Wallabies agree to pay cut

THE realities of the global financial crisis have not gone unnoticed in the Wallabies’ dressing room, with players yesterday voting to accept a cut in Test match fees.

Captain Stirling Mortlock said players were willing to take a hit to their pockets because they knew Australian Rugby Union officials had also accepted a cut in salaries and directors’ fees.

"Everyone is affected by this," the Brumbies centre said. "It reflects the ARU’s policy that everyone is in this together. The public side of the ARU is the playing group but just as important to how we function are the people in admin. Everyone across the board has had to tighten up.

"The guys are all in the loop and understand what is going on. The crisis is affecting everyone. That is blatantly obvious. We, as players, are doing our part. Hopefully, as the economy recovers, we can resume [usual fees]. But we are more than happy with the stance we have taken. Sanity has prevailed. It’s a positive start to the year."

The Rugby Union Players’ Association yesterday announced that Test fees would drop by $874 a game this year, pending a review in June. The Wallabies, who play up to 14 Tests a year, will kick-off their season against the Barbarians at the SFS in Sydney in June 6 and play their first Test against Italy in Canberra on June 13.

Last year, the Wallabies received $11,875 each a Test. That was due to increase by 4.2 per cent this year to $12,374 a match. But the ARU and RUPA, in consultation with its members, accepted a drop to $11,500 a Test.

Waratahs and Wallabies prop Al Baxter said the decision to back the ARU’s request last month was unanimous. "We thought it prudent and sensible for the the good of the game that we weren’t adding any extra financial burden on to the ARU," said Baxter, a RUPA board member.

"It was a unanimous decision. But it was taken with some seriousness. A rugby player’s career is so finite. To take a pay cut, you don’t often see any of that back. Usually, you are out of the game by the time it comes back. You have to spend a fair few years in the system to become a Wallaby player, then the lifespan isn’t enormous. A lot of guys who made this decision probably won’t see the benefit, but are doing it for the players to come."

Western Force captain Nathan Sharpe, also a RUPA board member, said the bigger picture was more important than the sacrifice of $874 a match.

"When you consider how the majority of people and businesses have been affected by the current economic situation, this was a more than reasonable request by the ARU," the Wallabies second-rower said.

"As players, we recognise that we have to be flexible to ensure the long-term financial viability of the game, especially during these tougher times. Realistically, it’s not a huge sacrifice for each individual player, but when it adds up it is a significant saving for the organisation."

RUPA chief executive Tony Dempsey said: "The ARU were able to convince us that, like most industries, there were abnormal financial constraints being imposed on our sport that needed addressing from all key stakeholders, including the players themselves. The ARU was [also] able to illustrate to RUPA that they were adopting sensible measures to reduce costs."

The ARU lost $8.5 million in 2007 before the financial crisis struck, but it is understood that, despite recent reports, it should still finish in the black for last year – albeit just.

Besides disbanding the Australian Rugby Championship after one season in 2007, many staff have departed by natural or planned attrition.

In light of the economic crisis, the ARU cancelled this year’s Australia A program and Australian Rugby Shield.

And an ARU spokesman yesterday confirmed that senior management had agreed to salary reductions and that board members supported significant cuts to their directors’ fees.

The strategy will "ensure ARU finances remain robust", the spokesman said.

"We have had savings across all aspects of the business … any pain is being shared."

Census nets a new demographic – the iGeneration

EACH new generation is smarter, more likely to live in a city and less likely to observe any religion, according to a new breakdown. And there is a new pigeonhole for people aged 20 and under – iGeneration, or those people who do not remember life before the internet.

"One thing you can say about this generation is they are likely to be very highly educated," Chris Mason, the assistant director of census output at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said.

"Within their lifetime they could see the leaving age for school being raised and we already know so many jobs require some sort of postgraduate qualification."

The bureau organised everyone who took part in the 2006 census into 20-year groupings, including baby boomers and generations X and Y. The predecessors of the baby boomers – or those people born between 1926 and 1946 – were called "lucky" and anyone born before 1926 was simply "oldest".

The bureau’s researchers came up with the lucky tag because people in that group believed their lives were easier and better than those of their parents. However, their parents’ experiences in the Great Depression made them stoic and hard-working.

With each successive generation, the number of people with qualifications beyond high school grew, as did the number of people living in cities. However, they were increasingly unlikely to be religious.

The number of people with postgraduate education and of women in paid employment started to jump with the baby boomers and kept increasing in generations X and Y.

The increase in dual-income families has had implications for baby boomers and members of the lucky generation who now find themselves having to put their retirement plans on hold so they can look after their grandchildren.

"Twenty-three per cent of women in their 60s and 12 per cent of men are looking after children who are not their own," Ms Mason said.

Some included regular care arrangements "and we know from previous work that most families like to use a mixture of formal, paid care and informal care. People at that stage of life were looking forward to relaxing and yet they are now spending more time and money on caring for their grandchildren."

There are now also more people in their 60s working part-time. Ms Mason said this was a combination of people wanting to ease into retirement and needing to continue working because of the cost of caring for grandchildren.

There are also 24,000 children who live permanently with grandparents because their parents have died or are not able to care for them. GENERATION X AND GENERATION Y (20 TO 39)

Most highly educated generation

■ Together they equal the numbers of baby boomers

■ 28 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men have a bachelor’s degree or above

■ 16 per cent live at home with their parents, 49 per cent with spouse or partner, 7 per cent alone, 7 per cent in group households

Elizabeth Coad, 36, publicist, Elizabeth Bay

"We were probably the first generation to have HECS … I certainly don’t think our generation is hard done by though." LUCKY (60 TO 79)

Enjoyed the postwar boom and full employment

■ Nearly twice as many men as women worked

■ 36 per cent born overseas

John McInerney, 69,

councillor, Redfern

"Yep, we are the lucky generation because we grew up in a time of rising employment opportunities and with the stability of more family-orientated communities." BABY BOOMERS (40 TO 59)

Second largest generation – 28 per cent of the population

■ Highest rate of divorce – 19 per cent

■ Good economic times but affected by downturn in late 1980s, early 1990s

■ Growth of the two-income household

■ Start of high rates of female employment and higher education

Thomas Fitzgerald, 53,

Melbourne, composer

"Baby boomers had this concept that it was a golden era that would go on forever in this country. The Whitlam era, the social glory, the bold dreams." OLDEST (AGED 80+)

Lived through the Great Depression

■ 39 per cent left school at year 8 or below

■ 33 per cent live alone

■ 82 per cent are religious

Doreen McRae, 85, Northbridge

"You had to leave school when you were 14 and very few could afford to send their children to college." IGENERATION (0 TO 19)

Never known a time without the internet – 80 per cent have it at home

■ 77 per cent live at home with their parents

■ 29 per cent studying and working

Thailand accused of dumping refugees at sea without water

THAILAND is facing international condemnation after towing about 1000 refugees into international waters and abandoned them with barely a day’s supply of rice and water.

Five hundred men are now missing feared drowned.

Survivors who were rescued by Indian coastguard 12 days after they were set adrift have told harrowing accounts of their treatment by the Thais.

They said that with their hands tied they were forced at gunpoint onto a barge. "[They] ordered us to get on that boat. We all denied. First they pointed their guns at us, but we still refused to move. Our hands were already tied on the navy ship but this time they also tied the legs of some people and threw four of them into the sea," one survivor, Mohamed, recounted in a telephone interview.

"Once we were all on it, they untied our hands. Afterwards, they continued to tow us for some time and then all of a sudden they cut the towing rope and left."

That was the first of two refugee pushback operations mounted by Thailand in the past month. On or about December 18, more than 400 men, mainly of Muslim Rohingya ethnicity, from Arakan state in Burma, were set adrift. Rescuers found 107; 300 jumped into a strong current on seeing a lighthouse in the distance but only a handful made it to shore.

Thailand faces the possibility of bodies washing up on beaches in Phang Nga and Phuket at the height of the tourist season.

The Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, has proposed a meeting with ambassadors from Burma, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. The Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, met human rights activists and announced an investigation into the allegations.

A spokesman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday: "The Government has been concerned to read of allegations of the mistreatment by Thai security forces of Rohingya people arriving in Thailand by boat over recent weeks. The Australian embassy in Bangkok has been following up this matter with relevant Thai agencies, as well as UNHCR."

In a second pushback, about December 30, four boats without engines carrying 590 refugees were set adrift in open water. One carrying 193 washed up in Aceh, a second carrying 150 drifted to the uninhabited Tillanchang Island. Two boats with 237 on board are reportedly missing.

The harsh policy was introduced by the Thai army’s Internal Security Operations Command in December when it took control of refugee matters from civilian immigration services, the South China Morning Post reported.

It has published photographs of Colonel Manat Khongpan, a regional commander in ISOC, supervising tens of handbound refugees on Sai Daeng beach. Contacted by the Herald yesterday, Colonel Manat denied involvement. "I don’t do that. I don’t have anyone. My work is not doing about refugees."

Since 2006 the number of refugees has doubled each year from 1200 to 5000 last year. It is understood that ISOC has become concerned at the number of young Muslim men sailing from Burma, where they are stateless and severely persecuted, through Thailand to Malaysia.

Thailand is fighting a Muslim insurgency in its southern provinces, which border Malaysia. But Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project that researches the plight of the Rohingya, rejected any notion that they were linked to the insurgency, saying she had seen no evidence of it.

The rise and rise of Brother Robbo

SOMEONE should tell the NSW Labor Party that when you’re in a hole, you should stop digging. Even before yesterday’s caucus manoeuvres, the lines of factional affiliations and deals were stretching the talents of the Herald’s graphic artists to portray in a handy guide for bewildered and angry NSW voters. There is the Left, in both Soft and Hard flavours, and the dominant Right, now threatening to subdivide even further, and the handful of more or less unaligned – among them, floating most freely of all, the Premier, Nathan Rees.

Yesterday, the Right dutifully voted in the former Unions NSW general secretary John Robertson for one of the cabinet vacancies, along with its other candidate, Steve Whan, for the second cabinet place. The outcome must make both the State Government and Mr Rees look even less credible in the eyes of the public.

Mr Robertson was the general secretary of Unions NSW who brought down the previous Labor premier, Morris Iemma, and his treasurer, Michael Costa, over their brave and economically rational plan to privatise much of the state electricity system while it still had some commercial value, in order to generate funds for vitally needed transport infrastructure. Coming from the electrical union that has its base in the state-owned power industry, he pulled all the internal weight of the trade unions in the ALP machine to oppose the sell-off.

Having achieved this, Mr Robertson then morphed into politics, by taking the upper house place vacated by Mr Costa, as part of the deal that then installed Mr Rees as Premier. He has all of four months’ experience in Parliament and has never faced the electorate. Mr Whan has, but his elevation is a direct slap in the face of Mr Rees, who preferred someone else for "his" team.

Inside the cabinet, Mr Robertson is now trying to hose down speculation, based on ALP inside chatter, that he next has his sights on the premiership if Mr Rees doesn’t pull up his poll ratings sharply within a few months. If he has such an ambition, why stop? Toppling another Labor leader by internal machination is probably his only chance, ever, to become premier. The chances of Labor winning the next election, whoever leads it, are even further diminished by its latest ructions.

Like probably a lot of his colleagues, Mr Robertson thinks that the role of the campaign against Work Choices in unseating the Howard government shows a deep, underlying support for trade unions and makes a justification for their 50 per cent voting weight in state Labor conferences. He is mistaken in that assumption. The Howard policies were a case of overreach that worried both union and non-union workers alike. Opposing them does not translate to backing for a trade union stranglehold on vital economic issues.

For this state, the most pressing issue is marshalling funds for public transport, strategic roads, water supplies and energy sources. Some funds may come from Federal Government allocations, some from the state’s own borrowings, and some from private-sector partners. But after the power industry debacle and the revealed corruption in the railways, even the Canberra comrades – let alone the bankers and private entrepreneurs – must hesitate at trusting a Government in which unions have such clout. Sober gathering in Davos

THE annual World Economic Forum in the luxurious Swiss resort of Davos has for years been the world’s swellest party. Traditionally, political leaders, bankers, captains of industry, economic sages and other high-flyers of capitalism, not to mention an incongruous sprinkling of pop stars and other celebrities, have gathered here to swap ideas, laud the free market and tell governments to butt out.

They have then congratulated each other and been lavishly entertained. But the mood at this year’s Davos do, the 40th, is much more sombre, the champagne happy hours either cancelled or relatively austere, barely a film star in sight. Appropriately, too, given the mounting of signs of global recession, and fears of global depression.

The personnel and the rhetoric have changed. Some leaders have cancelled, including Australia’s Kevin Rudd, but the turn-out by heads of state or government has more than doubled to about 40. The list includes China’s Wen Jiabao, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Japan’s Taro Aso and the Eeyore of the Western World, Britain’s Gordon Brown.

By contrast, many of the prominent private sector princes and prophets applauded at past Davos gatherings have been drowned or discredited by the financial deluge of the past 12 months. Suddenly, it is to prosaic governments, rather than the failed magic of an under-regulated market, that the Davos luminaries, and the world, are looking for solutions.

This is reflected in the forum’s rhetoric. Predictably, Mr Wen spoke of "the blind pursuit of profit" and Mr Putin of the failure of a financial system in which growth is based on greed. Yet both favoured open markets (with an improved global regulatory system), and opposed protectionism. The Davos forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, urged the meeting to focus on business morality. Clearly, we need an improved relationship between the market and the regulators.

Writer jailed for insult to monarchy

FOR writing three ill-conceived sentences in a novel that sold fewer than 10 copies, the Australian author Harry Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in a Thai prison yesterday.

Barefoot, wearing clanking leg shackles and looking drawn and weary, Nicolaides stood to hear his sentence. The self-published novelist was arrested at Bangkok Airport on August 31 last year on charges of maligning the Thai monarchy.

A novel he had written in 2006, Verisimilitude , contained a brief reference to an unnamed crown prince. The passage was deemed insulting, and a complaint was made to the police. Before he was arrested on his way home to Melbourne in late August, the 41-year-old had no idea that a warrant for his arrest had been issued months earlier.

Nicolaides was charged, repeatedly denied bail, and finally brought to a Bangkok court yesterday for his long-awaited trial.

Hyperventilating and crying, Nicolaides said his time in prison had been "torture".

"This has to be a bad dream," he said. "I’ve faced uncertainty for five months."

Nicolaides said although he had lived and worked in Thailand, he was ignorant of the consequences of the lese-majeste law. "I was aware an obscure law existed, but I did not believe it would apply to me," he said. "I didn’t have the foresight to contemplate that my words would offend."

Since his arrest, Nicolaides has been incarcerated in a cell along with dozens of Thai prisoners. His family fears his health is failing, and the emotional pressure is taking its toll on him.

The writer said he was sorry to "witness so much suffering" in prison. He had no idea who had filed the complaint against him. He had no intention of insulting or defaming the king, he said, and he respected the king as he respected his father.

The judges were forced to impose a jail term when Nicolaides declined to fight the case. Lese-majeste is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years’ jail.

Shuffling to the front of the court, dragging his leg chains behind him, he said one muted word: "Guilty".

The judges sentenced Nicolaides to six years in prison, reduced to three because he pleaded guilty.

Thailand is one of the few nations to retain the archaic laws of lese-majeste, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.

Nicolaides’s only hope now is that he will be pardoned by the monarch and deported.

Kimmorley settles at Dogs

The recruitment of "quality blokes" such as Brett Kimmorley promises to take the Bulldogs from the doghouse to the penthouse, writes Will Swanton.

For every boofhead in the NRL, there’s an army of good men. For every "traitor" such as Sonny Bill Williams, there’s a traditionalist such as Brett Kimmorley. When he did a runner from the Bulldogs yesterday, there was no need for club officials to check the departure lounge at Sydney Airport for clandestine France-bound rugby defectors. Kimmorley was merely taking his daughter to school.

With league coming off a centenary season in which its image was beaten from pillar to corner post by troublemakers unable to stay off alcohol, even when they knew the dangers to them, it was a reminder not everyone in the NRL circus has to be a clown.

"Take one player who does the wrong thing, and there’s about 40 who don’t," Bulldogs winger and upstanding citizen Hazem El Masri said after Kimmorley’s vanishing act. "I’ve been in the game a while now. I’ve been involved with numerous guys over the years – really genuine guys, country guys, good family guys, other guys who care about their community, their reputations and their club. Unfortunately, one or two can come along and spoil that reputation for everyone else. A lot of guys just want to play the game and entertain. People shouldn’t forget that."

Kimmorley was up with the birds to juggle football with family.

"Awake at 6am, had to get from Cronulla to Homebush for the team photo. That happened at eight. We had Channel Nine head shots. We got our suits fitted, but I had to get away because there was an enrolment and a ‘g’day’ from the principal at Mia’s school at 10," Kimmorley said.

Mia, Kimmorley’s five-year-old daughter, was having her first day at school and, appreciating the enormity of the occasion, Kimmorley had promised he would be there – the Bulldogs gave him permission to miss the club’s promotional Twenty20 cricket match at Homebush and an open media training session.

The Dogs have a new look, and just as well after last year, when Williams fled to France before his shattered teammates stumbled from one humiliating loss to another. It was all doom and gloom, but Homebush Stadium echoed with laughter yesterday. It looked and sounded like a club on the eve of a resurrection.

"We’re flying," Kimmorley said.

The team photo included a gang of beaming faces ushered in from a five-star recruitment drive. Kimmorley, Ben Hannant, Mick Ennis, David Stagg and Josh Morris have enough bite and respect to gain immediate acceptance in an occasionally unforgiving place – The Kennel.

"It’s more like one in a hundred who stuff up off the field," Dogs coach Kevin Moore said. "A lot of good blokes get a bad name because of it. We’ve brought some real quality blokes in here. That was certainly part of the reason we signed them. They are talented footballers, but there’s just a lot to like about them as individuals. We have a strong view on the type of club we want to be and the kind of people we want here.

"The NRL should be proud to have ‘Noddy’ as one of their elite players. He’s never been in trouble, he’s a great family man, he performs on the field and he’s a tough bloke. He’s a great advertisement for the game. We’ll always try to accommodate him with any family commitments. A bloke like Brett Kimmorley has earned that right. That’s something that we’re big on.

"He’s put a lot of hard work in and done the right thing for a long time, so he should be rewarded. While he obviously hasn’t done it at our club, his character is known by everyone. If he happened to miss a training session for a legitimate reason, family or anything else, I won’t have a problem with it."

The Bulldogs want players who are good to their word. Kimmorley was at Homebush in time for the photo. He drove back to the Shire in time for Mia and returned to Homebush by noon, as he promised.

El Masri was equally truthful. He cut short an interview because he had to shuffle out and open the batting. "Back soon," he laughed.

Four balls later, he was.

Wincrest Homes faces collapse

CONSTRUCTION on more than 100 homes halted yesterday as the economic slump claimed another home-building scalp.

An administrator was called into the Parramatta head office of the project home building company Wincrest Homes, with the prospect of the 22-year-old family-owned operation being placed in receivership today.

Neither company’s co-founder and chief executive, Michael Caruana, nor the financial controller, Gerard Caruana, were taking the Herald’s calls yesterday.

But the administrator, Bruce Gleeson, confirmed Wincrest owed $6 million to its secured creditor, St George Bank, $4 million to tradespeople and contractors and a further $2 million to related parties.

In addition to its 100 homes under construction, Wincrest is believed to have taken deposits from a further 20 customers, who hold contracts for homes scheduled to be built in coming months. It is also believed the company had taken on a number of projects from other builders over the past year, which have worsened the company’s financial position and prompted its recent decision to pull out of a secondary market in Victoria.

The pending collapse appears to be on a smaller scale than that of Beechwood Homes, which floundered last May, owing $11 million to BankWest and leaving 350 customers with either signed contracts or partly built homes. The resumption of construction was stalled for more than three months while receivers struggled to sell the three separate Beechwood entities.

The State Government and the home building warranty insurer, Vero, also came under intense criticism over the delays.

Last night, the Minister for Fair Trading, Virginia Judge, said her office had been advised that Wincrest had been placed in voluntary administration, and officers from her department were hoping to meet with Mr Gleeson as soon as possible. "This is a very distressing time for the home owners involved," she said.

I was too eager, admits Clark

STUART CLARK admits he returned from injury too soon – and Cricket Australia is determined not to let it happen again as it deals with the injury crisis sweeping the nation’s top players.

Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger will be charged with the task of bowling Australia to an unlikely series victory in South Africa. Should Australia lose, they will lose their No.1 Test ranking to the confident Proteas. Clark joins Brett Lee and Shane Watson on the sidelines, while Siddle is recovering from a foot injury but is expected to be fit to tour.

Clark told reporters he had made a premature return. "The reality is if the [Sheffield] Shield game [against Tasmania starting today] was on in two weeks, then I probably wouldn’t have played last week and I would have waited an extra couple of weeks," he said. "But trying to get myself in contention to be selected, the only way to do it was to play grade cricket last weekend – and obviously I’m just back a bit early."

With his hopes for a tour berth dashed, Clark must begin a softly-softly rehabilitation process to ensure he does not come back too soon and risk further damage to his troublesome elbow.

While Clark is targeting NSW’s Shield match against Queensland on February 26, CA made it clear it would keep a close eye on his progress before allowing him to take the field. Clark failed to recover after playing a grade match for Sydney Uni on the weekend, with his right elbow swelling up, and he was ruled out of today’s Shield clash. CA then scratched him from the South Africa tour, with the squad – to be selected early next week – departing on February 16.

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting said he could understand why Clark made an early return.

"You can totally understand his reasoning." Ponting said. "I know he did get the all-clear from the surgeon to come back bowling when he did.

"Unfortunately for him and us, it didn’t work out the way we hoped. We want to get him back playing as soon as possible. I don’t know with the latest setback that we would be pushing him too much.

"That’s a big blow for us, he had some things that were asked of him to put himself up for selection. It’s a big setback for him and a big setback for the team. Now it’s about getting his management right from here."

Clark made his debut in South Africa three years ago and won the player of the series award for taking 20 wickets at an average of 15.75. National selection panel chairman Andrew Hilditch said Clark would be handled delicately to ensure he was available for the important Ashes tour later this year.

"Given the schedule of the Australian team over the next 12 months, including an Ashes series, [we] will be taking a conservative approach in regards to the management of Stuart’s recovery and his return to cricket is prudent," Hilditch said.

Cricket NSW physio Pat Farhart does not believe Clark will have long-term issues with the injury, which was operated on six weeks ago to remove bone spurs developed from repetitive straining. "Progress following the operation has been very good," he said. "He has had no issues with bowling, however, swelling has developed in the elbow over the weekend after playing grade cricket. We don’t see this as a serious long-term issue and we think that another two to three weeks recovery will allow the injury to heal."

South African coach Mickey Arthur believes Clark’s absence in the recent Test series left a hole in Australia’s attack, one that will be hard to fill on the road.

"He has bowled very well in South Africa, I think a lot of teams have trouble with him," Arthur said. "He is a vital component of their attack. When you sit down and structure your attack he has always been able to hold. I know for Ponting when he threw the ball to Stuart Clark he knew exactly what he was going to get."

Mr Obama rides to Washington

TONIGHT, while Australia sleeps, Washington will ring to what promises to be one of the greatest presidential inaugural speeches in the history of the United States. The title of Barack Obama’s speech – "A New Birth Of Freedom" – comes from the Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln, whose tracks Mr Obama followed on his rail journey into the capital. The text is said to draw on two other of Obama’s political heroes, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, to convey a message of hope, togetherness and sacrifice for the common good.

Just being elected has allowed Mr Obama to make Americans feel their country has been lifted to another plane, bursting through the barriers of race just half a century after bitter desegregation battles and freedom marches started the march towards effective equality for black Americans. We and other friends of America will rejoice, too, at that achievement when Mr Obama is sworn into office.

The sentiment and Mr Obama’s great rhetorical gift are valuable themselves in persuading the American public to swallow the lessons and the remedies for the economic crisis caused by years of excessive consumption and reckless lending. As with Tony Blair’s early achievement in nudging Northern Ireland’s foes into a power-sharing agreement, the energy and empathy of the new American leader might start new dialogues in the Middle East.

But Mr Blair provides the object lesson that goodwill and persuasiveness are not enough. They must be backed by intelligent policies if public favour is not to turn to ridicule. After the mistakes and negligence of the Bush-Cheney years, there must indeed be "change we can believe in". The "audacity of hope" has to be followed by courageous decisions and discipline. Falling into easy paths of policy continuity under more sympathetic spin-doctoring – the failing of Mr Blair and the danger for Kevin Rudd – would betray hopes that Mr Obama’s win is more than symbolic.

The economic challenge confronting Mr Obama is the biggest to face any peacetime president since the Great Depression. First, he must get America’s own house in order to prevent an already year-long recession from snowballing into an even deeper and more prolonged one. He must gently coax Americans, the world’s largest consumers, to start spending again after they have effectively gone on strike amid tumbling house prices and rising job losses.

The potential negative flow-on effect for the Asia-Pacific region is clear, given China’s position as the largest supplier of consumer goods to the US. The US Federal Reserve has already taken the extraordinary step of slashing lending rates effectively to zero, meaning the only policy lever left to revive a flagging US economy is fiscal policy. Mr Obama must ensure his $US800 billion stimulus package is successfully and speedily negotiated through Congress. He must do this while also delivering on campaign promises of tax cuts for middle America and expanded health-care coverage – from a starting point of a budget deficit already expected to be $US1.2 trillion this year.

But the second challenge is perhaps more tricky still. By courtesy of America’s dominant position in the complex web of financial markets, Mr Obama has more power than any political leader to restore confidence to fragile markets. Confidence will be the key, if ephemeral, element that will decide whether the global recession of 2009 drags on to become the global depression of 2010, or if history will record it as but a short cleansing pause which ultimately saw the restoration of a more healthy pricing of risk.

Central to restoring confidence will be the knowledge that all of the toxic debts associated with the subprime boom have been cleared from the books of the major US banks. Amid the clamour for reregulation, Mr Obama must walk the fine line of abolishing the worst kinds of excessive risk-taking without crushing the innate American spirit of entrepreneurialism which could yet prove the best hope for pulling itself out of this current mess.

Simultaneously, Mr Obama must launch into daunting foreign policy tasks. There is the promise to pour more forces into Afghanistan, which has to be balanced with greater attention to civil reconstruction and winning more co-operation from Pakistan. Most urgent is testing the diplomatic approach he’s promised on the Iran nuclear issue, one based on dialogue without onerous preconditions and respect for the counter-party rather than sanctions and threats. The clock is ticking. So far, Washington has blocked the Israelis from a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the time will come within two or three years where Israel’s existential fears outweigh America’s restraints – unless Mr Obama can persuade the Iranians to pause.

The removal of a perceived American threat to the Iranian regime – based on the Bush-Cheney "axis of evil" notion, sanctions, reported US subversive programs, and older memories of US interventions in 1953 and 1979 – must be part of the Obama approach. A drawdown of American forces in Iraq will also help, along with a demonstration of "tougher love" towards Israel to push its leaders to let go of the occupied territories and accept that they can’t choose the government for the Palestinians.

But Washington must get some early, tangible moves by the Iranians to show sincerity – by reducing the flow of arms to Hamas and Hezbollah, cutting back on any help to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and showing some readiness to halt the highly-enriched uranium program in return for security guarantees.

North Korea has shown how diplomacy can be cynically played for time, but Tehran is not in Pyongyang’s near-invulnerable position.

White Bay cruise plan may be for good: MP

THE State Government is expected to make permanent the so-called "temporary" cruise ship terminal for White Bay.

In a letter to Leichhardt Council obtained by the Herald , the MP for Balmain, Verity Firth, confirmed the cruise ship terminal closure at Darling Harbour would be permanent.

"Consideration of whether the terminal will remain at White Bay will be undertaken as part of the master planning of the area, following consultation with the community," Ms Firth wrote.

In the letter she said the cruise ships would generally arrive at 7am and leave at 5.30pm. This would put hundreds more vehicles on the road in peak hour in one of the most congested parts of the inner city.

Yesterday’s revelation came as Australia’s leading cruise company, Carnival Australia, called for cruise ships that could not fit under the Harbour Bridge or dock at Circular Quay to have their own berths at the naval base on Garden Island.

The company mentioned problems expected on Sydney Harbour on March 1, when four ships carrying almost 10,000 people will arrive. Only two will be able to berth. The others will have to moor in Sydney Harbour and passengers will have to be ferried into the city.

Concerns about the extra traffic on the final stretch of Victoria Road near the city, and across Anzac Bridge, have provoked a strong backlash against the plan for White Bay.

One resident, Allison Olds, said the Government was trying to present the plan as temporary to secure public acceptance. She said the lack of transport facilities would put pressure on residents.

"There are a lot of rowing clubs and dragon boating clubs that use that space, and to have passenger boats coming in and out would mean they wouldn’t be able to use it," she said.

The Government is reconsidering its approach to White Bay and Glebe Island now all cargo operations have gone to Botany Bay and Port Kembla.

As part of its cruise ship terminal plan, expected to cost up to $30 million, the Government will incorporate a ferry terminal at White Bay to move tourists to and from Darling Harbour.

Leichhardt councillor John Stamolis said the redevelopment of the 2.2-hectare Martin Bright Steels site and the planned White Bay power station redevelopment would also add to traffic strain. "This is the wrong facility, in a prime residential area."

with Alex McDonald