Quality journalism might need subsidies: Labor MP

PUBLIC or private subsidies may be required to sustain quality journalism and to address an emerging information gap in the digital era, according to federal Labor backbencher Andrew Leigh.
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With Cabinet set to consider a contentious package of media reforms, Dr Leigh will today argue ''appropriate subsidies'' could be part of the policy mix sustaining quality journalism into the future.

Dr Leigh says former Labor frontbencher Lindsay Tanner and shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull have both flagged subsidies for quality newspapers — Mr Tanner arguing for direct grants, Mr Turnbull favouring tax breaks.

''Naturally, such a proposal would need to pass a reasonable cost-benefit test, but I am inclined to think that the benefit of a better-informed public would be likely to justify the cost of the subsidy,'' Dr Leigh will argue at a lecture at the University of Canberra.

He says governments should look to using any subsidy ''to ensure that public money increased the amount of political information among those who are disengaged from politics.''

Dr Leigh argues technological change has delivered a wealth of information to engaged consumers of news, but also privileged nasty, shallow and opinionated voices.

He contends the rise of the opinion cycle is fuelling polarisation in the electorate — threatening ''to split people into increasingly extreme echo chambers.''

Technology has also fuelled ''nastiness in political reporting'' — because newspapers face competition from online outlets, and because the internet permits contributors to be anonymous.

He argues the media revolution under way here and internationally is not ideologically neutral. The fragmented environment benefits ''populists and libertarians, and (is) confronting for long-game reformers.''

Dr Leigh also criticises a culture of talking points in politics, rather than a culture of story-telling linking the reforms of today with the events of the past. ''Too much reliance on talking points and 'lines' can win the battle, but lose the war.''

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My waste goes to waste

ALL IN FAVOUR: Beryl Nicholas is keen to get kerbside collection. Without a licence or a car Beryl Nicholas has no way
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of getting her bulky waste to the tip.

She is one of nearly 100 people who have shown their support for a kerbside pick-up by taking a clipping from the Mercury and sending it in.

Terry Nicholas, her late husband, was an alderman on Maitland council.

“He would have supported the kerbside service, my word,” Mrs Nicholas said.

Since his passing, Mrs Nicholas has been forced to stack unwanted goods in her garage waiting for an opportunity to dispose of it.

Among the items were a television and video cassette recorder, as well as some timber.

She had left some more desirable items on the front lawn with a note.

“One year we left a plastic Christmas tree out the front with a note ‘free to take’ and it was gone a couple of hours later,” Mrs Nicholas said.

“We’ve put other things out the front and they go quickly because they are on the main road.

“Scavenging doesn’t worry me,

especially when it might help somebody out.”

Greens candidate for east ward Samy Korbi told the Mercury last week Metford residents were dumping items “in vain hope or ignorance” on their front lawns, wanting a kerbside pick-up.

Mrs Nicholas said illegal dumping was a concern but not so much in the streets.

“I haven’t seen any illegal dumping,” she said.

“They’re pretty good up in the old Metford area.”

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Floods haunt couple

TWO METRES OF WATER: Nobby and Gloria Bartlett moved house after the 2007 flooding of Swamp Creek. Five years have passed since the June long weekend storms flooded Weston but the nightmares have stayed with Herb “Nobby” Bartlett and wife Gloria.
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Their former Weston home, on Fourth Street, was flooded by more than two metres of water when the reed-choked creek rose without warning.

The threat of a repeat on the neglected Swamp Creek remained long after the waters receded, forcing the couple from their home of 50 years and into Kurri Kurri.

Cessnock City Council acknowleged in 1990 that there were problems with the creek, which was choked with silt and native reeds.

Mr Bartlett, 82, has called on the council to quit stalling and clean up the creek for the safety of residents.

“We couldn’t live there anymore; the terror was too much,” Mr Bartlett said.

“Every time it rained after the June long weekend storms Gloria would sob uncontrollably thinking it was happening again.”

Having written volumes to the council without satisfaction, Mr Bartlett wrote to Cessnock MP Clayton Barr.

“The many discussions and our pleas with council to have the creek dredged have brought about no answers,” Mr Bartlett wrote.

“I realise money is the biggest drawback, but we hope you can help us in our pleas.”

Mr Barr told the Mercury he would set up a meeting to discuss the problems within a fortnight.

“I’m really concerned about the lack of urgency shown by Cessnock City Council on this,” he said.

“I appreciate that it’s complicated, but nothing can be so complicated that it takes 22 years to fix.

“The council, be it the general manager Lea Rosser or the staff, don’t seem to have the drive to make this happen.”

The Bartletts converted the old miner’s cottage, bought for 100 pounds, during their 50 years there and the move was far from easy.

“Nobby suffered after the move,” Mrs Bartlett said.

“He wasn’t well for about six months after leaving our home behind.”

Cessnock City Council has not responded to the Mercury’s inquiries.

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NSW Country fall short in Pan Pacific title bid

BIG TOURNAMENT: Liam Hardy (left) and James Richardson helped to take Country NSW almost all the way to the Pac Pacific under-16 championship title in New Zealand. Maitland water polo players Liam Hardy and James Richardson have fallen just short of claiming victory with NSW Country at the Pan Pacific Games in New Zealand.
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The Hunter Hurricane players were part of a brave NSW Country under-16 side, which went down in the last moments of the final against the suburban NSW Blues.

The NSW Country boys were tied 4-all with NSW Blues with only 37 seconds remaining when the Blues got a lucky break from the referee and broke the deadlock.

The city boys added another goal in the last second to take the final 6-4.

Hardy, from East Maitland, and Richardson, of Tenambit, playing as driver and goalkeeper respectively, helped their team progress through a tough pool where three teams won five of their six games (NSW Country, North Harbour A and Queensland Maroon).

NSW Country went through to play-offs on countback with North Harbour A.

In the quarter finals they played CDM Blue (the top team from California) and won 9-8 in an exciting game.

They then played Tauranga (a highly regarded NZ team) in the semi-finals and won 10-9.

Both Tauranga and CDM blue had won their respective pools.

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Clarence Town into second

Clarence Town have moved into second position on the D-grade Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League table after a tight 32-28 win over West Maitland.
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The four-point win at Clarence Town Park on Sunday sees the home side move clear of Hinton while remaining two points behind top-of-the-table Abermain.

Clarence Town’s 32-point haul included six try scorers with one each to centres Tom Rumble and Tony Mayton, five-eighth Ben Trappel, backrowers Keiran Hinton and Bradley Johnson and halfback Phil Badior, who also kicked four goals.

Shaun Humbley scored a double for the Red Dogs, while Luke Davies, Ben Simon and Brent Bisani also registered four pointers.

Thornton Beresfield registered only their second win of the season with a nail-biting two point victory over Morpeth.

Jordan Eckford, Jake Moore, Josh Forrest and Shannon Weekes scored tries for Thornton Beresfield while Phil James, Dean Covic, Jarrod Marko and Aaron Coward crossed for Morpeth.

Brad Reynolds was the difference in the 24-22 victory, kicking four from four for Thornton Beresfield.

In other D-grade games Abermain smashed Carrington 44-6 while Hinton’s match against Belmont Souths was washed out.

In B-grade, Woodberry were the only local team in action, thrashing Stroud

60-16 while Paterson River suffered a shock 32-22 loss to Shortland.

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Short-staffed Pickers shine

The Maitland Pickers women’s team have bounced back with a comprehensive 36-12 win over Auburn.
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Despite a daunting trip south to Lidcombe Oval in Sydney to face an Auburn side breathing down their necks in third place, the Pickers put in a committed performance to score the vital competition points to stay second on the Sydney Metropolitan Women’s Rugby League table after 11 rounds.

Coach Mick Young was glowing in his praise of his team’s effort on the back of a disappointing loss in round 10 to Canley Heights.

“It was a really good win, I couldn’t be happier with the girls’ attitudes,” Young said. “We played really well, it was probably the best attitude and effort we’ve seen this season.

The Pickers had only 12 players for the first 15 minutes before another team member arrived, but an injury left the team with no bench players.

Young felt his team’s ability to control the ball was vital to the 24-point win.

“We only had 12 or 13 players so we had to control the ball so we weren’t defending all the time,” Young said. “We limited our errors and then defended really well when we had to.”

It has been an impressive debut season for the Pickers, who have exceeded expectations, and Young couldn’t be prouder of the team’s achievements so far in 2012.

“I couldn’t be happier with where we are, it’s the first time a lot of our girls have played a whole year and they’re finding out how hard a league season is,” Young said. “To back up each week and at training, to keep that intensity up, the girls have grown so much as a team and that’s the best thing to see as a coach.

“The girls are getting better individually but everyone is doing their job to the best of their ability for the team as well.”

The Pickers will be looking to continue their good form when they host top-four rivals Blacktown in a catch-up game this Saturday at the Maitland Sportsground.

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Live chat with Wayne Swan

Wayne SwanWayne Swan's only regret about attacking billionaires Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest in an article in The Monthly earlier this year is that he did not go in hard enough.
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Every criticism he made about some of Australia's ''wealthiest and most outspoken mining tycoons'' has been ''played out almost to the letter'', he will say in tonight's John Button lecture in Melbourne, declaring defiantly that ''I don't regret a word of it''.

''In the face of all this, we have to stand up and be heard, because when the massively wealthy buy the loudest megaphones, the voices of the people are drowned out,'' Mr Swan will say.

In a personal speech, he will also talk about his passion for Bruce Springsteen's music, and his hope that the Australian economy doesn't go down the same path as the American economy.

''Don't let Australia become a Down Under version of New Jersey, where the people and the communities whose skills are no longer in demand get thrown on the scrap heap of life.''

An extract from tonight's speech can be read here.

The acting Prime Minister will take part in a live chat here today from 11.15am to midday, and debate his Button lecture with readers.

Leave your questions here.

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Les leaves a lasting legacy

THE death in July of Moruya community stalwart Les Ziegler has left a hole in many hearts and service groups.
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The man who, with his wife Merle, began and ran a volunteer marine rescue service from a South Head kitchen table in the 1960s is grieved widely.

Marriage celebrant Max Hogno said he had steadfastly refused to conduct memorial services because they affected him too much, but could not keep that rule for his dear friend.

He described a young man who worked hard in the family kiosk and with his father, Harry, helped build a club house for Moruya Surf Club.

He drove buses, cranes and the first earthmoving equipment in the Eurobodalla.

He was a “can do” man.

“No fuss, the job would be done,” Mr Hogno said.

He was made a life member of the surf club in 1995.

“He was the cornerstone and president for many years of the Moruya Fishing Club,” Mr Hogno said.

“Les, with trusty sidekick Merline, provided sterling service to the area through the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol with Les conducting rescues in all types of weather with his boat.

“They provided this service for many years before the bureaucrats, for the want of a better word, re-constructed coastal surveillance.”

Somehow he found time to restore old vehicles, joining his local restoration club.

“Les got the restoration bug, restoring to their former glory a Fordson tractor and the old truck used by his father,” Mr Hogno said.

“Then followed more vehicles and a task of great joy, his latest adventure, restoring a wooden boat.”

A bus driver, he drove for the Sydney Olympic Games and continued to drive school buses in his alleged retirement.

Mr Hogno said Les would have hated the downtime his illness imposed.

“Les would have been rankled by the inactivity these last few months - jobs he perceived needed doing and restorations to be continued,” he said.

“Recently, I had the opportunity to share coffee with Les, sitting in the morning sun, gazing out over the Tasman Sea and, of course, the surf club. That cup of coffee will be remembered.”

Moruya Surf Club’s Mike Hallahan said Mr Ziegler had been involved for 50 of the club’s 80 years.

“Les was always available to help out and Moruya Surf Club has benefited greatly from his ‘can do’ attitude,” he said.

“Speaking with him recently, he was most apologetic that he had missed a meeting.”

If not for the “sandbagging efforts of members like Les, the sea would have claimed the clubhouse” during a 1975 storm.

He described a man who made things happen rather than “running the ship”.

“If a job needed to be done or materials sourced, Les would step forward. He was a great example to the rest of us that you don’t have to be a lifesaver to be an active member of a surf club.”

“When we look around the club today there are so many items we would not have except for Les.”

He sourced building materials and was ever on the watch for a bargain for the club.

“He would regularly scour the papers for anything being sold that might benefit the Club in some way. Sometimes it was cutlery while other times it may be tents.

“Only a couple of weeks ago, although visibly ill, Les was organising his contacts to supply paint to resurface the floor of the clubhouse.

“He also mentioned not to forget a fundraiser he had organised with the Car Club for July – next year!”

In charge of the ski referee’s boat for the George Bass Marthon, Les had “the perfect job for a man in a very fast Big Yellow Boat who loved to go fast”.

That boat saved many a life and Merle continues that work, with the bank of radios in her kitchen not disappearing anytime soon.

“I want to thank everyone for their kindness and sympathy cards,” Mrs Ziegler said this week with special thanks to the surf club, community nurses, Dr Chris Fenn and Moruya Hospital.

He leaves five children and many grandchildren and will miss the birth of his first great-grandchild later this year.

“He was a good father,” Mrs Ziegler said. “He did everything well.”

Daughter Kerrie Nettle said she was “always proud” of her parents as a child.

“It was just normal, saving people all the time,” she said.

Son Chris remembers a father who “always helped me with anything”.

LEGENDARY LES: Merle Ziegler with daughter Kerrie Nettle and a treasured photo of Les.

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Tears flow as Rice says she may walk away after failing to hit heights of Beijing

Tearful end ... Stephanie Rice becomes emotional while speaking to Channel Nine. Considering her future ... Stephanie Rice.
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A highly emotional Stephanie Rice said on Tuesday night she will take a break from the sport and consider whether her career is over after frustratingly being unable to perform to her optimum at the London Games.

As was the case in the 400m individual medley on Saturday, Rice was again unable to defend her Olympic title, this time in the 200m IM, finishing a courageous fourth behind China's Ye Shiwen, just 0.60 away from the bronze medal.

Speaking after the race, Rice battled to fight back tears, but it was a battle she would ultimately lose, breaking down as she spoke about the difficulty of her Olympic preparation due to a nagging shoulder tendon injury.

"I need to take a break to get my head back in the right frame of mind," Rice said. "I'd hate to make a rapid decision on quitting the sport which a few people do.

"I've always said I could never be someone who quits and comes back to the sport. If I think it's time to move on, if it's time to end ... I'd hate to finish on the disappointment, but at the same time I'm proud of what I have achieved in my swimming career and really happy with the person I have turned into after this really hard prep.

"It's tough. I'm in a really tough position now having to analyse what I want to do because I love swimming and I love competing and representing Australia but if preparations are going to be like the one I just had, there is just no way in the world I can keep it up. It was really tough," she said before the tears gushed.

"Obviously I can sit here and say so many things went wrong and that was the reason why I didn't do well but at the end of the day, you know, I did everything I could in this preparation.

"I would have liked to have done what I know I could have done if I had been able to. I would have been much better prepared. But the reality was it panned out this way for me and I walk away from these Olympics disappointed with results and times but really proud of the effort and energy I put in to get myself to this point.

"If I was to continue in the sport I would definitely need some sort of surgery whether it's a recon [reconstruction] or a clean out, I'm not 100 per cent and that's something I have to weigh up when I finish - whether I can go through another surgery and prepare again."

Rice still has a chance on Wednesday to salvage something out of all the disappointment if she gets a swim in the 4x200m freestyle relay, another event she won in Beijing.  It will be revealed Wednesday morning if she will be a member of that team which plans to defend their Olympic title.

London has certainly been very different to Beijing for Rice, not simply in terms of gold medals won, but in how she has had to battle through a debilitating shoulder injury over the past few years, and more specifically since a tear in her tendon was discovered late last year.

"Come race time when we are backing off in taping it [the shoulder] seems to handle the load a lot better because it's not so intense," she explained.

"There's no excuses for the way I have prepared in these last few weeks. Obviously it has been far from an ideal preparation and lot different to my Beijing one, but I never wanted to compare the two of them because I was missing out on kilometres but I was definitely doing more in other areas than I was before Beijing.

"I was hoping it would weigh up but it obviously hasn't weighed up as I would have liked it to."

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The night the greatest became The Greatest

Michael Phelps came second in the butterfly before winning gold in the relay.Six golds, two bronze in AthensEight golds in BeijingOne gold, two silver in LondonBiography: Up Close With Michael Phelps
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The last two medals in Michael Phelps's record collection represented them all, and his singular Olympic journey to win them, too.

One was silver, in the 200 metres butterfly. For all but the last stroke, it was gold, but South Africa's Chad le Clos outreached him at the wall, leaving Phelps with a so-called minor medal.

This was Athens revisited. Phelps was 19 then and not yet immortal. After winning bronze behind Ian Thorpe in the 200m freestyle, dubbed the race of the century, he made as if by reflex for the gold-medal place on the podium. It was a forgivable slip. His time was coming and it would be an era.

In an odd way, this was also Beijing revisited. Faced with occasional snideness, Phelps has always said none of his medals had come easily. In Beijing, his eight-from-eight campaign was so nearly torpedoed in the 100m butterfly, in which he held out Serbian Milorad Cavic by a 100th of a second. At the wall, Cavic glided, but Phelps, having misjudged, took an extra, lunging half-stroke. It looked to be a stroke of misfortune, but in fact proved to be an inadvertent masterstroke.

At the wall last night, Phelps glided and le Clos stroked. So does history make its own reparation. Thorpe especially felt for Phelps. ''I wanted this for him,'' he said.

But Phelps was as he mostly is, even-humoured, as he re-accustoms himself to the view from the lower reaches of the podium. Besides, losing one gold does not seem so disastrous when you already have 14 (which would become 15 soon after).

Phelps owned up to human error. Mortal again, but still immortal, too.

Tuesday's other medal was more Phelpsian, the invincible of Beijing reprised, ahead not just by lengths but years. Partly, it was illusion. Phelps's teammates in the 4x200m relay gave him such a head-start for the anchor leg that he was able to coast to gold almost in clear water. If not an armchair ride, it was at least an aquatic catapult.

This was his 19th Olympic medal, surpassing the 18 of Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina. Now 77, Latynina is in London for these Olympics and offered to present Phelps, who she has met and admires, with his record-breaking medal. But the IOC declined; some wig needed to big himself. Latynina went with her daughter to the gymnastics instead.

So Phelps fulfilled his destiny. The competitive lifespan of most sporting greats is short, crowded, hectic, and oh-so exposed. Phelps has spent his in the public eye, though half-submerged. It seems so recently that his Olympic journey began. In Sydney, he was 15 and really just an idea. In Athens, he was still a boy, already a wonder, but still full of wonder himself, deferring happily to Thorpe. But he already displayed the sangfroid that has served him so well. Some spruiked six gold for him, but not Phelps; he would have been content with one, he said.

In Beijing, he was at the peak of his powers, indestructible, untouchable, able to part the waters. Leisel Jones won a long-awaited gold medal, but said what she would cherish most from Beijing was the privilege to watch Phelps. Yet out of the pool, he cut an endearingly normal figure, without airs or graces. As much as the medals, he said, he wanted to relieve swimming of its all-bar-two-weeks-every-four-years anonymity in the US.

Between Games, a little misadventure ensued, possibly the only time he has faltered under the burden of being Michael Phelps. No more egregious drug stain than this marijuana moment has attached itself to Phelps.

So he arrived in London a little older and wiser, more vulnerable, but more at ease with himself, too. For last night's night's 200m fly, the crowd's roar drowned out the announcement of Phelps. Butterfliers look like swimming kangaroos, and for three-and-ninth-tenths laps, Phelps was a big red. Then the spotlight froze him. It upped the premium on the relay. Phelps implored his teammates, saying: ''I want the biggest lead possible.'' He got it. ''I did start to smile with 20, 25 metres to go,'' he said. ''It was a cool feeling.'' The crowd roared throughout, and was still humming at night's end.

He remains determinedly level. As much as he inspires awe, he feels it. For an immortal, Michael Phelps is palpably flesh and blood.

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