Brumbies think they have Smith

GEORGE SMITH is in hot demand from French rugby clubs including Toulon but the Brumbies remain confident of retaining the superstar breakaway. ACT chief executive Andrew Fagan spoke to Smith before he left for the European tour and said the Wallabies No.7 won’t be making a decision until February. "I was neither surprised nor concerned when I heard there was interest in George from French rugby," Fagan said. "If anything, I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it earlier given his stature in the game." Smith won the RUPA player of the year award on Friday but was still on holidays in Europe. There were some suggestions he stayed to speak to Toulon, Brive and Clermont. Fagan said Smith’s decision would not only be based on money. "Some people don’t realise that it’s not all financial … it doesn’t suit some guys to just move their family overseas." The possibility of granting Smith a sabbatical similar to that of Rocky Elsom has not been discussed but Fagan said it was likely to come up in negotiations. Sonny Bill returns
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Toulon’s star signing in 2008, Sonny Bill Williams , made his long-awaited return to the rugby field in the side’s 30-9 victory over Montpellier at the weekend. After spending three months on the sidelines with a leg injury, Williams played the final 20 minutes in the centres. "The leg pulled up a bit sore but I feel everything is going ahead as planned. I’m happy to be back," Williams said. Warner hits IPL jackpot

Power hitter David Warner will sign a rich deal with an IPL franchise in the next 48 hours. The NSW batsman has offers from Kolkata and Delhi, while there has been late interest from another club over the weekend. Under legislation introduced six weeks ago, franchises are allowed to sign only one non-internationally capped player before the auction in February and Kolkata has already signed Moises Henriques for $US300,000 ($456,330) a year. However, Kolkata say they started negotiations with Warner before the rule was introduced and may be able to purchase him. Other franchises are also trying to do the same with players including NSW leggie Steven Smith . If the IPL decides they’re not allowed to sign these players before the auction, the franchises will agree to make a bid for those players to the value of what they have offered, so players who have been offered these six-figure contracts are not suddenly left cashless and clubless after auction. Warner will be a very rich man by the middle of this week. Souths courting Maitua

Souths believe Reni Maitua could be the final piece of the puzzle that will catapult them into the finals next season. The Rabbitohs are pursuing Maitua after he was sacked by the Bulldogs earlier this month and club insiders say he could be used devastatingly on the flanks along with David Fa’alogo . Meanwhile, rumours that Maitua had a falling out with fellow Bra Boy John Sutton are wide of the mark. "That’s a lie," Sutton said. "I’ve spoken to him, trying to get him over to Souths. It would be good if we can get him, he is good all over the field and he has won a premiership." Stagg in their sights

Musical chairs is set to continue in light of Maitua’s axing. Broncos officials are all but resigned to losing utility David Stagg , who met Bulldogs types yesterday before flying back to Brisbane. "The Bulldogs have got a good set-up, I just have to weigh it up and make the decision that’s best for me and the family," Stagg said. The Dogs want Stagg as a replacement to Maitua and have offered him a two-year deal, while the Broncos have no room to move under the salary cap. Tah-ed and feathered

A no-holds-barred podcast talking all things Waratahs and rugby in general will be launched on Wednesday by former NSW media man Djuro Sen . Now that Sen has cut ties with the Tahs he will be able to reveal some deep and dark secrets on his new site ruggamatrix南京夜网. Among the guests on the first show will be Lote Tuqiri and Ewen McKenzie . NRL players blacklisted

NRL players have been banned from the swankiest party on New Year’s Day, the Day One event at Ivy’s model-heavy pool deck. A few players were left flummoxed when they tried to get tickets and were bluntly told that no league players would be allowed at the do. Nine’s bouncing back

Channel Nine says rumours they may go into receivership have no foundation. "Truth is Nine’s bouncing back, as reflected in every definitive ratings measurement available," a network source said. "It’s a hard road to be sure, as it is for all networks, but the joint ain’t gonna disappear." Say what?

"Perhaps I could return to save the division, if the Klitschko brothers decided to fight, I could imagine I would return to face the winner." Former heavyweight boxing king Lennox Lewis jokes after again being asked to come out of retirement to fight Vitali or Wladimir – who yesterday retained his IBF and WBO titles by stopping Hasim Rahman in seven rounds. WEEKEND WARRIOR: ADRIAN BREEN

Adrian Breen, a Drummoyne fitness trainer who sparred 99 rounds in succession on Saturday to raise money for prostate cancer. He raised nearly $4000. Why? "My dad John has prostate cancer. He had an operation three years ago and it has come back, he’s having chemotherapy at the moment. I’m just hoping he comes through it.

"You must be feeling sensational? "My body is pretty sore, my arms started cramping up in about the 34th round. I did 99 two-minute rounds with a 30-minute break after each 33 rounds. By the 76th round I started to get a bit of a headache, and with 20 to go it got really tough because you knew the end was near. I’ve got a black eye and a bruised nose but I’m OK – I’m going back to work [today]. "

Where did you get the idea? "I have always been into boxing and I’ve seen how they have fight nights for cancer fundraising. The clock in my gym only goes up to 99 rounds so I decided to fight 99 rounds. My mates have said next year they’re going to buy me a clock that reaches triple figures."

You’re not going to do it again? "Yes, this will be an annual thing, but I’m hoping to get other people involved so I won’t have to spar all 99 rounds." The hero - John Drake

The World Cup-winning All Black and respected rugby commentator died suddenly at his home in Mt Maunganui at the weekend, aged just 49. Drake, a tight-head prop, played eight Tests including the 1987 World Cup final against France – the All Blacks’ only title. Drake proved to be a brilliant analyst of the game in his media role, and his witty barbs will be missed. The number - 203

Votes club great Brett Kenny polled at the Parramatta Eels board election yesterday, helping the rebel ticket to power. The villain - golf carts

Robert Allenby said he "could have been killed" after a cart overturned at Royal Sydney, flinging him, Darren Clarke and caddie Col Burwood three metres into the air. The trio were driving back to the locker room during a downpour on Friday and the cart failed to handle the terrain, leaving Clarke’s right leg bruised and Allenby with a sore left thigh.

Fyfe forced to pay harsh penalty

AFTER yet another top-shelf performance, it was a cruel twist of fate that Sydney FC defender Iain Fyfe would give away the penalty that decided Saturday’s match.
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Replays showed Fyfe accidentally impeded the run of Central Coast striker Dylan Macallister, and with the home crowd still seething that John Aloisi was allowed to retake his missed penalty after a Mariners player entered the box, the referee pointed to the spot.

While the captain’s armband he carried implied a certain level of responsibility, Fyfe was left shattered and with a hollow feeling that he’d let his teammates down.

"It was just a really unfortunate incident," he told the Herald . "I went to block Dylan’s shot. I used my whole body for that, and I turned my back and Dylan kind of went over. But I haven’t seen the replay and I don’t know if it was a penalty or not. But if you’d ask me now, it was probably a 50-50.

"It was frustrating that there was a decision made in the 89th minute that cost us the game. It was probably a decision that could have gone either way. But that’s football."

Fyfe’s frustrations went beyond that solitary incident, with the temporary skipper admitting his teammates were shaded by their hosts in their approach.

"To be honest, I think the Mariners were more organised than us. They seem to keep great shape," he said. "They played the better football, they were always first to those second balls, and full credit to them, they were a much better team than us on the night.

"Crucially, they won the midfield battle. Their midfielders played a lot better than our midfielders. But in saying that, we were poor all over the park. It’s not just the midfielders’ fault, everybody has to stand up and take responsibility."

While coach John Kosmina alluded to the loss of Tony Popovic as a reason behind Sydney’s lack of organisation, Fyfe believes the time has come for those left to give more.

"Maybe we are missing ‘Poppa’ a little bit, but you can’t keep using that as an excuse, as far as I’m concerned," Fyfe said. "Every week we play well, like last week. We don’t miss him because we played well. It seems like every week that we lose, we’re missing Poppa.

"We can’t keep using that as an excuse. We’ve got to move on and other players step up."

Fyfe filled Popovic’s captaincy role with aplomb against the Mariners, barking instructions at every turn and doing his best to keep the younger players focused.

"It was something I really relished, and I love leading the boys out there, so it was a great feeling," he said.

While five Sydney players have committed to join other A-League clubs next season, both Fyfe and Robbie Middleby, who are heading to Adelaide and North Queensland respectively, are clearly intent on finishing their careers with Sydney in the best possible fashion.

Fyfe has resolved to leave no stone unturned in his final few months in the harbour city and is dedicated to helping fulfil the club’s lofty pre-season ambitions.

"We look around at training and see the quality, so it is there," he said. "It’s just so frustrating that we haven’t put it together over the past few months. It’s something we’ll have to keep working on. There’s only six games left in the season, and it’s important we get it right very quick or we’ll find ourselves outside the top four, and that’s unacceptable."

The seagull has landed for rookie Wood

IF RALPH MACCHIO and Jonny Wilkinson ever paired up for an appearance on Dancing with the Stars , Victorian golfer Tim Wood’s pre-shot routine is what you’d get.
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Some bizarre things were sighted at the Australian Open over the past week, but Wood’s slow, systematic and slightly silly routine would almost top them.

First, the left foot goes back and he dips his toe to the grass – as if about to curtsey to the ball, or at least begin a waltz with it. The club face is rested on the grass and the grip on his belly. He then assumes the pose Wilkinson has made famous as he lines up a conversion, before waving his arms like a conductor – or the Karate Kid. If that seems difficult to imagine, allow Wood to set the scene of silliness.

"If I pretend I’m going to catch a big, heavy medicine ball, if I’m back on my heels it’s going to knock me straight over, right? So my weight’s forward.

"Then my arms get too close, so my arm’s flying out – that’s another thing. I just put it together myself about five weeks ago [during the WA PGA]. You’ve just got to laugh about it. I’ve just got poor posture. I get into bad habits with my posture. I hate it, but it’s working."

Hates it so much, in fact, he tried to ditch it for the Open.

"In the range this week, I tried to … hit the shots without doing the routine, and in the first round I hit two shanks in the front nine," he said. "I was two over after eight holes, and my caddie goes, ‘You’ve got to go back to the seagull’."

The "seagull" comes from the "wounded seagull", the description used by television commentator Bruce Young during the NSW PGA at Riverside Oaks, which Wood won.

Early yesterday, Wood was equal leader by the eighth before he slumped with four bogeys and a double on the back nine to place 11th. Ironically, it was some bad habits his routine was devised to erase that led to his back-nine crash, which included a shank on the 13th that would have had a weekend hacker cursing. The shot was his "wake-up call".

His one-over round yesterday was as bizarre as his routine – it included just four pars and a near hole-in-one on the 14th to snap a sequence of five bogeys in six holes.

It began wonderfully. He hit the pin on both one and three for a remarkable eagle-birdie-birdie start. Once he got to the top, he appeared to suffer vertigo.

He will still pocket $27,900 for his troubles, wiping out a $20,000 loan he took out to keep playing midway through the year. The 27-year-old had returned from his second year on the Canadian Tour, where he was 55th on the Order of Merit with earnings of $C11,655.83 (just over $14,000) from 14 events, ready to give the game away.

"In 20 years time, a 20-grand debt’s nothing," he said. "It absolutely kills me, but I did it."

But his career appears to have turned. He was first emergency for the Australian Masters and played in the PGA at Coolum. Now he is hoping the door might open to Asia.

"I’m stoked," he said. "I played really well. I was never nervous. I never felt like I was out of my class, out of my league, which I should – look at all these great players."

If they can’t bring T Woods out to Australia, heck, T Wood would still provide some entertainment.

Winner Clark in a state of disbelief

SOUTH AFRICAN Tim Clark stood in the middle of the 18th green at Royal Sydney yesterday, scratching his head. He was dumbfounded but he was also the 2008 Australian Open champion.
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Firstly, New Zealander David Smail handed Clark and Tasmanian Mathew Goggin a reprieve. They were in the clubhouse at nine under the card for the week, ruing missed chances they thought had cost them the tournament, but suddenly, dramatically, Smail imploded.

Clark was eating a pie and chips in the clubhouse when he saw Goggin on the practice putting green. He thought he’d better join him. Shortly after, they were both on the practice range. Smail, who seemingly had an unassailable lead of four shots through nine holes, had doubled-bogey both the 15th and 16th holes – and he was one shot behind them.

Smail needed to birdie one of his final two holes to join them in a sudden-death play-off, but it wasn’t to be. He was gutted, almost breaking down, as he left the scorer’s hut. He plus Robert Allenby and West Australian Stephen Dartnall were tied for third – with Goggin and Clark left to battle it out.

On the first hole, Clark made a quite superb up and down from a greenside trap, holing the par putt from three metres. Then, the massive crowd around the 18th gasped. Goggin had a par putt from less than a metre but it lipped out. Stuart Appleby spoke of John Daly being a train wreck. We witnessed one yesterday.

"It was obviously a bonus to get in the play-off but I just feel bad for David for the way he finished," Clark said. "You never want to see that. Then in the play-off it was a shock to win it like that, too. It’s a tough way to win like that but I guess at the end of the day I am the winner.

"It will improve my world ranking [with double points loaded because it is a national open] so it’s a very important win for me with The Presidents Cup this year.

After Clark had finished with a final-round five-under 67 with a double bogey and a bogey on the back nine, "I spoke to my wife and said, ‘I think I’ve thrown away another tournament.’ I thought that was that. It is just a big shock to be here.

"I’ve seen a fellow competitor struggle coming in – and then for Mat to finish like that, I feel bad for that, too. It was certainly out of left field. Maybe later on or tomorrow I’ll celebrate but right now I’m still in a bit of shock. Obviously, I’m very happy but it’s tough to show any happiness because of what the two guys did."

Goggin had given away his golf balls and his gloves, confident that he’d finished second for a second week in a row. His coach Dale Lynch had to go to the locker room to rustle up balls and a glove for the play-off. At Coolum, he was devastated with the loss to Geoff Ogilvy but yesterday was far more philosophical.

"I feel for David really. He had a good tournament, he was playing well and to have such a horror finish is brutal for him. Obviously, my finish in the play-off … well, to get in the play-off was a bonus but to miss a short putt and not keep it going twists the knife a little bit. But, that’s part of it," Goggin said. "Tim and I didn’t deserve to be in a play-off at all. It wasn’t even in our heads. I don’t know how many times I’ve finished second now, but hopefully it is more in the mould of David Duval where you finish second a lot and then you win a bunch."

So sure was Clark that he would not win that he came in for a media interview before packing up his locker. Then, he said, "I am disappointed in the way I finished. The double bogey on the par three [14th] killed the momentum."

Clark, who has played the past three weeks in Australia, heads home for the South African Open this week. It will be interesting to see how he is received.

Before his surprise win, he’d said: "In all honesty, I feel more welcome here than I do at home. I don’t want it to sound like a knock on the South African tour, but I really have been made to feel very welcome here. I don’t feel that at home."

Clark will be back next year – as defending champion of the Open. His rounds these past four days were 70-73-69-67 for that nine-under total, one better than John Senden’s winning tally at Royal Sydney two years ago.

For Ogilvy, it was, in his own assessment, a horrible week in comparison with his deeds at Coolum.

"It could have been really special," he said of yesterday’s four-under 68. Putts shaved the hole, and he was dealt a couple of rough breaks by the bounce of the ball. It wasn’t easy in the wind gusting to 60kmh, just guesswork as to which way it would gust next. TOP FINISHERS Australian Open 279 – Tim Clark (RSA) 70 73 69 67 won on first play- off hole, Mathew Goggin (Aus) 65 70 75 69. 280 – Robert Allenby (Aus) 71 67 71 71, David Smail (NZ) 67 68 70 75, Stephen Dartnall (Aus) 65 68 75 72.

Denis is no menace: Kenny

DESPITE a very public debate that has at times become personal, Brett Kenny says he and his three fellow incoming Parramatta Football Club board members do not have a "big problem" with Parramatta Leagues Club supremo Denis Fitzgerald.
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Those in the lead roles were focused on unity after yesterday’s vote for the football club board, playing down the verbal stoushing during the lead-up.

"No more in-fighting or public brawling, that’s what we’re looking to do," Kenny said. "You want everyone going in the same direction. At the end of the day, what we’re looking to do is have the club become very successful again.

"We [the new football club board and Fitzgerald] had a short meeting after the general meeting, and it was very good, there wasn’t a problem there. We all spoke about what was put in the papers, and we all realised there was a lot of paper talk involved and now we have to go in the same direction …

"A lot of people don’t get on well in various companies, but when it comes down to making a decision for that company, you put your personalities aside, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do."

Fitzgerald said he was not surprised by the result, and urged all parties to "accept that decision, move on and work together for the betterment of Parramatta". "We had a meeting and I congratulated the board members," he said. "I’ve worked with those four guys before, three as players, and know them well and I’m sure we can work with them. I’d like to see a stop to any negative coverage the club may be getting. There had been a couple of the board members in Ray Price and Brett Kenny who had been very critical … but now they are on the inside, I’d like to think that’ll be over."

Smail falls off the pace with horror back nine

THE 2008 Australian Open was full of near-misses, and no one will remember it with such clarity as David Smail, the New Zealander who threw it away.
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Smail began the final round with a one-shot lead and played peerlessly through 14 holes, grabbing a three-shot lead. At the turn, his lead was four, and he didn’t look like faltering.

Then two bad tee shots at the 15th and 16th holes brought him down. The first drew hard into the heavy rough and bushes down the left, and he took a double-bogey six. Then he smacked his drive at the 16th into more trouble, and carded a seven on the par-five.

Suddenly dropping off the top of the leaderboard, the Japan-based Kiwi needed a birdie on one of the last two holes to reach a play-off with South Africa’s Tim Clark and Tasmanian Mathew Goggin, who had posted nine-under-par totals. But he missed the green on the right, and his attempt to chip in rifled past the flag.

"I just thought I’d have a go," he said. "I wasn’t too worried about positions. I thought I’d try to make that play-off. It went pretty close."

Smail rolled in a three-metre par-saving putt to card a 75, and while Clark and Goggin went back down the 18th hole again, Smail was forced to explain away his implosion for a back nine of 41. "I’m just gutted really," he said, his voice wavering. "I can’t say much about it. Everything was going so well. The tee shot on 15, the wind was coming hard out of the left, and I thought I hit a pretty good shot. It just kept on drawing. The wind just stopped. I chipped out pretty well but I was a bit shattered after that. I hit a bad iron shot, I didn’t get up and down and I lost my way."

The Hamilton native could not recall a similar choke in his career. "It’s been a long year. It really was. Looking back, I can’t think of a tournament that I’ve really lost. When I’ve been up there, I’ve managed to finish it off. So it’s a pretty gutting feeling."

Last night, Smail was heading off for a drink with his wife Sheree, and a rest. Having played 12 tournaments in 14 weeks, he admitted he was exhausted. "It could have been a lack of focus, really, at the end. She’ll look after me."

More stars please, not freak shows

FOR all of tournament golf’s obvious and seemingly insoluble problems in Australia, the three weeks that now constitute the visible part of the Australasian PGA Tour proved something of an unexpected, if minor, success.
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It helped that the past two tournaments, the Australian PGA and the Australian Open, took place in weeks left vacant on the Test cricket calendar and that the many still underappreciated Australian players who are, along with a perennial place at the top of the sporting rich list, Greg Norman’s great legacy, filled the breach with some entertaining performances.

At the same time, in the way the Sonny Bill Williams saga and the subsequent predictions that foreign money would spell the end of the NRL seemed to reinvigorate media coverage of the game, talk of golf’s desperate search for salvation – chiefly, finding someone with Tiger Woods’s mobile number – at least created discussion.

No doubt John Daly’s brief and, by the standards of almost everyone except a top-flight golfer, well-paid appearances added greatly to the success of the three tournaments, given the unusually respectable galleries on the 6½ days Daly teed it up and the headlines he created.

But you would hope he was not the overriding factor.

After all, to hail Daly’s visit to Australia a success would only compound the humiliation of the Australian Open organisers and Australasian PGA Tour officials whose failure to publicly criticise the American for smashing a spectator’s camera or to announce what, if any, punishment he had received for his hissy fit, was as telling an indication of the game’s diminished status here as the lack of international superstars on the leaderboard.

If the officials did not embarrass themselves enough by not condemning Daly, seemingly for fear he would not return for another two-day cameo, their suggestion that the incident was the fault of a spectator who had broken the rules by bringing – the horror! – a forbidden camera into the course, and then had got too close to Daly bordered on offensive.

For three weeks, Daly’s presence had been justified by his appeal to the non-conventional fan. As was evident in Melbourne, Coolum and Royal Sydney, the pack-a-nine man who had boozed and gambled his way around the world still drags his fellow Joe Sixpacks through the gates. Yet, having consciously suspended the decorous rules of the country club to cater for a man no less famous for playing a practice round topless than for winning two majors, our officials were suddenly aghast that someone should pull a camera from his pocket and try to snap Long John before Long John snapped back. It is the double-bogey of double standards.

Perhaps the kid-glove treatment for Daly was a concession that, just as the organiser of a bear-baiting competition might feel responsible if the grizzly got off the chain and mauled his tormentors, by resorting to using a man who has become the game’s lowest common denominator, they shared the blame for Daly’s idiocy.

Whatever the reason for the kow-towing, it left a slightly sour taste after – to damn with faint praise – a trifecta of tournaments that provided some evidence Australian golf may yet fill some sustainable dates on a crowded sporting calendar. But only as the type of credible tournaments played out on the past three weekends, supplemented by the edition of credible international stars. Not with another episode of the Daly freak show.

Fund to ease carbon cost

SMALL businesses and community organisations will have access to a $1.4 billion fund to help them cut their energy use and avoid the brunt of price increases to be caused by Australia’s emissions trading scheme.
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The Climate Change Action Fund, available for five years, will be among the details of the emissions trading scheme to be launched in Canberra today.

The Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, was to have launched the scheme but the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will now do the honours.

The Government is expected to accept Ross Garnaut’s recommendation of an emissions cut of 10 per cent by 2020 but it will express it as a range of 5 to 15 per cent to preserve negotiating flexibility.

It is also expected to put forward the prospect of cutting emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 in the event that the world’s big polluters agree to take action.

The final target will be settled on in 2010, when the scheme is scheduled to start.

Unlike heavy industry, pensioners and low-income households, all of which will receive billions of dollars in compensation for increased costs, small business and community organisations will have no direct assistance.

Grants from the $1.4 billion fund could be used for such simple energy saving measures as insulation, more efficient lighting and energy-efficient hot water systems and other equipment.

Treasury has estimated the average household will spend an extra $4 to $5 a week on power and $2 a week on gas, for a combined increased energy cost of about $350 a year.

Compensation details for low-income households will be announced today and it is understood a periodical remittance, rather than direct subsidising of energy bills, will be recommended so that high bills still act as an incentive to use less energy.

The Australian Council of Social Services called yesterday for compensation to be indexed and for separate grants to help householders upgrade appliances.

Before today’s release, lobbying intensified from groups on both sides of the debate. Environmental groups called on the Government to adhere to the science and cut emissions hard while business and industry urged restraint in acknowledgement of the economic crisis.

In a separate gesture yesterday to the environment, the faltering economy and fears that cutting emissions would cost jobs, Mr Rudd said the Government’s $500 million renewable energy fund would be spent within the next 18 months, not across six years as originally planned.

Under the speeded-up scheme, $100 million will be available this financial year and $400 million for 2009-10.

“It’s good for jobs, it’s good for stimulus, it’s good for acting on climate change,” Mr Rudd said.

Professor Garnaut urged the Government to keep alive the possibility of a 25 per cut.

A 10 per cent cut is consistent with a carbon level in the atmosphere of 550 parts per million, risking permanent damaging effects. A cut of 25 per cent is the minimum required to stabilise carbon at about its present level of 450 parts per million.

“While the world is still a long way from an agreement that sets us on a path to stabilise emiss-ions at 450ppm, it is important that Australia keeps the possibility of such an agreement alive by saying that it is prepared to play its full proportionate part – a 25 per cent cut in emissions entitlements from 2000 levels by 2020 – if the world is able to go that far,” Professor Garnaut said.

The Climate Institute called for a 25 per cent cut but the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said already weak business confidence risked being eroded further by proceeding with an ambitious scheme in hard economic times. It requested “realistic” emissions reductions targets and “extensive” industry compensation.

Greenpeace wants cuts of 40 per cent by 2020. Yesterday it said the Government would need to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2015 to counter the extra pollution that will be caused by Friday’s infrastructure funding announcement that will double coal exports from Newcastle.

Agony of deciding who will look after young

SALLY was a 15-year-old street child with a drug habit when she gave birth to a son, Daniel. Not surprisingly, he was taken into foster care. Two years later, she gave birth to a daughter, Janelle, who was placed with a different carer.
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Now 21, Sally has won a court battle for the return of the two children. They will soon join their mother and her partner in the early 30s – who is not their father – in a home that already holds seven children under 13. Sally has three babies with her partner and her partner has four primary-school-aged children all living together.

“It’s been a long battle to get these children returned,” Sally says. ” No one gets a child back after 5½ years unless you have really proved yourself. I have turned my life around. I am young, energetic and I have so many children, another two doesn’t matter. It’s just another bath, another feed.”

But the foster carers of Daniel and Janelle are distraught. They say the children are settled, stable and doing well. They cannot fathom a decision to remove them from the homes they have known since they were babies to put them in a household where they will be one of nine under the care of such a young mother.

“We are heartbroken,” says Bev. With her husband, Alan, she has cared for Daniel since he was 13 months. She is also foster carer to her young grandson who has the same father as Daniel (but a different mother).

“He doesn’t want to go. I’m the only mum he’s known. The half-brothers sit in each other’s arms crying about it. He has to go on contact visits now and he’s tied himself to the bed with ropes so he won’t have to go. Now he’s blaming me for sending him back.”

“It’s devastating,” says Darlene, who with her husband, Peter, has cared for Janelle since she was seven months old. “She’s like my daughter. I’ve done my crying and when the time gets closer I will start all again. I just hope the court has made the right decision.”

The case highlights the exquisite dilemmas children’s court magistrates and Department of Community Services workers face in decisions about children’s care.

When is the right time – if ever – to restore children to their biological parents? How is it possible to weigh up children’s stability and their attachment to their long-term foster carers against the potential enduring benefits of growing up in their biological family, knowing their siblings and their culture?

And in this case, how must the age of Daniel’s foster mother – who is in her 60s – be weighed against the enormous challenges facing the young biological mother?

“These decisions are not easy ones,” says Judy Cashmore, of the University of NSW, an expert on out-of-home care. “And it’s more of a dilemma for children who have been in one place almost from birth.”

To their mother, the removal of the children was another case of “stolen generation”. From an Aboriginal family, Sally was in foster care at the age of 11 and on the streets by 14. “DOCS workers have known me since I was a child and they’ve never liked me,” Sally says. Now self-confident and articulate, she says she turned her life around after meeting her partner four years ago. He had won custody of his own children. “He said to me, ‘You can be a mother or you can do your own thing.’ It really hit me,” Sally says. “My kids are more important than anyone else in this world.”

The Department of Community Services originally opposed the restoration of the children to their mother. It told the children’s court it was in the best interests of the two children for them to remain with their carers.

But the children’s court magistrate, Anthony Murray, ordered an independent assessment by the children’s court clinic, which supported the restoration. The court ordered DOCS to prepare a care plan.

Now, after a staged process lasting two months, Daniel will be living full time with his mother from early next month, and Janelle, at a later date.

Sally says Daniel is “so happy and grateful to be with us” on the contact visits. There is another child of a similar age in the family and the pair are known as “the twins”. According to his mother, Daniel “suffered more in DOCS’s hands than in my hands”.

But an Aboriginal elder, who sat on the original panel that approved Bev and Alan as foster carers, says: “This little boy will be destroyed if he is removed. He is doing excellently in school, he plays sport, he swims. He is given responsibility.

“Bev and Alan are not Aboriginal but Bev’s first husband was and she had two daughters to him. She is very knowledgeable about our culture.”

Darlene says she had supported contact between Janelle and her mother every two months for the past 3½ years though no overnight visits had occurred. “Janelle calls me ‘Mum’ and her ‘Mummy Sally’. In the end I want what is best for her, and I don’t think this is. I’m not saying Sally is not a good mum. But to Janelle, we are family.”

Sally says promised support from DOCS – a new fridge, a bigger car – might not now eventuate. “People who don’t like me still see me as Sally the child, not Sally the mother,” she says. “They don’t realise I’ve changed.”

Paul Delfabbro, associate professor of psychology from the University of Adelaide, says a study he conducted showed children who entered foster care at a young age and enjoyed long-term stability with their carers were likely to turn into well-adjusted teenagers.

But children who experienced repeated failed attempts at restoration with their families were troubled teenagers. “But there are pluses and negatives,” Professor Delfabbro says. “If the new partner is a good carer, that is a plus. But if there are too many children the same age, that is a negative. All I can say is ‘good luck to them’.”

* Family names have been changed

Boost for child protection officers

HALF-EMPTY child protection offices in remote NSW are slowly filling up, thanks to incentives of up to $20,000 a year for case workers to take on some of the toughest jobs in NSW.
Nanjing Night Net

In February, the Herald reported that half of the budgeted case-worker positions in Department of Community Services offices in north-western NSW, from Wilcannia across to Inverell and south to Dubbo, were unfilled. There were 25 jobs to fill in Dubbo.

There were no case workers at all in Brewarrina, where four positions remained empty, and case workers were travelling 100 kilometres to service the town from Bourke – where six out of 11 positions were also unfilled.

The shortages made the north-west a particularly dangerous place for indigenous children, who are four times more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect, according to the NSW Government’s report Breaking The Silence . Several towns in the north-west region, such as Brewarrina, Walgett and Wilcannia, are more than 50 per cent indigenous.

But 16 new case workers were placed in the seven months since the Herald’s story, using annual incentives such as a living away from home allowance of $12,000-$16,000 a year, a $5000 cash bonus and additional training, the department said. Nine were new appointments and seven were "tree-changers", voluntarily transferred from metropolitan offices.

There are now three positions empty in Bourke, two in Brewarrina and 19 in Dubbo.

Despite the progress made, the Wood report into child protection in NSW last month found that "the existing services for responding to substance abuse, family violence and neglect in NSW are fragmented, poorly linked and do not reach the more high-risk, remote communities".

Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal community services minister in NSW, promised indigenous staff a "new beginning" in child protection at a conference last month.

She said the main test of her tenure as the state’s first indigenous community services minister would be reducing the 30 per cent of children in out-of-home care who are indigenous, although they make up only 4 per cent of the population.

It would require more Aboriginal case workers and foster carers, and cultural change within the organisation, but she knew the issues backwards and the situation of indigenous children was already improving. "The distance between where the department was then and where it is now is immeasurable," she said.

DOCS says filling vacancies in remote NSW is a continuing challenge "due to the nature of the work and the breadth of coverage required to meet community needs".

The MPs John Cobb, Dawn Fardell and Kevin Humphries have called forpreventive "safe houses" to be funded in every town and a "flying squad" of case workers on permanent rotation out of metropolitan offices into remote NSW.