Clark talks down Proteas

FAST bowler Stuart Clark has skittled suggestions the world No.2-ranked South Africans represent the greatest threat to Australia’s impressive home record.
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The last time Australia lost a series here was in 1992-93 when the West Indies triumphed 2-1. However, with no Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne in Ricky Ponting’s attack, there is a popular view South Africa mightn’t succumb to the same pressures that have sunk them on previous tours.

Clark, who is zeroing on 100 Test wickets, confessed last year’s siege of a series against India was the toughest time he’d endured since making his Test debut in 2006.

"They’re a strong team, but they’re not unbeatable," he told The Sun-Herald , speaking of the Proteas. "There are quite a few familiar faces [in the squad]; ones we’ve beaten and played against. Some of them have a lot more confidence than the last time we met because they’ve had a little bit of success.

"But I think India last summer was a tough series. It was the toughest I’ve played here. South Africa are No.2 in the world so they’ve obviously done very well. On the previous occasions they’ve been here they haven’t been so successful … but they’ll be tough if they can play as well as India did."

Clark, whose wife, Michelle, gave birth to the couple’s second child, a girl named Sophie, on Wednesday, starts the Test series on Wednesday 10 victims shy of the 100 wickets milestone. While McGrath sweated on his personal wicket tally, Clark shrugged his shoulders when asked about the impending achievement.

"I don’t really think much of it," he said. "There’s been talk of the 100 wickets but at the end of the day it is just a number to me. It’s a personal achievement and it’s not something that’ll affect the team in terms of winning."

Since taking match figures of 9-89 on debut against South Africa, Clark has established himself as a vital member of the Australian attack. After taking 20 South Africa wickets at an average of 15.85 during his debut Test series, he has maintained his consistency and his 90 wickets have come at a skinny average of 22.97, putting him on par with McGrath (21.64).

Yet, the 33-year-old was reluctant to celebrate the type of statistic that sends cricket tragics into a headspin.

"It’s something I don’t think much about," said Clark who has been studying his Masters of Commerce degree at Sydney University. "It’s something I don’t talk about … but I’m as surprised [by it] as anyone."

While Clark might have dismissed any suggestions South Africa were the most serious threat to Australia’s home record, he didn’t follow McGrath’s psychological ploy of predicting a series whitewash. Though, he didn’t need to; the old master was up to his tricks at the SCG during a promotion for the McGrath Foundation.

"South Africa has some quality batsmen and bowlers but I still back our boys," McGrath said before predicting a 3-0 shellacking.

Cricket Australia announced during the week that the third day of the Sydney Test, traditionally known as Ladies Day, will now be called Jane McGrath Day in honour of his late wife who lost her battle with breast cancer earlier this year.

Just what the doctor ordered

A BOX of chocolates and a bottle of wine could be the healthiest Christmas present you get this year, with an increasing amount of evidence that a diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent heart disease.
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Sydney GP and wine historian Phil Norrie has developed his own range of plonk specially formulated with very high doses of resveratrol, a polyphenol antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes.

Laboratory and animal studies have reported anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar-lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects of resveratrol.

Dr Norrie, who has a PhD in "Wine and health through the ages" from the University of Western Sydney, has produced a chardonnay and a shiraz under his Wine Doctor label.

The 2006 vintage has more than 100 times the concentration of resveratrol per bottle than a standard white or red wine.

Dr Norrie, of Elanora Heights, said the wine acts as a "vascular pipe-cleaner" by keeping arteries free of fatty deposits that cause heart attack and stroke.

"Wine has been used as medicine for the last 5000 years and we’ve made it healthier by enriching the antioxidants," he said.

After almost 30 years in general practice, Dr Norrie said moderate consumption of resveratrol-enhanced wine could help the incidence of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia.

"Getting people to stop smoking, exercise and lose weight, is a nice idea but in reality it doesn’t happen. Drinking two glasses of wine is realistic, enjoyable and also good for you and I’ve made it even healthier," he said.

At RMIT University in Melbourne, PhD student Indu Singh studied several antioxidants, including cocoa, olive leaf extract and vitamin E – and found they could potentially reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

She found antioxidant supplementation improved glucose uptake in healthy people and had a positive effect on blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglyceride levels) and combated oxidative stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

"A diet that includes a good amount of olive oil, nuts and green leafy vegetables – and some high-quality dark chocolate – will help you lower your risk of developing heart disease," Dr Singh said.

However she said the right doses for both healthy people and those with chronic disease were still unknown.

So close: ocean rower misses epic goal and wife

ITALIAN adventurer Alexandro Bellini just wanted to hold his wife, Francesca Urso, in his arms again after spending nearly 10 months alone at sea rowing almost 18,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean.
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Mr Bellini, 30, came agonisingly close to completing his epic goal of rowing from Peru to Australia.

Having left Lima in February, he called for help after hitting stormy weather on Friday, about 130 nautical miles north-east of Newcastle.

He had planned to reach Sydney this week.

“I’ve been on the verge of giving up many times but this was one of the lowest I’ve reached,” Mr Bellini said yesterday after being reunited with his wife in Newcastle. “Being away from my wife was one of the biggest challenges. I missed her so much; seeing her again was one of the best moments of my life.”

Mr Bellini docked in Newcastle Harbour aboard a New Zealand-registered tugboat, Katea, at 9.30am.

Ms Urso could not wait for the tugboat to berth and stretched out to hug her dishevelled, thin, bearded husband as the vessel was mooring.

He had been surviving on dried food and desalinated water before his voyage went awry. He had spoken to his wife regularly via satellite phone until last month, when his four-metre rowboat capsized.

Ms Urso, 29, said her husband of just over a year had a “love for the extreme” and would not let his thwarted passage to Australia stop another attempt in the future.

“This is his first time here [in Australia] and, even though not everything went to plan, I’m glad to have him back again,” she said. “We were following his position hour by hour and our meteorologists warned of bad weather, including 30-knot winds. There was no reason to battle the weather.”

Mr Bellini ate pizza, steak, a box of biscuits and peanut butter out of the jar when rescued on Friday night after 296 days at sea.

“Physically he seemed OK but he was very skinny,” Katea’s engineer, John Coulson, said. “He had a huge appetite when we rescued him. We had no idea who he was. We thought he was just some rower from New Zealand who’d got lost.”

Mr Bellini crossed the Atlantic in 2005, rowing from Italy to Brazil, and has crossed Alaska twice on foot. He had planned to row through Sydney Heads and be greeted by a flotilla of spectators.

Australia blamed as progress on new deal fizzles

A CALL-TO-ARMS by former US vice-president Al Gore and a contentious European deal to cut its greenhouse emissions have overshadowed an anti-climactic finale to UN climate talks in Poland.
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Critics said the talks made only tentative steps to a new global treaty.

Promised as a stepping stone towards a post-Kyoto climate deal to be signed in Copenhagen next year, the Poznan talks edged towards conclusion yesterday amid accusations that developed nations, including Australia, had blocked progress on greenhouse targets.

As expected, there was no deal on how to share the responsibility of cutting emissions even though developed countries acknowledged that scientists recommended cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent.

But the go-ahead was given to a number of technical projects, including a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change, further work on a joint plan between wealthy and poor countries to cut emissions from deforestation and a legal framework for a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who left early for Canberra and the release of the Government’s 2020 greenhouse target and the final details of its emissions trading scheme tomorrow, said the Poznan summit had been a step forward.

"There have been encouraging signs of momentum," she said.

Much of the momentum came from a rousing appearance by Mr Gore, acting as an unofficial envoy during meetings with ministers and officials, including Senator Wong, after a lengthy briefing with the US president-elect Barack Obama last week.

A Nobel laureate for his work combating climate change, Mr Gore called on world leaders to hold several meetings next year to ensure a new treaty by the December deadline. He said Mr Obama had assured him that combating the "greatest challenge humankind has ever faced" would be a top priority of the new US administration.

Mr Gore acknowledged negotiations were "painfully slow" but noted such positive signs as pledges by Western nations to invest in green jobs and China investing $US600 million ($903 million) in green projects over the next two years.

"I believe that the causes for hope and optimism are greater than the causes for doubt and discouragement and I believe the road to Copenhagen is now clear," he said.

"We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this crisis rather than spending so much time on O.J. Simpson and Paris Hilton and Anna-Nicole Smith," he said.

His speech punctuated an otherwise pessimistic mood. Environmentalists were concerned the world had moved no closer to a new climate deal.

Greenpeace International climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore said little had been done to set up a framework for a new deal. She blamed "the usual suspects" including Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand for not committing to ambitious targets.

The European Union was heavily criticised for watering down its ambitious climate and energy plan by accepting concessions demanded by Italy, Germany, Poland and Hungary to help their big polluting industries cope with the financial crisis.

Rich pickings as Pacific Islander trial bears fruit

SOUTH Pacific Islanders will be brought to Australia to pick fruit in the Riverina because farmers cannot get enough local workers.
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The unskilled workers will come from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and will be allowed to stay for seven months under a Federal Government trial seasonal worker scheme.

Farmers will pay half the cost of the air fares and the workers will be paid award wages.

After the initial trial with 100 workers, which organisers hope will begin before Christmas, 2400 seasonal worker visas will be available for Pacific Islanders from July.

The National Farmers’ Federation said there is a nationwide shortage of 22,000 seasonal workers in horticulture alone and bringing in the Pacific Islanders was important to enable farmers to continue producing food.

Federation president David Crombie said the Pacific Islands had a ready, willing and able workforce, happy to make the trek into regional Australia to fill the positions.

"Australian farmers are ready to welcome them with open arms," he said. "They are loath to see another season of fruit rotting on trees."

Australian Workers Union assistant national secretary Ben Swan said there was a recognised shortage of labour in the horticultural industry.

"We are 100percent behind the [Pacific] Islander scheme," Mr Swan said.

He said the workers would get the same pay, terms and conditions as Australians with rates beginning at $14.30 an hour for full-timers.

Mr Crombie said he encouraged Australians to take up any of the 22,000 vacancies.

"This scheme is not a replacement for local jobs; it supplements local labour shortfalls."

Farms at Griffith and Leeton are urgently in need of pickers for valencia oranges and other produce such as melons, pumpkins and onions.

Anna Berry of Summit Personnel said the Pacific Islander scheme had been in the pipeline for some time but the previous federal government had rejected it.

Ms Berry, who was born in Vanuatu, said the problem was that a lot of Australians didn’t want to go to places such as Griffith to work in what they thought was a barren land.

Smart stent breakthrough

A "SMART" implant that delivers drugs to targeted parts of the body and controls how quickly they are released into the bloodstream has been developed by Australian scientists.
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Experts in nanomedicine at the University of Wollongong say the implants could remove the need for the electronics used in artificial pacemakers and cochlear implants and could revolutionise the way drugs are circulated around the body.

Dubbed "biobatteries", the smart implants build on technology already developed by the university’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute to create a bioabsorbable stent for use in cardiac patients.

The current generation of stents are made of metal and coated with a tiny dose of a drug that slowly dissolves. The implant is permanent, has a raft of side-effects and makes it difficult to control how quickly the payload is released.

In contrast, the new biodegradable stents, which are made of magnesium alloy, gradually corrode away inside the body, producing an electrical signal that expels the drug from the polymer structure.

The director of the institute, Professor Gordon Wallace, said as the magnesium oxidises, the resulting current reverses the electrostatic charges holding the drug molecules to the stent, releasing it into the bloodstream.

To control the rate of drug delivery, the team coated the magnesium alloy with an "intelligent" biodegradable polymer that slowed its corrosion.

At a medical bionics meeting in Victoria last month, Professor Wallace said the technology could be used in any implant that corrodes, such as titanium hip joints, New Scientist reported.

"Any metal implant will undergo some corrosion when it’s put in the body and this is a new way of harnessing the electricity that comes from the corrosion," he said.

Eventually, the technology could be used to create the electromaterials required to drive bionic eyes, pacemakers, artificial muscles and nerve repairs, removing the need for an external power source.

A spokesman for the Cardiac Society, Associate Professor Andrew MacIsaac, said biodegradable stents would not only reduce the drawbacks and serious side-effects seen in permanent metallic stents, but the gradual release of anti-inflammatory medications could help prevent clotting or damage to the surrounding tissue.

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Dark days ahead for state

VITAL council services could be cut because energy companies want to dramatically increase the cost of providing public lighting.
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Light poles, cables and bulbs that keep NSW streets lit at night are supplied and maintained by Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Country Energy.

Energy Australia has approached the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) to increase the cost of providing public lighting costs by 11 per cent in July next year and by 40 per cent in 2014.

The costs, which can run into millions of dollars each year for councils, are ultimately borne by ratepayers. However, councils using Energy Australia’s public lighting say the increase could be as much as 67per cent in 2014.

These councils, which represent about 3.2 million people in parts of Sydney, the Hunter Valley and the Illawarra, spend a combined $42 million a year on public lighting.

An increase of between 40 per cent and 67 per cent would lead to total costs blowing out by between $17 million and $28 million a year.

Because the Local Government Minister sets councils’ rate increases each year – usually less than 4 per cent – it is unlikely the increased public lighting costs could be incorporated into rates.

"These increases that are being foisted upon us – the only response councils can have is to reduce services to the community," said David Lewis, the general manager of the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, which represents 15 councils and is leading the campaign against the price rises.

"It could be anything – a few library books, less maintenance on playing fields, decreased service levels in community support."

An Energy Australia spokesman said it was currently subsidising street lighting to councils by about $1.7 million a year. The proposed increased costs would better reflect the real value of the service, he said.

Integral Energy and Country Energy have also sought to increase their charges. The regulator has asked all three companies to resubmit their proposed cost increases by early next year.

"In the end, it is up to the independent umpire – the AER – to make the decision about the fair cost of street lighting services over the next five years," the Energy Australia spokesman said.

Rees gets thumbs down

VOTERS have given the first 100 days of Nathan Rees’s premiership the thumbs down.
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Mr Rees had promised he would give the leadership of NSW "a red-hot go". But his efforts have received a response best described as lukewarm.

In an informal poll of 730 readers, 39 per cent rated his performance as satisfactory. A further 33 per cent described his time as leader as poor.

Mr Rees has been dogged by the dumping of ministers Tony Stewart and Matt Brown, the messy departure from politics of Reba Meagher, the Ryde byelection loss, fallout over public transport, and negative reaction to the November mini-budget.

This period of time has failed to impress the readers randomly sampled over a two-day period last week.

About 62 per cent believed the economic measures undertaken by the ALP Government would fail to restore the state’s flagging fortunes.

Asked who would be the better economic manager, 9 per cent nominated the Rees-led Labor Government. However, only 31 per cent said Barry O’Farrell would make a better premier and only 36 per cent warmed to the promise of his economic rule.

Fifty-four per cent said neither man was suited to be premier. But Mr Rees was upbeat yesterday when presented with the poll results.

"I’ve certainly physically and intellectually given everything I could have given and that won’t stop c" he said.

"The key decisions for me are the universal eyesight testing for four-year-olds so that we can pick up problems, that’s a key one; $56 million for new commuter car parks around the city; 630 new selective high-school places for rural students; scholarships for apprentices; $3000 boost for first-home buyers; 80 specialist teachers to help kids with autism; $150 million for school security and toilet blocks; 700 new train carriages and hundreds of new buses; $56 billion worth of infrastructure that will underpin 150,000 jobs each year as together we work for this state.

"This is a period of international instability. It’s my job as well as business leaders’ to look the rest of the world in the eye and say: ‘NSW is the greatest state in the world."’

Mr O’Farrell described the Premier’s first 100 days as "confusing".

"I don’t think a lot has changed from his predecessors," he said yesterday. "He still leads a Government focused on Macquarie Street and winning the next election and not on the needs or interests of families in Macquarie Fields or Port Macquarie.

"He promised improved services and cuts rail links to the north-west and south-west. Other services continue to be cut. It’s a third-generation Labor Government and I don’t think the state’s getting value.

"From the moment I was elected leader, the constant message to the party room is that every week must be a week where we demonstrate competency to the electorate.

"In 2007 we failed to give them a party or Coalition that they could vote for c We have proved ourselves effective at holding the Government to account and showing ourselves to be a united team. I think Nathan Rees has added ‘red-hot go’ to the lexicon of political language in NSW but c I think it’s ice-cold." THE HIGHS ¡ October Premier announces a $4billion CBD metro line from Central Station to Rozelle.

¡ October Premier gets tough on alcohol-related violence in pubs.

¡ October Launch of Master Events calendar – five "anchor events" held each year.

¡ October $99million medical research and education centre opens at Royal North Shore Hospital.

¡ November Public school pupils to get a laptop to keep. THE LOWS

¡ September Police minister Matt Brown dumped after drunkenly dancing in his underpants.

¡ October Premier reeling from shelving of $12billion North-West Metro and South-West Rail Link.

¡ October Government suffers 19-point swing against it in three byelections.

¡ November Assistant health minister Tony Stewart axed amid claims he shouted at a staffer and touched her leg.

¡ November Commissioner Peter Garling warns health system is on brink of collapse.

¡ November Massage parlour above the Premier’s electoral office found to be an illegal brothel.

Lauded hero arrested over hotel incident

A MAN hailed for his bravery after rescuing a drowning Korean student found the adulation shortlived after ending up in a police cell days later.
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Daniel Raymond McVey, 26, was featured on the front page of his home town’s newspaper, portrayed as a reluctant hero two weeks ago.

Days later the rescuer earned a different kind of fame after appearing in Coffs Harbour Local Court, where police unsuccessfully sought to have bail refused. His alleged crime: possessing a taser inside the popular Pier Hotel, where a mate allegedly discharged the electric shock weapon.

It was a very different story earlier in the week, when police were considering McVey for a bravery award nomination.

Of the rescue, McVey told The Coffs Coast Advocate he broke from enjoying a builders’ picnic day to rescue the woman.

She had entered Coffs Creek and was struggling. By the time he reached the student she was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

"I got to her and put her on her side as I swam her to the edge of the creek," he said. "I got her to the edge and had help from bystanders to drag her up. They had already rung the ambulance."

McVey began to clear the woman’s airways and placed her in the recovery position. "A nurse came and took over. I was stuffed," he said.

Four nights later, on Friday, December 5, police arrested the local hero and a 23-year-old man and seized a taser after it was allegedly discharged inside the Pier Hotel.

Police were called in response to reports that a man had activated a taser in the building, then had allegedly threatened a woman on the street, between 9pm and 9.30pm.

McVey and the other man were found in nearby Collingwood Street a short time later. They allegedly ran into a unit but were arrested after capsicum spray was used to subdue them.

Police will allege a taser was located during a search of the unit. The men were taken to Coffs Harbour police station, where they were charged.

McVey has been charged with possession and use of a prohibited weapon and resisting arrest.

The 23-year-old man was charged with indecent assault, possession of a prohibited weapon, use of a prohibited weapon and resisting arrest.

The men, both from Coffs Harbour, were granted bail to appear in court again on January 12.

Oil cheaper than water as consumption falls

AFTER a year of historic price highs, raw oil now costs less than bottled water.
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Australians have cut back their petrol consumption by 6000 barrels a month, pushing prices down to their lowest since early 2004.

World oil was trading at $US43 ($65) a barrel during last week, now closing in on its long-term average range of $US25 to $US35 a barrel, adjusted to inflation, not seen in almost half a decade.

With 158 litres to a barrel of oil, the raw product has dropped below the price of the cheapest bottled water – a 12-litre bottle of Northbrook water retailing for $4.99 at Aldi – 41cents compared to 42 cents a litre.

Figures from the International Energy Agency show that demand for petrol products in Australia has been falling since January, as high interest rates and high living costs began to take their effect.

The most recent figures for October, show demand has fallen to about 327,000 barrels a month, down from 333,000 barrels in January.

CSIRO modelling estimated that if oil prices were sustained at $US100 a barrel it would have restricted economic growth by 3 per cent – knocking Australia firmly into recession territory – relative to prices at $US35 a barrel.

The fall in consumption has been a short-term boon for the environment but it has come at the expense of the fledgling biofuels industry.

Paul Graham, a senior adviser in the CSIRO’s Energy Futures project, estimated that the sharp price rises resulted in a de facto carbon price of upwards of $200 a tonne, much larger than the $23 to $32 range that Treasury has predicted for the introduction of trading in mid-2010.

"All the movements in the oil prices are much larger than the future carbon price," he said. "When you see a rise of upwards of 50 per cent [in petrol prices], that is obviously quite substantial. We know that kilometres travelled did flatten out as that began to take effect."

The CSIRO has predicted that pure unleaded petrol products by 2030 will be almost entirely replaced with ethanol blends and diesel vehicles that can achieve greater fuel efficiencies.

But Mr Graham said that move will be delayed – at least in the short-term – as oil prices continue to fall.

"Certainly expectations of future prices play a big role and there’s a big dip since the financial crisis has unfolded," he said. "But a lot of these [forecasts] are long-term and business, too, will take a long view.

"At the moment, the risk for major investment in alternative fuel products is very high so low prices would tend to delay those investments while there is volatility."

Bruce Harrison, chief executive of Biofuels Association of Australia, said the price falls have put a huge strain on refining margins just as the industry attempts to boost production by more than 20 per cent to 245million litres a year.

"Certainly the fall in oil prices makes it harder for every one in the industry. Everyone’s margins are down," he said. "Our view is that the world economy starts to pick up, demand will pick up."

But experts have warned that the price falls may be short lived. The US Energy Information Administration predicted prices to stabilise at around $US63 throughout 2009.