Newly discovered director dissolves into sparkling sea

Jean Epstein.LAUNCHING his career in Paris in the 1920s, Jean Epstein approached the new art of cinema from a position of rare intellectual freedom. Few filmmakers have worked so fruitfully in the zone where fictional narrative meets the avant-garde, and few have shown such wholehearted enthusiasm for using the camera to transform our vision of the world.
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It has taken a while for English-language film culture to discover Epstein. A retrospective at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival gives an indication of what we have been missing.

Epstein is a ''flashy'' filmmaker, in a literal sense. He is attracted to elemental forms of movement - whatever sparkles, flows, or drifts like smoke. He loves reflections, veils, superimpositions, close-ups, blurred focus, and anything involving rivers or the sea.

His favourite device is the slow dissolve, especially when dissolving between the rippling surface of water and the face of a character in thought.

Often developing his visual ideas through conventional melodramatic stories, Epstein rarely delves into psychology as commonly understood.

Instead, he invites us to relish the faces, bodies and gestures of his performers: one sequence of The Beauty from Nivernais (1923) is devoted to a small boy doing a giddy dance, with little relevance to the plot.

There's a playfully eerie side to Epstein's work, linked to a use of slow motion that puts human activity and the inanimate on equal footing.

In his 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of The House of Usher, candle flames and curtains acquire wills of their own, while hands and faces move as clouds.

Covering a fraction of Epstein's output, the retrospective concentrates on his 1920s silent films. Still, the new documentary Jean Epstein, Young Oceans Of Cinema covers his later, quasi-ethnographic shorts and features.

In the 1947 short Le tempestaire the obvious camera tricks have mostly gone: what remains is a spare yet intricate game with a handful of elements of image and sound. The rhythmic flashing of a lighthouse lamp is set against the whistle of the wind, the roar of the waves, and a plaintive melody sung by a fisherman's bride-to-be as she awaits her lover's return to land.

Asked why he so often depicted the sea, Epstein said it was out of a fear that ''obliges us to do what we are afraid to do''. That might be a clue to the true nature of this mysterious filmmaker, whose works seem lucid almost to the point of abstraction, yet deeply personal in their mingled ecstasy and fright.

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Regulator takes tougher stance with telcos

The communications regulator is warning of "more investigations [and] more court cases" against telcos that breach new customer service rules starting in four weeks.
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The new rules will stop telcos using the word "cap" and force them to offer clear pricing information, usage alerts and better complaint handling services. It also set up Communications Compliance - an industry funded body that will monitor breaches.

General manager of content, consumer and citizen at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Jennifer McNeill, said it will have little patience for telcos that flaunt the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

The ACMA previously used a gentle 'engage and educate' method to help telcos comply, but this attitude would be replaced with a tougher stance, she said.

"You will see more investigations, more directions and more court cases," she told a room full of telco industry representatives at a briefing.

"We expect immediate compliance with the obligations that have been substantially carried over from the old code."

Ms McNeill said the ACMA would no longer tolerate "good natured incompetence" as an excuse for breaches and would also ask telcos to substantiate any unbelievable service offers. Staff had been shifted around within the ACMA to bulk up its ability to enforce compliance, she added.

When the code starts on September 1, it will be the first time all Australian telcos are bound by a customer service code enforceable through fines of up to $250,000. The old code was voluntary and impossible to enforce.

The industry body that drafted the code, Communications Alliance, is conducting briefings and training sessions around the country to help companies prepare for the changes.

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Nufarm to settle class action for $43.5 million

A group of Nufarm shareholders, super funds and banks, who launched two class actions over the company’s alleged failure to disclose company weaknesses three years ago, are expected to share $43.5 million as part of a proposed settlement.
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In a statement released this morning, the law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon said an in-principle settlement had been reached with the agricultural supplies company after a mediation which was held yesterday.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, which at this stage have not been disclosed publicly. The deal must secure the approval of the Federal Court.

The class actions claimants accused Nufarm of failing the tell the stock exchange how worsening conditions in the market for herbicide glyphosate had affected its business and therefore its profitability and debt position.

Nufarm had denied the allegations.

The company’s chaiman, Donald McGauchie, said the board had considered the likely risks and potential costs of pursuing a defence at trial as well as the distraction it might cause to management.

“We are pleased to put this behind us and have the company fully focused on continuing to improve the operating performance of the business,” Mr McGauchie said.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Nufarm said the proposed settlement, which covers investors who bought shares between September 2009 to August 2010, encompasses claims made by the plaintiffs, accrued interest, the sums that will be paid to litigation funders for each of the class actions plus legal costs.

The class actions had been rolled into a single case and were due to be heard next year before Justice John Middleton in the Federal Court.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jason Geisker said the proposed settlement “represents a very positive and expeditious outcome for shareholders”.

Slater & Gordon’s Ben Phi said participants in the case included retail and institutional funds, individual shareholders and banks. Clients would be told about the deal in the next few weeks.

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‘Blade Runner’ ready to make his mark

Oscar Pistorius thinks his greatest value to South Africa's 4x400-metre relay team will be running in second or third place and the double amputee, nicknamed 'Blade Runner', on Wednesday welcomed a decision by the sport's governing IAAF to allow him to run in any position at the London Games.
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Pistorius, who races wearing carbon fibre prosthetic blades, started the relay off for South Africa at last year's world championships amid concerns about the safety of other athletes during relay changeovers.

Following an IAAF council meeting in London on Tuesday, however, IAAF President Lamine Diack said it was not their place to determine the relay orders.

"If they want him to go from the second leg, he can run the second leg. It is no problem for us," he told reporters.

Diack had said last year at the world championships in South Korea that Pistorius must run first.

"The only thing we said to the South African federation is that if he wants to run in the relay, he must run the first leg to avoid danger to other athletes," he said.

On Wednesday, Pistorius said the safety concerns were overblown and both the IAAF and International Olympic Committee (IOC) were content to let the 25-year-old run in any position.

"I've run so many relays since 2004 and there's never been an incident," he told a packed media conference. "I ran the first leg last year, and the IAAF and IOC are happy with me running any leg.

"I ran in the African Championships a couple of weeks ago on the third leg, and there's never been an incident or any reason for me not to run."

Pistorius said starting the relay off would not be his first choice.

"I think second or third makes sense for me. On starts, with my prosthetic legs, I'm just very slow. On a running start I'll probably be a lot more use or value to the team."


Born without a fibula in both legs, Pistorius fought for the right to line up against able-bodied competition.

Banned from running in able-bodied events by the IAAF in 2007, he appealed successfully to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the decision was revoked in 2008.

Pistorius said he had been rocked by the decision to ban him in the first place.

"We were taken aback because athletes had been using the same leg that I was using since 1996, and of the top Paralympic athletes there was never an athlete to run close to the times I was running in the 400," he said.

"I was thinking if this leg provides such an advantage then how come everybody isn't running the same times?"

Growing up Pistorius played a variety of sports with his older brother Carl.

"My mother used to tell us in the mornings, 'Carl put on your shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs, and that's the last I want to hear about it,'" he recalled.

"So I grew up not really thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes."

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Cook’s motley crew has a final surprise in store

They've almost completed mission impossible – and Sarah Cook says it's time to take risks in the pursuit of Australia's most unexpected medal of the Olympic Games.
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The women's eight rowing team will have a chance to prove all of its doubters wrong when it races in the final tonight at 9.30pm (Canberra time).

Just seven months ago Rowing Australia refused to enter the team into Olympic qualification.

But after a protest and defiant rally, the women's eight was finally given the chance it needed.

Now it is on the verge of winning a medal, with Canberra's Cook declaring the "motley crew" of the Olympics has one more surprise left for its competitors.

"It's definitely a relief to get through," Cook told The Canberra Times.

"I feel like we can just do anything from here on in, for us it has just been about achieving the impossible over and over again.

"By no means are we at the bottom of the pile. I feel like we have a real shot, we can take some risks and step it up another gear."

Australia finished third behind the Netherlands and Romania to book its place in the final.

Its time wasn't on medal pace, but Cook insisted the team was ready to burst out of its bubble to cause a major boilover.

The women's eight has been notorious for controversy.

First there was the 'lay-down Sally' incident when Sally Robbins stopped rowing in the final of the event at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

With the London Olympics looming, Rowing Australia decided there wasn't enough talent to fill the boat to compete at Eton Dorney.

Now it's a team of misfits and rejects which has continually defied the odds on its Olympic journey.

"The job isn't done yet . . . we just stayed in our bubble [in the semi-final] and executed our plan . . . the final is about stepping it up a notch, throwing a few surprises and really racing for that medal," Cook said.

"It's really exciting that we've ticked the boxes we've wanted . . . we haven't put it all out on the course yet. We've definitely got another gear to go, we'll put it out there when it matters and see what we get back."

Cook also competed at the Beijing Olympics in the double, but she didn't make the final with partner Kim Crow.

Should the women's eight win a medal, it creates a significant dilemma for Cook.

She revealed last week she had planned to take time away from rowing after the London Olympics before returning for another campaign in Rio in 2016.

Her comeback would have been driven by the desire for an Olympic medal.

"If I do that now . . . if I was to come back it would be to pursue that goal of a medal and if I do it now would I still have that drive," Cook said.

"If I won an Olympic medal now, it would be about thinking what I want to achieve. It's the ideal scenario, but whether I would have the drive [for a comeback] is a question I can't answer until I'm faced with it. I'm just excited because what this squad has done is amazing."

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How a former runner could have plenty to crow about – in rowing

Kim Crow competes in the women's single sculls in London.It's fast becoming one of Australia's feel-good stories from the London Olympics.
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Kim Crow, the one-time aspiring 400-metre hurdler, is closing in on two gold medals – not on the track, but in the Thames as a rower.

The story starts at the Victorian Institute of Sport in 2004, where she was recovering from injury. Working out at the gym, Crow was punching out some minutes on the rowing machine while coaches were working with the institute's rowers.

From just a few minutes on the machines, Crow's ability was recognised and her track career ended, replaced by one in the boat.

Tonight, she will race the semi-final of the single sculls before chasing gold in the double sculls just an hour later.

While her story is unique, it isn't necessarily new. And it's a road well-travelled by many successful Australian athletes.

It's the world of talent identification and talent transfer programs – a concept that started more than 20 years ago at the Australian Institute of Sport, when Professor Alan Hahn created a pilot program to identify young talent and turn them into world-conquering rowers.

Since then talent identification has developed and changed, but the end-goal remains the same: producing elite athletes.

AIS senior talent identification and development specialist Jason Gulbin said talent ID was responsible for a huge amount of success since Hahn's pioneer program.

"You don't always know how people have got into the sport," he said.

"But it's contributed to many thousands of national medals at a senior level, and obviously many, many more medals at a junior level.

"Certainly senior world championships and Olympic medals, too."

But what exactly makes a good athlete? And how do you identify one?

An expert in talent ID for more than 13 years, Gulbin said it's not quite as simple as using a tape measure and some weights.

"I suppose everyone thinks in talent ID you run a tape measure across, and they've got a big armspan, a big height, they've got a big engine . . . but that's the very easy bit – you can pick talent for certain sports just by your eye," he said.

"The real sophistication comes in how you can increase the probability of selection by knowing more about the biopsychosocial elements together.

"Yeah, you have good biology, some good physical attributes – your height, arm span, leg length, your physiology. It's also about the psychological elements. How mentally tough are you? How resilient are you? How dogged and determined are you? Are you coachable?

"All of those qualities are very important.

"And then there is the social element – the quality of the coaching, the quality of the cohort you train with – that you are training in a good-quality group that is pushing you. And then the other social aspect is the network of support you might have."

That's not to say physical requirements mean nothing.

ACT Academy of Sport sports program manager Andrew Stainlay said the academy held try-outs for sports in an effort to identify talent.

"We advertise for kids, and then have a whole battery of tests, invite people in, and from there go through all the stats and data," Stainlay said.

We've got to be smart with talent identification in Australia – we don't have the population base, so we have to be smart with what we've got.

"We've got the know-how from a sports science point of view and we've got quality coaches."

It's a far cry from 1990, when a 16-year-old Queanbeyan girl tried out for Hahn's program.

Megan Marcks (nee Still) teamed up with Kate Slatter, and with victory at Atlanta in 1996 became the first Australian female rowing crew to win gold.

"It's amazing how one day can change your whole life, and that day did exactly that – I mean I wasn't even a water sports kind of person," Marcks said.

"It was only that I heard the words 'Australian Institute of Sport' and thought, that's the place you want to be if you wanted to be successful in sport."

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Canberra coach in stadium lockout

25 April 2012, Sport, Journalist: Lee Gaskin. Canberra Times Photo by Jeffrey Chan. Runners and training buddies (rear from left) Lauren Boden, Brendan Cole and Melissa Breen with Coach Matt Beckenham before training at the AIS Athletics Track. They are about to go to Japan for a pre-Olympic competition. Matt Beckenham with his crew Lauren Boden, Brendan Cole and Melissa Breen.
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Helpless athletics coach Matt Beckenham will drop his stable of athletes at the Olympic Games gates and hope they can "star in the class" in his absence after being denied access to watch their races in London.

In a cruel twist to four years of preparation, Canberra coach Beckenham will watch sprinter Melissa Breen and hurdlers Lauren Boden and Brendan Cole from a big screen rather than the inside of the main stadium when they compete.

It's like parents dropping their kids at the school gates for the first time and watching them disappear into a life-changing experience.

Beckenham is with the Australian team as a "personal coach" for his three athletes and is not one of the main coaches.

It means his accreditation gives him access to most areas, including the warm-up area, but not the Olympic Stadium.

He put off buying tickets not knowing where his accreditation would allow him and he is still exploring every option with officials for a late call-up.

But Beckenham could be forced to hear the roars of the crowd while watching from the warm-up track just a few hundred metres away.

"It would be great to be in there, but they're big kids so they'll be able to look after themselves," Beckenham said.

"There's not much I can do from now, they're in good shape and you've just got to hope they can go into the classroom and can star in the class. I'm just hoping there's a big screen at the warm-up track, it is about the athletes and it's not the end of the world . . . I'm still going to look at every option available."

Beckenham raced at the Sydney Olympics in the 400-metre hurdles and has imparted his knowledge to his talented squad.

Breen will be Australia's first female in 12 years to race the 100m sprint, while Boden and Cole have been strong performers in the 400m hurdles.

Beckenham has been with them on every part of their journey from Canberra unknowns to the biggest stage in the world.

He has been on the emotional wave of tight losses and personal best times, but will have a unique experience if he can't find his way into the Olympic Stadium.

The tight-knit training group works at the Australian Institute of Sport and has been in Europe for the past month finalising preparations.

Athletics Australia officials are working with Beckenham to try to get him into the events, which will begin when Breen and Cole race this Friday.

But Beckenham said they were bound by quota systems and he was unsure if he would be given a chance to be in the venue.

The athletes moved into the Olympic Village on Monday, while Beckenham remains at the Athletics Australia base in Tonbridge – an hour outside London.

He said his trio of athletes was primed for strong performances at their debut Olympic campaigns after impressive lead-up work.

"The hard training is basically done now and it's about the confidence and getting it right," Beckenham said.

"Lauren's training has been great and I'm still optimistic she'll run well.

"Mel is jumping out of her skin after running a PB [two weeks ago] and BJ [Cole] is tracking on exactly the same form line he had domestically, which is fantastic.

"I'm confident when they get on the big stage they'll step up and run well."

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Fears funding row will hit work with homeless

THE national goal of halving homelessness by 2020 is unlikely to be achieved if state and federal governments fail to renew an historic funding agreement that is running out, community leaders say.
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They fear the homeless will be victims of rancorous relations between the federal government and non-Labor states demonstrated in negotiations over the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an issue with much wider community support.

About 180 projects nationally - 80 in NSW - have been funded by the commonwealth and states under the $1.1 billion National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. The agreement, signed by the states, was the centrepiece of the Rudd government's commitment to halve homelessness by 2020.

But the four-year funding agreement runs out on June 30 next year and community leaders have failed to get assurances of an extension. Some organisations have been told by state officials their projects will not be re-funded and plan to close them this year or early next year.

The chief executive officer of Homelessness NSW, Gary Moore, said: ''Unless there's new money the goal of halving homelessness by 2020 has Buckley's. Four years [funding] is not long enough.''

The only possible way the goal might be achieved would be if the Australian Bureau of Statistics changed the definition of homelessness, a process under consideration, he said.

State and federal government concerns over budget deficits and the wrangling over the NDIS have given advocates for the homeless cause for pessimism.

''We are anxious seeing the fraught negotiations over the NDIS that an issue like homelessness without such broad-based support won't be resolved,'' said the chief executive officer of the Northern Rivers Social Development Council, Tony Davies.

The chief executive of Marist Youth Care, Cate Sydes, said a $2 million project to help homeless youth in the Nepean region would be closed at the end of December after state officials informed her the three-year contract would not be extended.

And the Samaritans Foundation, with a $1.8 million grant to provide tenancy support, has been told the service would have to finish by June 2013.

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Long jail terms are no deterrent – chief judge

Chief Justice Tom Bathurst ... believes the notion longer prison terms deter crime is "fiction".THE Chief Justice has made a thinly veiled call for the state government to change sentencing laws, saying the notion that longer prison terms deter crime is ''fiction''.
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The impact of an individual's sentence on the likelihood that someone else will commit a similar crime in the future - known as ''general deterrence'' - is one of the factors judges have to consider when sentencing a criminal.

But Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said there was no ''persuasive evidence that it works''.

Therefore, it was important to reconsider whether deterrence should continue to have a role in sentencing, he told the NSW Legal Aid criminal law conference yesterday.

Assuming that most criminals conducted ''a rational assessment of their planned illegal behaviour'', weighing up potential gain with potential penalties, bore ''little resemblance to reality'', he said.

However, white collar criminals - such as tax evaders, drug traffickers and insider traders - were the exception and ''far more likely to weigh up the risks and benefits of being caught [and jailed]'', he said.

''But it cannot be, I suggest, [a real deterrent] across the board in the crimes which are impulsive, crimes which come out of the cycle of poverty and abuse and generally … the less serious crimes.''

Chief Justice Bathurst said his comments did not mean he had a relaxed attitude towards crime, but warned ''political fear of being soft on crime should not immobilise our society from correcting or removing ineffective policies''. A review, under way, should consider if general deterrence worked, and if it found it didn't, it should consider ''whether it is appropriate to have a system founded on what is proving to be a false assumption''.

''I think it may be time to trust in the well-informed public to prefer a criminal justice system that honestly and transparently seeks to reduce crime and protect communities,'' he said.

Sentencing was one of the hardest things judges did, and involved conflicting sets of considerations such as the history of the offender and the impact on the victim, he said.

Research had shown that the fear of being caught was a powerful deterrent, but the fear of longer jail terms had little or no deterrent effect, he said.

The effect had been shown to be ''at most marginal if not entirely negligible'' compared to the cost of keeping people in prison for longer.

Evidence suggested public money was better spent on policing or alternative sentences and community-based crime prevention schemes, rather than keeping people in prison for longer.

The issue is one of a series of questions in a current investigation into the state's complex sentencing laws by the NSW Law Reform Commission, which is asking if deterrence is ''a valid purpose of sentencing'' and should be considered in all cases.

In its submission, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions suggests that deterrence should not be relevant to the sentencing of young offenders, but argues that abolishing the consideration across the board could be ''counterproductive''.

The Bar Association and Law Society suggest deterrence should remain available to judges on a case-by-case basis.

Even the Police Association's submission calls for ''further review of the purposes of sentencing'' in light of the evidence that ''higher sentences do not deter offenders''.

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US eyes Perth naval base

Projecting power: The US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian ocean.THE United States could base a US aircraft carrier and supporting fleet in Perth, under plans to be presented to Congress today.
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The proposal is one of four options set out in a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies commissioned by the US Defence Department.

The centre was directed to consider how the US military could undertake the so-called “pivot”  in the Asia-Pacific region announced by President Barack Obama last year in response to China’s increasing influence.

Chinese analysts immediately identified the plan as likely to antagonise China, saying it would confirm suspicions of an effort to contain it. Such a move would raise the temptation for China to use its huge economic leverage to retaliate, they said.

“It would be interpreted within China as another move to encircle China,” said Sun Zhe, the director of  Tsinghua University’s Centre for China-US Relations.

Song Xiaojun, editor of Naval and Merchant Ships magazine, said Australia would be unlikely to proceed with the proposal after it weighed security gains against export losses.

“Do they think China one day will invade Australia and rob its iron ore? said Song, formerly an analyst with a People’s Liberation Army academy.

The strike group would include a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a carrier air wing of up to nine squadrons, one or two guided-missile cruisers, two or three guided-missile destroyers, one or two nuclear-powered submarines and a supply ship.

The report also suggests that the US could consider building facilities to support “bombers and other aircraft”.

“Australia‘s geography, political stability and existing defence capabilities and infrastructure offer  ... significant military advantages to the United States in light of the growing range of Chinese weapons systems,’’  it says. “HMAS Stirling offers advantages including direct blue water access to the Indian Ocean ... submarine facilities including a heavyweight torpedo maintenance centre and the only submarine escape training facility in the southern hemisphere.’’

The report also notes the naval base offers ‘‘expanded surface ship facilities, including potentially a dock capable of supporting aircraft carriers”.

The document —  which includes advice from Andrew Shearer, foreign policy adviser to former prime minister John Howard —  provides the greatest detail yet about exactly how the United States sees its new role in the Asia-Pacific and Australia.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said in a speech in Canberra last night that Australia would look at an increased US presence at HMAS Stirling.

‘‘For Australia, this presence will support our long-held strategic interests in maintaining and expanding US engagement in our region.’’

He reasserted the need for a strong alliance with the US, as it had underwritten stability in the region for the past half-century ‘‘and will continue to be the single most important strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future’’.

Responding to a question, the minister said: ‘‘The US does not have a base in Australia and this will not change’’.

Mr Smith insists that the Northern Territory military base through which up to 2500 US marines rotate for training each year is not a US base. The report is believed to moot the possibility of increasing that number.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett dismissed the notion of such extensive US forces at Stirling.

‘‘I don’t think there’s any possibility of that happening,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think you could squeeze a nuclear aircraft carrier into Cockburn Sound.’’

The Greens reacted negatively. ‘‘The risks of routinely floating nuclear reactors in and out of Cockburn Sound shouldn’t be underestimated,’’ West Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam said.

‘‘Western Australian police and emergency services personnel are completely under-resourced to cope with even a minor reactor leak.’’

The head of a Canberra think tank also rejected the idea, though for different and multiple reasons.

Peter Jennings, a former deputy defence secretary and now the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the idea was unrealistic, citing the cost —  anywhere between  between $US1 billion and $US6.7 billion — as prohibitive in the context of deep US defence budget cuts.

What was likely, however, was more US naval ship visits to Stirling, he said.

Authors of  the Centre for Strategic and International Studies report were scheduled to give testimony before the US Congress Armed Services Committee overnight, Melbourne time.

The report notes: “Australia is unique among America‘s allies in having fought alongside the United States in every major conflict since the start of the 20th century.”

While Perth was a long way away from some strategically important areas, the report says the West Australian capital’s location could also be a benefit because it was beyond the increasing range of China’s defences.

A spokesman for the centre said the think-tank was unable to comment on the report until after some of its authors had testified before the Senate committee.

The Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin, said he agreed with comments made by Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta that ‘‘efforts to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific to advance a common security vision for the future are essential to the US strategy to rebalance toward the region’’.

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Mid-East uranium sale gets go-ahead

AUSTRALIA has agreed to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates as one of the Middle East's richest oil nations switches to nuclear power.
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Foreign Minister Bob Carr signed a safeguards agreement in Abu Dhabi yesterday, intended to guarantee Australian uranium is used only for peaceful purposes.

The deal, potentially worth up to $200 million in yellowcake exports, follows the controversial shift by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year to overturn Labor's ban on uranium sales to India.

Senator Carr said the UAE would become the first Middle East market for Australian uranium, in what has been interpreted as a sign of faith in the nuclear industry.

But anti-nuclear campaigners have slammed the deal as out of step with European moves to wind back the reliance on atomic power after the disaster last year at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.

''Germany has committed to get out of nuclear power within a decade and nations such as Switzerland, Belgium and Italy are moving away from nuclear power,'' said Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Sweeney also raised concerns over the long-term stability of the UAE while the country remained an absolute monarchy and was yet to go through a democratic revolution along the lines of those that have swept the Middle East.

Tim Wright of the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons said safeguards agreements only offered ''the illusion of protection'' against atomic bomb proliferation and the deal undermined Australia's support for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

''Opening up sales to the most volatile region in the world is a deeply troubling development, and should be strongly resisted,'' he said.

The UAE, with an official population of 5.3 million but home to many more migrant labourers, needs a huge amount of energy for desalination plants and for air-conditioning in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It plans to save its oil reserves for export and not use them for electricity.

Senator Carr said the ''strict'' guidelines would include safe handling of radioactive material and re-export restrictions.

Australia sells uranium to nations such as Russia, China and France under similar arrangements and has 22 nuclear safeguard pacts covering possible sales to other nations.

The Russian deal was held up in Parliament in 2009 over concerns Australian uranium could not be properly monitored and in what appeared a protest over Russia's war against Georgia.

The UAE deal will also need to be approved by Parliament's treaties committee.

Michael Angwin of the Australian Uranium Association said the deal was unlikely to make a large difference to Australia's uranium exports.

''But what it does do is signal the world's nuclear industry is growing,'' he said, adding that Australia's uranium sector had been through a difficult time.

He said Canberra provided a warranty to protect the exports with the safeguards arrangements, which carried a lot of weight.

The UAE is expected to build four nuclear reactors, with power generation to begin in 2020.

Senator Carr will also travel to Jordan to discuss the conflict in Syria, and then make his first official visit to Israel.

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Canberra needs to come clean on what’s going on

ENOUGH of the cute codes and doublespeak. Making Perth home to a mammoth nuclear aircraft carrier fleet would amount to an American base in Australia, plain and simple.
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The government needs to come clean with its military plans, given Australia has already agreed to host US marines near Darwin - and US bombers, spy drones and the existing ''joint facilities'' often overlooked.

Time to stop pretending this is just business as usual. Are we preparing to help Washington use the threat of force to contain China in the region?

That is certainly the impression. It is also the prevailing wisdom in Beijing. And at least some Americans seem to be banking on Australia to play a role in containing China, too.

There is a big debate to be had here, one that should not be shut down with rhetorical parlour tricks to dismiss questions as ''anti-Americanism''. Everyone deserves a say. Maybe the new Defence white paper, due next year, will give that chance. But not if the decisions have already been made.

And while ever ministers insist a deployment of soldiers is not a ''base'' or that a negotiation about access to facilities is merely a ''conversation'', the public gets a confused picture about what Australia is signing up to.

Surely it is not in Australia's interest to fuel an unnecessary rivalry between two major powers in the neighbourhood - one that happens to be our biggest trading partner, the other our chief military ally.

Let's step back for a moment. This idea of stationing a carrier fleet in Western Australia is only one option to give teeth in a supposed US ''pivot'' towards Asia. The proposal has been floated by think tank, a favourite haunt for ex-officials in Washington hiding out before the next change of administration.

That gives the Obama administration - and Canberra - a plausible excuse to say this is not an official plan. It is not.

But don't assume that means the plan won't be seriously considered, having been commissioned by the Pentagon and submitted with a secret annex. Contracting out strategic thinking is common practice.

This is part of the game in defence circles, to telegraph ideas without scaring other countries with an out-of-the-blue announcement.

The prospect of more US warships putting in at HMAS Stirling in Perth has been tossed around by officials for months. Expanding the wharfs and dredging a new shipping channel at the base was discussed in the March publication of Australia's own review of forces.

What is worrying is what it is all for. The basic question, why do it, has not been answered.

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

By admin, ago

NBN seeks verdict on ‘wall warts’

The battery (left) and network box.High life in the NBN fast lane
Nanjing Night Net

IT'S the most annoying thing about getting connected to the national broadband network - a bulky power box on your lounge room wall.

But 10 months after NBN Co warned that the unsightly wall warts were causing customer complaints, the government is yet to decide whether they should remain compulsory.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley warned last October that the large battery back-up and power unit was the single biggest source of complaints from users in test sites.

The power unit keeps a telephone line active for about five hours during a blackout. But it is a large bulky box that is not necessary for connecting to the internet and many households may never use it. About 64 per cent of calls to triple-0 were made from mobile phones in 2010-11, according to the communications regulator.

A spokesman for the Department of Broadband said the government had consulted with a broad range of interested stakeholders to gauge attitudes to battery back-up.

''The government is carefully considering all stakeholder views to determine the best long-term deployment model and will make a decision shortly,'' he said.

NBN Co's updated corporate plan, due out tomorrow, may reveal a change in policy.

NBN Co said batteries were still mandatory in every house. If they were optional, households could plug the smaller network box straight into a power socket. The telco industry would prefer an opt-in approach as long as consumers are fully informed about what happens during a blackout.

The government ordered power units to be installed so the NBN would mirror what happens on the copper network during a blackout.

Copper wires carry electricity and remain active when household power goes down, which keeps telephones working.

But the copper wires will be removed once households are transferred to NBN Co's fibre-optic cables.

Fibre-optic cables carry light, not electricity, and are useless during a blackout.

Copper telephone line will be kept for at least 10 years in rural and regional areas where households will get wireless or satellite broadband instead of fibre-optic cables.

Mr Quigley argued last year that there would be a lot of batteries deployed for ''little return'' because many people no longer use fixed telephones.

''The big issue is the box … which is the battery back-up. That is the thing that most people object to, which is something we obviously need to be talking to the government about how we address that,'' he said last October.

There is also a huge cost associated with the batteries and an environmental impact, with at least 10 million 12-volt lead acid batteries needed. These batteries must be replaced every five years.

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

By admin, ago