’s director of football, said Franklin’s likely arrival was a marketing boon for the Giants.

”GWS and the AFL have got to take advantage of his profile and give them a figurehead,” he said.

Eade was Swans coach when Lockett, the AFL’s all-time leading goal kicker, helped put Sydney on the map in the mid to late 1990s.

”He was an enormous drawcard, he was as important as nearly anybody else in getting us up and going and accepted in the marketplace,” Eade said.

”There’s no doubt Franklin can do that, he’s a cult figure at Hawthorn and has that attraction, he’ll be great from a marketing sense. You have to back that up with performance, and he’s proved himself to be a fantastic player.”

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Sep 12

Talking shop

AFL.Round 13. St.Kilda v Melbourne.St.Kilda’s coach Scott Watters on the side line with Leigh Montagna at the MCG.22nd June 2013.Picture Sebastian Costanzo. The Age. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoStar St Kilda midfielder Leigh Montagna could be on his way out of the club as he weighs up the prospect of on-field success elsewhere.
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As they moved to dismiss speculation skipper Nick Riewoldt was open to a trade, the Saints expect the contracted Montagna to remain next season but admit there are no certainties heading into the trade period, as was reinforced by the Brian Lake trade to Hawthorn last year.

The Saints’ list manager Ameet Baines said Montagna, who turns 30 in November, was a fierce competitor and wanted to win a flag before he retired. But Baines admitted that was unlikely at St Kilda as a rebuild continues after winning just five matches and finishing third last.

”Guys like Leigh, Leigh in particular, are very ambitious and successful people and want to be part of ongoing success,” Baines said.

”No doubt, he has thought a bit about it from that perspective. In terms of him wanting out or a club wanting him to go to them, no one has raised anything with me.

”Trade week starts next week but I would imagine all sorts of requests … most clubs even the successful ones have spoken about being open to discussions.

”You stay open-minded on anything but how high a threshold that is, it remains to be seen. No clubs have raised him with us but one thing that should be made clear now that we have made those list changes of the weekend every primary list player is contracted.

”If anything is to happen with any player, be it player 40 on the list or player one on the list, it needs to be agreeable to the player and agreeable to the club. We certainly haven’t shopped anyone around.”

Montagna’s manager, Adam Ramanauskas, did not return calls on Monday night.

Carlton and West Coast are both in need of greater run and could attract Montagna’s interest.

The future of another veteran midfielder, Nick Dal Santo, is also unclear. It’s understood he met North Melbourne’s leadership group last week, and is open to a shift.

The Saints have offered former Kangaroos key defender Luke Delaney a three-year contract.

The club on Monday dismissed speculation Riewoldt could be traded, amid suggestions Collingwood had been interested in the reborn forward.

In a succinct statement, the Saints said: ”Nick Riewoldt will not be traded.”

While coach Watters is contracted until the end of next season, his long-term future is also unclear.

His hopes of an immediate extension will be determined by a review of the football department led by head of football Chris Pelchen.

As it rebuilds on and off the field, the Saints have revealed they sought a bank overdraft to be used to run the business.

With the AFL financial year not ending until October 31, the Saints believe there is a clause in a sponsorship deal that could yet reap a greater return, minimising any loss.

The Saints had an operating profit before depreciation and amortisation of $631,135 last season, a significant recovery considering they had suffered a $1.5 million loss in 2011.

”We have had a reduction in club revenue which can attributed in part to the on-field impact, winning three of the first 20 games, on membership and match-day revenue from crowds,” a club spokesman said.

”There will be no additional funding from the AFL to the club this season.

”We have increased our loan facility with the bank to manage our obligations. This has meant an increase in our overdraft limit … Our exact revenue for the year is unclear at this point as a sponsorship clause is yet to be completed.”

The Saints also need a new chief executive for Michael Nettlefold.

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Sep 12

Daniel Jackson wins Jack Dyer Medal

Richmond midfielder Daniel Jackson said earlier this year the reason he took such a keen interest in off-field pursuits was because “I didn’t really feel that I had any value as a footballer”.
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On Monday night, Jackson’s value to the Tigers on the field in 2013 could not have been recognised in any greater fashion.

At 27 years and five months, the intelligent and talented Tiger became the oldest player to win the Jack Dyer Medal for the first time since Matthew Richardson in 2007.

While the story before the Tigers’ best and fairest count was the re-signing of teammate Dustin Martin, elder statesman Jackson managed to upstage the young star by the time the votes had been tallied.

Jackson polled 264 votes to clinch the award ahead of runner-up Martin on 255, while the merit of recruiting restricted free agent Troy Chaplin this time last year was further underlined when the former Port Adelaide defender came in third on 241.

Former two-time winner Brett Deledio continued his impressive record at the club’s night of night’s at Crown Palladium by claiming his sixth top five placing in nine years, coming in fourth on 238 votes, while captain Trent Cotchin finished fifth on 237 after a season slowed by niggling injury.

Jackson revealed earlier this year that had it not been for his endeavours away from football – some of which earned him the inaugural Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award last year – the 146-game veteran “probably wouldn’t have bothered playing this year”.

The Tigers are sure glad he did, as the popular hard-nut completed a breakout year in a season when the club finally broke its finals drought – transforming himself into a damaging ball-winner capable of going forward and kicking spectacular goals.

Aside from the career-high 18 goals, Jackson averaged 22 disposals across all 23 games and ranked equal first at Tigerland for inside 50s, No.1 for tackles (90) and No.2 for contested possessions.

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Sep 12

Jakarta agrees to talks on boats

Friendly face: Tony Abbott is greeted by Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa on his arrival in Jakarta. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFederal politics full coverageComment: Volatile issue cannot be ignored
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The Indonesian President has made a significant concession to Tony Abbott’s demands on asylum seekers in talks in Jakarta, agreeing that Indonesia will need to make direct deals with Australia to solve the people-smuggling problem.

Until now, Indonesia’s position has been that any potential policies should be dealt with at the multilateral forum, the Bali Process. Many of Mr Abbott’s policies – from boat tow-backs to establishing transit ports for asylum seekers on Indonesian soil – have been considered a threat to Indonesian sovereignty.

But after meeting Mr Abbott late on Monday on his first overseas trip as Prime Minister, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed the countries also needed to work one-on-one.

“Indonesia has striven to overcome this issue, but it would be much better if the co-operation was at the bilateral level,” he said.

The statement opens the door to Indonesia making more concessions to Australian demands, though Mr Abbott and Dr Yudhoyono left tricky details for later.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his Indonesian counterpart, Djoko Suyanto, will meet to thrash out the details in coming weeks.

The concession comes as a senior adviser to the Indonesian Vice-President says her country does not have the legal rights to stop asylum seeker boats leaving their coast for Australia.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, adviser to Vice President Boediono, told ABC TV on Monday there was nothing her country could do to stop boats leaving Indonesia if there were no clear violations of the law.

”Indonesia does not really have the legal right to stop boats leaving Indonesia towards Australia,” Dr Anwar said.

”In the same way that the Australian government was not able to stop the so-called freedom flotilla from leaving Australian shores with the clear intention of trying to show their support for a separatist movement in Papua.”

Dr Anwar added her country did not regard it as a violation of their law when refugees paid people smugglers to take them overseas.

”It depends on the perspective. These people probably don’t see themselves as smugglers,” she said.

”The fishermen were paid openly by those who wished to go to Australia, and they are pretty open about it.”

Dr Anwar also criticised two of the Abbott government’s plans to combat the people smuggling trade, one of which is to pay Indonesians to spy on people smugglers, the other to buy boats off Indonesian fisherman.

”I doubt very much that Indonesia would approve any other country spying on Indonesia, regardless what the purpose would be,” she said.

”If you buy those leaky boats then the fisherman will have money to buy more boats.

”I’m not sure that will solve the problem.”

Mr Abbott also said in the presence of Dr Yudhoyono: “People smuggling is an issue of sovereignty, especially for Australia.”

However, he emphasised Australia’s “total respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty, a total respect for Indonesia’s territorial integrity”.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has made much of the sovereignty issue, later drew attention to these comments, saying he was “reassured”.

To sweeten the people-smuggling issue, Mr Abbott announced a $15 million commitment to a new Australian Centre for Indonesia Studies, based at Melbourne’s Monash University, to “build trust and understanding” between the two countries.

He also pleased Indonesia by taking an unusually tough line on protesters in Australia agitating for independence for the Indonesian province of West Papua.

“The government of Australia takes a very dim view . . . of anyone seeking to use our country as a platform for grandstanding against Indonesia. We will do everything that we possibly can to discourage this and prevent this,” he said.

Being overseas made no difference to Mr Abbott’s strong political campaigning against Labor. He apologised in a dinner speech for Australian ”aberrations” in “putting sugar on the table for people smugglers” and for cancelling the live-cattle trade.

“Never again should this country take action that jeopardises the food supply of such a friend and partner as Indonesia,” he said.

The high-level talks come as a key part of the Abbott government’s asylum seeker policy – transfers within 48 hours to offshore detention – has been called into question by medical experts concerned that vital health checks will be sacrificed for political expediency.

At his weekly boats briefing, Mr Morrison was forced to defend the government’s policy of removing people to offshore detention within 48 hours.

Medical professionals who have advised government on asylum seeker health said thorough screening, including vaccinations and X-rays, could not be achieved within two days. The former Labor government could manage only 12 days on average.

A government adviser, who cannot be named for contractual confidentiality reasons, said the Coalition policy had thrown up ”major ethical issues” for Australia.

The Australian Medical Association’s representative on the 12-member advisory group, Choong-Siew Yong, said asylum seekers, particularly children, needed to be screened for infectious diseases and developmental diseases in the same way ordinary migrant arrivals are.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, called on the government to release any advice it held from the Immigration Health Advisory Group.

He said a 48-hour turnaround ”flies in the face” of everything he was told during his time as minister.

The meeting between Mr Abbott and Dr Yudhoyono also comes in the shadow of the latest asylum boat tragedy off Java, with 36 people so far confirmed drowned, and the arrival of another vessel at Christmas Island carrying 78 people.

with AAP

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