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Maitland and Cessnock have become blackout hot spotsPOLL

POWERLESS: One former Ausgrid employee says the company’s downsizing might be the cause of more frequent blackouts in the area.Ongoing power disruptions in the Maitland area have affected thousands of premises recently.

There have been at least sixblackouts across the Maitland and Cessnock area in the past three weeks, as recently as Wednesday when power failed for about 1400 premises in Cessnock, Bellbird and Wollombi.

The worst on recent record affected 3500 homes in the Thornton, Tenambit and Metford area on December 18 following a fault at the substation.

Morpeth resident and cafe owner, and former Ausgrid employee Andrew Fitzgibbon said he believed ongoing maintenance issues in the Lower Hunter were to blame for the power problems.

He said he worked for the company for 17 years, most recently as a ­procurement officer before he took a redundancy in August.

Mr Fitzgibbon said there had been about five blackouts in Morpeth in little more than a month.

“On one occasion [the power] was down for about 40 minutes. Everything in the café is electric, so we lost 40 minutes of trade,” he said.

“The slightest bit of thunder and the network goes down. It’s really frustrating.”

Seventy Ausgrid employees at its Wallsend operation were made redundant in August as the company cut 553 jobs across the state.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he believed maintenance of the power infrastructure was slipping as the company downsized.

Since moving from Wallsend to Morpeth earlier this year, Mr Fitzgibbon said he had “never seen so many blackouts in all my life”.

“I worked for Ausgrid for 17 years and had to listen to people call it a gold plated network,” he said.

“My frustration now is I wonder whether [blackouts] are starting to become a maintenance issue because there has been a dramatic reduction of staff.”

The Mercury contacted Ausgrid’s media unit for comment on Wednesday, but had not received a response before going to print.

UPDATE: An Ausgrid spokesperson sent the Mercury a statement on Thursday afternoon in response to questions posed on Wednesday. The statement says:

“During December there were four sustained blackouts affecting homes and businesses in different locations around Maitland, including two caused by extreme weather or thunderstorms. Another was caused by a tree coming down on power lines.

“The fourth interruption lasted for approximately 17 minutes when workers were undertaking maintenance on the network.

“There were two blackouts affecting homes and businesses in different parts of the Cessnock area, including one lasting for 55 minutes caused by a fault on equipment which connects underground and overhead power lines.

“Ausgrid carried out almost 400,000 maintenance tasks across its network last financial year, including the Hunter region. These tasks are designed to help prevent blackouts. Maintenance issues were not identified as the cause of these recent outages in the Maitland and Cessnock areas.

“We understand that any interruption can cause inconvenience to our customers, including small business owners like Andrew Fitzgibbon. Mr Fitzgibbon was not employed at Ausgrid as a field worker, overseeing or undertaking maintenance on the network. He was formerly employed in Ausgrid’s back office purchasing operations.

“Ausgrid has hundreds of skilled front line electricity workers based in the Hunter, who work to get power back safely during storms and other interruptions. Their priority is to work as safely and quickly as possible to get power back on for our customers.

“About 45 per cent of all outages on Ausgrid’s network are caused by external factors such as storms and lightning, trees coming down on power lines and third party damage from car accidents and cable strikes.

“During 2014/15 Ausgrid improved its reliability performance, with the average duration of interruptions falling to 71 minutes and the average number reducing to 0.69 per customer, down from 77 minutes and 0.83 interruptions in 2013/14.”

Read what the Mercury has to say here

Recent blackouts in the Maitland/Cessnock areaDec 30: 1400 premises – Cessnock, Bellbird, Wollombi

Dec 29: 1100 premises – Cessnock, Abermain, Abernathy

Dec 27: 1700 premises – East Maitland

Dec 18: 3500 premises – Thornton, Tenambit, Metford

Dec 16: 1700 premises – East Maitland, Morpeth, Raworth

Dec 10: 1100 premises – Aberglasslyn, Bolwarra Heights

Source: Ausgrid

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John Thompson looks for Tattersall’s Cup win for Jiayuguan at her favourite Randwick trip

Cup hope: Jiayuguan scores with Tye Angland up at Rosehill last month. The duo will unite again at headquarters on Friday. Photo: bradleyphotos老域名备案老域名Wizard of Odds: Live Odds, Form and Alerts for all Racing

John Thompson took a while to work out Jiayuguan but the secret might have been the 2400m journey of Friday’s Tattersalls Club Cup at Randwick.

The imported mare has had her past five runs at the extended trip for three wins, a second in the Christmas Cup last time and a hard luck story in the sister race of the listed New Year’s Day affair – October’s City Tattersall’s City Club Cup – where she finished sixth.

“That was her first go at it and she didn’t have a lot of luck and got blocked at the wrong time. Once she has got to this trip she has flourished and even though she has been up a while she is thriving,” Thompson said.  “She is very strong and stays and there is more in store for her.

“It was great to get some black type last time because when she got here she took a long time to settle in and we started to worry.

“Being a mare these black type races are important to her value as a broodmare and she is meeting a similar field to last time and it was a blanket finish.”

There were only heads and necks between Christmas Cup winner Sir John Hawkwood, Jiayuguan and Lucky Lucky Lucky and the trio meet again on Friday.

“She gets the chance with a pull in the weights to turn the tables. It would be good to tick another box with her with a listed win,” Thompson said. “I think the way she is racing she is only going to get better with a bit more time but this race comes at good time for her.”

Thompson has a strong hand at Randwick but will look for a two-state double.  He will send debut Canterbury winner Mossin’ Around to Flemington for the first day of 2016.

“She has really come on from that first win and there is an Inglis bonus race for her there in a couple of weeks, so I wanted to her to have a look down the straight and this is the right race,” Thompson said. “The worry is the straight but [she] hasn’t stopped improving.”

Meanwhile,  Bullrush kept his unbeaten record winning at Canterbury on Wednesday and Saturday company beckons  for the four-year-old gelding.

“We have been patience with him and given him time even though he is a gelding,” co-trainer Michael Hawkes said. “He has raw ability and is only going to get better.”

Hawkes told Tommy Berry to count to 10 on Bullrush but the jockey admitted he didn’t get that far when the leader skipped clear turning  for home.

“I only got to five and had to go,” Berry said. “He is a nice horse [and being ridden like] that is not his go.”

The ultimate racing guide with the latest information on fields, form, tips, market fluctuations and odds, available on mobile, tablet and desktop.

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Adelaide Strikers coach Jason Gillespie backs Alex Ross for T20 World Cup

Adelaide Strikers coach Jason Gillespie says former ACT Comet Alex Ross “100 per cent” could take his game to the next level for Australia at the Twenty20 World Cup in India in March.

And Gillespie says the hard-hitting Jono Dean is the “next cab off the rank” if the Big Bash League team needs to bolster its batting stocks.

Ross has been in good form this summer, starting with a strong one-day domestic season, some good form in the Sheffield Shield and then a great opening two games of the BBL – where he’s scored 65 runs off 31 balls, 38 off 29 and seven off seven.

His form caught the eye of Aussie selector Mark Waugh, who described him as the “most improved player in Australia”, and Gillespie had no qualms about backing his middle-order batsman.

Gillespie said the keys to Ross’ success this summer were his fantastic work ethic and that he understood his own strengths.

He simply said “100 per cent” when asked if Ross was good enough to represent Australia.

“It wouldn’t be a shock to me if he got picked in the not too distant future for higher honours. He’s certainly playing some very good cricket,” Gillespie said.

“He’s learning his game and he’s understanding his strengths and how he goes about his work. His work ethic is fantastic.

“He deserves the bit of success that he’s having at the moment because he’s been working incredibly hard at his game.

“He’s got clear thoughts about how he wants to go about it. He’s practising specifically and going out and performing his skills so it’s really pleasing to see.”

With the Strikers’ batting line-up failing against the Sydney Thunder on Monday night, Dean could get his first opportunity of BBL05 in Adelaide’s next game – the Sydney Sixers at Adelaide Oval on New Year’s Eve.

The hard-hitting ACT Comet dislocated his finger playing club cricket in Canberra at the end of November, but Gillespie said he was fully recovered and fit to play.

Dean’s been named in the Strikers’ 13-man squad for the opening three games of the BBL, but yet to get a chance.

With Adelaide’s openers yet to hit their straps, he could be brought in for the final game of 2015.

Gillespie said Dean’s versatility made him a valuable asset for the Strikers.

“Jono is basically next cab off the rank really … Jono has trained the house down, he’s a quality lad and someone who is performing really well at training and I’m sure if an opportunity arose at some point during the tournament he’ll grab that opportunity with both hands,” Gillespie said.

“The beauty with Jono Dean is he’s very flexible, that’s the advantage we’ve got, he can adapt to any situation.

“He can come in in the middle order or he can go in near the top, so it allows us flexibility with the team because he’s such a versatile player.”

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Australian actress Eliza Szonert set to leave Malaysia with son after passports returned

Australian actress Eliza Szonert and son in Malaysia Photo: Supplied Eliza Szonert holds her son after taking him from a suburban Kuala Lumpur restaurant. Photo: Supplied

Actress appeals to Julie BishopDramatic scenes in Kuala Lumpur restaurant

An Australian actress stranded in Malaysia after snatching her son was set to return home with the boy within 48 hours, according to the child recovery company involved in the operation.

Former Neighbours and Underbelly actress Eliza Szonert and her young son had been unable to leave the country after the boy’s father, the Australian businessman Ashley Crick, allegedly refused to release their passports after the boy was snatched from him at a restaurant on December 10.

On Wednesday, Col Chapman from the child recovery agency involved in the operation, said Mr Crick had handed over the pair’s passports to the Australian High Commission.

He said the move followed extensive  legal action in Australia and had resulted in Ms Szonert’s family and Mr Crick’s parents agreeing to accompany Szonert and the child on the flight back to Australia.

Szonert was stranded in Malaysia and sparked controversy earlier this month after a video of her grabbing the child was circulated.

After the incident she came under pressure to hand the child over to Malaysian authorities – a request she refused leading to her being locked up overnight in a Malaysian jail.

She was released within 24 hours after the authorities conducted a welfare check on the child who was being cared for in Kuala Lumpur by Szonert’s mother, Kay.

Szonert and Mr Crick had been separated since 2012 but had moved back in together with the boy in Malaysia after Szonert spent time at a rehabilitation facility called The Cabin, sometimes known as the “Betty Ford Clinic of Asia”.

Szonert was staying with Mr Crick and their son in Kuala Lumpur when a dispute occurred between the pair leading to Szonert allegedly being locked out of their accommodation without the child and both their passports.

The 41-year-old actress, then engaged an Australian child recovery operative to assist her to snatch the child from Mr Crick while he ate breakfast with the boy at a restaurant in the capital.

Mr Crick, 43, who is an executive with iflix, a video streaming venture in Asia, last week told Australian media that he had filed a statement with Malaysian police after his son was snatched.

He said it was a parent’s worst nightmare and he expressed fears for his son’s safety. He is understood to be taking legal action in a bid to obtain greater access to the child.

An anonymous source has been circulating a document purporting to show Szonert had spent time at The Cabin for treatment for methamphetamine and depression.

The document dated October 23, 2015, is headed “To Whom it may concern” and appeared to link Szonert to having received treatment for “Methamphetamine dependence”.

The document prompted a furious response from Szonert  saying that: “I deny these false allegations. This letter purporting to be from The Cabin has obviously been doctored and is very clearly photoshopped or fabricated. I am mortified that someone could do such a thing.”

Previously,  Szonert and her family have denied she received any treatment for drug addiction at The Cabin, saying it was only for exhaustion and depression.

Mr Crick has previously said he hoped Szonert would comply with authorities to allow him to return to Australia with his son where he would fight for custody through the Australian court system.

The case sparked controversy after a video of the snatch was circulated.

The experience, captured on video given to Fairfax Media, showed Szonert calmly walking into the restaurant, picking up her son and walking out again, as Mr Crick stood talking with the burly man who accompanied her and was thought to be working for the child recovery agency.

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Trade unions royal commission: Turnbull prepared to take union shake-up all the way to election

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis address the media after the release of the final report from the trade union royal commission. Photo: Janie BarrettThe royal commission into trade unions was always Tony Abbott’s baby.

It had two political goals. The first was to go after Labor leader Bill Shorten, one-time leader of the Australian Workers Union. The second was to expose the union movement for what Abbott thought it was: a movement run by corrupt officials.

It failed on the first point but succeeded on the second. Shorten escaped an adverse finding, but the commission uncovered despicable behaviour by union officials across the country.

We should thank Abbott for that.

According to royal commission head Dyson Heydon in his final report: “It would be utterly naive to think that what has been uncovered is anything other than the small tip of an enormous iceberg.

“It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts.”

The commission has presented the Federal Parliament with a genuine opportunity for reform.

Where do we go from here? Next year’s politics have become clear.

The Turnbull government will keep the issue simmering by extending Taskforce Heracles, a joint state-territory union-corruption taskforce that was set up to examine allegations referred to it by the royal commission.

Its life has been extended until December 31, 2016, to pursue further lines of inquiry.

The longer it keeps working, the greater the chance to uncover more wrongdoing. It will help to keep the heat on Bill Shorten, because every time something is found, someone from the Coalition will remind voters that Shorten was leading the AWU when dodgy behaviour was taking place (but they will not be able to point to a specific example of corruption on Shorten’s part, because the commission didn’t find any).

The government will also establish a specialised cross-agency working group of 11 Commonwealth departments and agencies, led by the Department of Employment and including such agencies as Austrak, the Australian Crime Commission, ASIC and the Australian Tax Office.

It will investigate the 45 significant breaches of civil law by union officials identified by the commission that could attract civil penalties.

Turnbull says he wants to push legislation through Parliament that will affect how unions are registered and run.

If he can’t get the legislation passed, he’ll make it an election issue.

And this is how he will prosecute the case: Unions are a vital part of the economy. It is in everyone’s interest that they are open and transparent. The Coalition wants to make that happen. And please remember, the Coalition is not anti-union; it is anti-corruption among the union leadership. The Coalition is fighting for everyday union members against their corrupt leaders. Anyone who doesn’t support the Coalition’s attempt to clean out the corrupt union leaders obviously wants their corruption to continue.

This is where Labor comes in.

Turnbull says this is a chance for Shorten and his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, to show some leadership. They can either support the Coalition’s legislation through Parliament or they can opt to fight it as an election issue. Does Labor really want that?

“This is not a battle between workers and the bosses,” Turnbull said on Wednesday. “It’s a battle between workers and union bosses, and Mr Shorten’s got to decide whose side he’s on.”

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Trade Union Royal Commission refers former HSU national secretary Kathy Jackson to prosecutors

The Trade Union Royal Commission referred Kathy Jackson, former national secretary of the Health Services Union to prosecutors for possible charges over obtaining property and financial advantage by deception. Photo: Louise KennerleyRoyal commission refers Kathy Jackson to prosecutors

How swiftly fortunes turn. Less than two years ago, Kathy Jackson was lauded by the then Abbott government as a “lion of the union movement” for lifting the lid on union corruption. On Wednesday, she reached a new nadir in her descent from hero to zero.

The Trade Union Royal Commission referred Ms Jackson, the former national secretary of the Health Services Union, to prosecutors for possible charges over obtaining property and financial advantage by deception.

It said she used union funds for her own expenses and might have “committed a crime by obtaining $250,000 from an employer by false pretences”.

Travel expenses were the biggest cost. Between July 2003 and August 2011, the commission found Ms Jackson took 24 overseas trips and 10 domestic trips, some accompanied by a family member. The HSU said her union credit cards were used during many of these trips for personal purposes.

The retail sector also benefited from Ms Jackson’s spending prowess. She racked up bills at Myer and David Jones, at electrical, computer, camera, clothing and shoe shops, on accessories and children’s wear. She splashed out on homewares and furniture, at a party warehouse and car dealerships.

In her defence, Ms Jackson pleaded retail expenses were “work related, properly incurred and properly approved”.

The same defence was used for purchases at supermarkets and liquor stores near her home, and large sums spent at restaurants and bars in Melbourne. The commission found no details were provided to demonstrate the restaurant bills had anything to do with her work.

Ms Jackson’s partner Michael Lawler​ has admitted he benefited from the HSU paying for airfares and accommodation. Mr Lawler pockets a $430,000 taxpayer-funded salary as Fair Work Commission Vice-President, a job from which he has been on extended paid sick leave.

HSU members are paramedics, scientists, aged care workers, disability support workers, nurses, doctors, clerks and hospital cleaners. Some are among the lowest-paid workers in the country.

Ms Jackson was ordered by the Federal Court to pay about $1.4 million compensation to the HSU. This was increased by a further $900,000 this month to cover interest and legal costs. She also faces criminal investigation.

The commission found Ms Jackson, along with disgraced former HSU officials Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson, misappropriated more than $2.7 million of HSU members’ money.

The trio lacked scruple. They were “intelligent, determined, forceful and dominating” – a characterisation supported by Ms Jackson’s witness box performance.

In February 2014, Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne lauded Ms Jackson as a “lion of the union movement” for blowing the whistle on former Labor national president Michael Williamson.

While her systematic theft made Ms Jackson the architect of her own misfortune, the commission noted she deserved some kudos.

It said she “was instrumental in revealing the conduct of Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson to the authorities. For this she is owed much praise.”

Ms Jackson did not respond to request for comment.

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Australia v West Indies Test series: Flat pitches pass ICC test but not everyone is happy

In full swing: Adam Voges bats on and on during day two of the Second Test at the MCG. Photo: Michael DodgeCricket Australia has not received a poor rating for any Test pitch this summer despite widespread criticism curators are producing wickets heavily favoured towards the batsmen.

For the second consecutive season, bowlers have found the going difficult with massive scores the prevailing theme, though four results from five Tests is an improvement on two from four 12 months ago.

It was not a Merry Christmas for the leather-flingers in Melbourne on a track which produced only 26 wickets over four days despite the pitch resembling a green top just moments before the toss.

Less than five sessions later after a quick trim from ground staff, not to mention some poor bowling from the West Indies, Australia amassed 3-551 in their first innings.

Pitches generally become more difficult to bat on as they wear but the Australians believed the MCG strip behaved the opposite. Windies coach Phil Simmons described it as a “batsman’s paradise” after the second day.

So benign was the surface, man of the match Nathan Lyon’s haul of seven wickets was deemed superior to Steve Smith’s tally of 204 runs without dismissal or Usman Khawaja’s knocks of 144 and 56.

The trend towards docile pitches is both a sensitive topic and a cause of concern in Australian cricket.

Of the five Test wickets, only Adelaide offered encouragement to the bowlers due to the extra grass coverage to preserve the pink ball for the day-night Test.

Perth was the scene of arguably the most lop-sided contest between bat and ball. The 1672 runs scored, at a cost of nearly 60 per wicket, was the eighth highest aggregate run tally in Tests, the fourth highest in Australia and also a WACA record.

This week is SCG curator Tom Parker’s chance to buck the trend by producing a pitch asking more of the batsmen.

The venue came under heavy fire two years ago from national coach Darren Lehmann after Australia hammered a demoralised England in three days. In contrast, last summer’s Test against India finished in a stalemate with only 30 wickets falling across the five days at a cost of 52 apiece.

While both captains described the wicket as flat and slow, the pitch was graded as “good” by the ICC, Fairfax Media has learned.

“It was a well prepared pitch. As the game progressed it had variable bounce and moderate turn and there was something in it for every type of bowler,” match referee Roshan Mahanama wrote in his match review.

“Despite this marginal advantage, the batsmen too, were able to make runs. Further, the scores reflect the opportunities presented to batsmen from both teams to play relatively freely and to put up formidable score.”

Western Australia coach Justin Langer said during the Perth Test that flat tracks were “not necessarily conducive to great Australian cricket” and that curators had over-corrected a previous trend of bowler-friendly pitches.

“I will put my hand up – I think the WACA for a few years, maybe the Gabba, maybe Bellerive, went too far the other way,” Langer said.

“Maybe there were times when it was a bit of a lottery for teams batting first.

“Now it’s gone [too far] the other way. We’ve got to try to get the balance.”

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Big Bash League: Melbourne derby on track to set domestic Twenty20 crowd record

The Big Bash League Melbourne derby on Saturday could set a crowd record for domestic Twenty20 cricket, according to Stars all-rounder John Hastings, further magnifying this summer’s seismic shift in popularity to the shortest form of the game.

The Stars and Renegades will renew their rivalry in an MCG blockbuster that officials will be hoping has the venue rocking after the tepid interest and attendance at the Test match between Australia and the West Indies at the same ground this week.

After drawing solid crowds to the first three days of the Boxing Day Test, the fourth day figure dropped to just 7161 on Tuesday, following on from attendances that plummeted to worrying depths in Hobart for the first Test.

More than just the crowd figures, the general feeling that the Melbourne Test bombed as a spectacle continued an over-arching narrative in which Twenty20 has become king with crowds this summer, leaving the game’s longest form to take a back seat.

The attendance record for a BBL match is 52,633 for last year’s semi-final at the Adelaide Oval between the Strikers and the Sydney Sixers.

The crowd for Boxing Day last Saturday was 53,389 fans.

Hastings said the players could feel the rising current underneath the BBL and expected the Stars and Renegades to go close to eclipsing that mark.

“I’d love to see a massive crowd out there and break the domestic record,” Hastings said, unprompted.

“I think the Strikers have nearly sold out Adelaide Oval for New Year’s Eve, so it would be nice to see all the Renegades and all the Stars fans come down and vote with their feet and see if we can get a really big crowd there.”

As Hastings points out, the current BBL record could even be broken before the two teams get to the MCG, with the Adelaide Strikers confirming that their match against the Sixers two days earlier at the Adelaide Oval (listed capacity of 53,583) has been officially sold out.

The biggest crowd the Stars and Renegades have drawn together so far is 46,581, which came in BBL02, back on January 6, 2013 at the MCG.

Crowds have been huge for this BBL, with only one game failing to draw more than 15,000 fans at the box office, and most have been above 20,000.

In terms of this year’s Melbourne derby, whether or not Hastings will recover from a shoulder injury in time to take on the Renegades has emerged as a key on-field storyline for the Stars.

The 30-year-old said he was confident he could overcome his latest setback which occurred at training.

“I’ve been working really hard with the physio and I’m feeling really good,” he said on Wednesday.

“I’ve still got a couple of days to go and so, if it keeps improving, I will be right to go for [Saturday] and the rest of the tournament.”

Battling pain from wear and tear, the potential need for surgery on the shoulder is a factor in the bigger picture for Hastings.

“It’s just going to be one of those things where, if it keeps going well and keeps improving, then hopefully I’ll avoid surgery,” he said.

“But if it keeps popping out, or if it keeps giving me grief, then I will have to get it looked at.”

Complicating that decision, whenever it might arise, is the looming one-day international series against India and then the World Twenty20 in March.

Hastings said he “absolutely” wanted to hold off any call on surgery long enough to ensure his chances of being picked for Australia were not jeopardised.

“First and foremost, I want to make sure I play well for the Melbourne Stars,” he said.

“But in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve played the last one-day game for Australia so hopefully the selectors show a bit of faith.

“I’d love to get another opportunity to play for Australian because I think the timing would be right, and obviously the [World] Twenty20 in India is a big thing as well, so I will be pushing hard for that.”

The hulking paceman admitted to frustration when considering how he was able to get through an entire domestic season in England, but since returning home, had injured himself in training sessions.

“I’ve had a bad run since I’ve got back the last couple of months. But I’ve played five back-to-back seasons now, so the body is probably just starting to tire a little bit,” he said.

“But I still think I am bowling really well and hitting the ball well, I’ve probably just got to stay out of my own way in the nets.”

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Don’t leave Windies out in the cold

As the divide between cricket’s haves and have-nots grows, so does the tendency for the haves to keep their distance from the have-nots.

An Australia-West Indies series used to consist of five Tests and any number of one-day matches. This year they played two Tests in the Caribbean and three here, but not a single one-dayer.

Australia have played Ireland and Afghanistan more often in one-day cricket in the past three years than they have played the Windies. After the Sydney Test, they will be replaced by the money men from India for a five-game one-day series.

Contempt will breed only more unfamiliarity. Australia are scheduled to play with India in a tri-series in the Caribbean next year, but after that will have no more engagement with the West Indies in any form for the life of the future tours program, extending to mid-2019.

When and if the Windies come back to Australia, you imagine it will be for two Tests at most, both in our winter, in the far north of the country, like refugees.

Prima facie, this scant contact makes sense. The Windies are minnows now. Playing and beating them regularly by hundreds of runs will only demoralise them. Best to leave to play with their peers down the shallow end, surely?

That principle seems to have informed the fixture for this tour. The Windies had only one warm-up match, a four-dayer against a kind of colts team in Brisbane, and between Tests an even more pointless meeting with a ghost Victorian team in Geelong, scheduled for two days and rained off after 1½. It means they have had only 13 playing days on this tour.

But a strange thing has happened. The last two of those 13 days have been their best two.

On one they made Australia labour for two sessions to take their last four first-innings wickets. The next, Australia had to work after hours to get them out a second time. It is hardly Everest. It didn’t save them from another mighty beating. But for the first time this summer, they looked like something more than a sham Test team.

The moral is clear: improvement comes from playing up, bruising as it can be. Repeatedly crushing the West Indies might be demoralising for them, but not playing them at all serves them even more poorly. Before the wheel turned, Australia avoided one scheduled tour of the Caribbean for the sake of morale. It was a mistake. Driven by Allan Border, Australia kept going at the Windies until at last they succeeded.

This lesson was apparent in the World Cup earlier this year. Minor leaguers Ireland, Afghanistan and Scotland all had their moments, but they were necessarily fleeting. The talent was there, but not the tempering, and small wonder. Between World Cups, Scotland, for instance, played fewer than 30 one-day internationals, and only three against Test-playing countries. The rest was an endless round against Afghanistan, Ireland and the Netherlands, filling out the fixture but not fleshing out the talent.

Disgracefully, instead of bolstering non-Test teams, the ICC has all but shut them out of the next World Cup.

AFL football is full of stories of players who were marginal at amateur and semi-pro level, but improved quickly when backed by a club and able to train and play full-time with and against the elite. It is the way sport often works.

Cricket now is in the process of deciding what it wants to be – a sport or a club. It claims to be the world’s second most popular sport, but that is disingenuous, based on its popularity in India and Pakistan.

At Test level, its base is narrow and getting narrower. South Africa is the next to be imperilled. Cricket talks about expansion, but acts only to contract.

Cricket was better when the West Indies were good, and would be richer if they could again be competitive. Ditto Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the so-called associates. NB, ICC: rich has a meaning other than financial.

It is not the fault of Australia, or India or England, that the West Indies have sunk so low, but it is within their power to try to rescue them, and also in their interests. That is also how sport works.

The big three have the money, they can make the time, and now there is the example of a flicker of West Indian life.

As I wrote about Scotland after Australia had smashed them in double-quick time in the World Cup, it is possible to work with the West Indies and, when necessary, to do a job on them at the same time.

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Trade Union royal commission refers Cesar Melhem, Kathy Jackson to prosecutors

Royal Commission release sparks a torrent of Malsplaining Bill Shorten escapes royal commission findings ACTU dismisses royal commission findings as a ‘blatant political exercise’

The Turnbull government will ask the Federal Parliament to urgently pass laws ensuring the integrity of unions and the construction industry following the trade union royal commission handing down its findings.

Among 45 current and former union officers referred to police, the Fair Work Commission or other authorities was Victorian MP Cesar Melhem and former Victorian union boss Kathy Jackson.

Both now face possible criminal prosecutions.

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten had no findings against him.

In his final report released on Wednesday, Commissioner Dyson Heydon concluded Australian unions were riddled with “widespread” and “deep-seated” misconduct.

Mr Heydon referred Mr Melhem, the Australian Workers Union Victorian secretary until former 2013 and now a state MP, to Victorian prosecutors over a string of accusations relating to corruption and the creation of false invoices.

He also referred Ms Jackson, the former national secretary of the Health Services Union, to prosecutors for possible charges over obtaining property and financial advantage by deception.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the commission’s final report found widespread impropriety among union officials.

“This is not a case of a few rotten apples spoiling the whole barrel,” he said. “There are many union officials, and widespread cultures, of impropriety and malpractice.”

He pledged to introduce laws to reinstate the controversial Australian Building and Construction Commission in the first sitting week of parliament next year.

A police taskforce attached to the royal commission will also be funded to continue investigating referrals and ensure criminal allegations are dealt with.

The moves will make industrial relations a key battleground in the 2016 federal election, with Mr Turnbull pledging to make trade union governance a “major issue” if Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers did not support his new laws.

Mr Heydon’s final report stated that Victoria’s Mr Melhem had been “responsible for numerous actions favouring the interests of the union over the members which may be breaches of legal duty”.

Cesar Melhem at his electorate office after the commission handed down its finding. Photo: Jason South

Mr Melhem on Wednesday said he would fight any allegations brought against him, and would stay on as a state MP. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

The commission was set up under former prime minister Tony Abbott in what Labor and unions have dismissed as a political witch-hunt.

In a blistering preamble to the final report, Mr Heydon concluded the commission had probably only uncovered the most egregious examples of misconduct.

“These aberrations cannot be regarded as isolated. They are not the work of a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials. The misconduct exhibits great variety. It is widespread. It is deep-seated.

“It would be utterly naïve to think that what has been uncovered is anything other than the small tip of an enormous iceberg.”

He said it was clear there was room in the union movement for “louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers”.

And former Health Services Union national secretary Kathy Jackson, the report found, might have “committed a crime by obtaining $250,000 from an employer by false pretences”.

The commission ran for nearly two years and held 189 days of hearings involving 505 witnesses.

The union movement roundly rejected the findings, with ACTU secretary Dave Oliver branding the inquiry a blatant political stitch-up.

Mr Oliver said the royal commission was not about finding out about potential corruption.

“The royal commission was always about prosecuting an ideological, partisan agenda,” Mr Oliver said.

And Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s construction division, dismissed the royal commission as a multi-million dollar witch hunt.

“In two years of hearings, a royal commission with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, an army of of investigators and an army of police would find a few things going wrong in any organisation.”

In all, 45 individuals and organisations were referred for possible charges.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash strongly indicated that many of the report’s 79 recommendations would be adopted by the government in the form of new laws, amounting to a significant tightening of union regulation.

Premier Daniel Andrews did not front the media on Wednesday, and did not talk with Mr Melhem about the allegations made against the Labor MP by the royal commission.

A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said the recommendations made by Mr Heydon were “serious and significant”.

Asked what steps would be taken against Mr Melhem as a result of the royal commission’s findings, Mr Andrews’ spokeswoman said: “It is not appropriate to comment on something that may result in court proceedings. In Victoria, under Labor anyone who is found to have acted illegally should feel the full force of the law.”

Victorian opposition industrial relations spokesman Robert Clark demanded Mr Andrews act immediately to remove Mr Melhem from the Labor Party. “He can’t wait for months or years for the courts,” Mr Clark said.

Mr Clark said that, while there were criminal offences possibly arising against Mr Melhem, there were clearly unacceptable practices revealed by the trade union royal commission’s final report.

“If he doesn’t act he is condoning that Cesar Melhem took payments from behind workers’ backs and sold them out in wage negotiations,” Mr Clark said.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz said the report showed there had been “completely unacceptable” and corrupt activity at the highest levels of trade unions.

“Unfortunately, the ACTU and other Labor leaders were not willing to call out corruption for what it is,” he said.

The government’s efforts to re-establish the commission ABCC were blocked in the Senate in August.

With Nicole Hasham

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