Does Quade Cooper symbolise everything that is wrong with Australian Rugby?

Accompanying the announcement of Quade Cooper’s signing with the Melbourne Rebels was a photograph of ex-dual international and Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn and Cooper. There is no love lost between the two, not during their playing careers nor when Thorn dropped Cooper from the Red’s squad.

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There was also a suggestion that Cooper could be considered for the Wallabies where he would undoubtedly meet the All Blacks, many of whom he is acquainted with.

There is no love lost between the All Blacks and Quade Cooper. He was reported for kneeing All Black great Richard McCaw in the head. No one in New Zealand has forgiven him and he attracts special attention whenever he plays New Zealand, some of it legitimate, some of it not quite so.

But what makes Quade Cooper symptomatic of the problems facing Australian rugby.

The first is that he is not very good player by international standards. He plays at fly half or inside centre and compared with the gold standards, he falls far short.

The last three fly halfs to play for the All Blacks, Grant Fox, Dan Carter and Beauden Barrett have all been infinitely superior to Cooper. In fairness, Dan Carter was probably the greatest fly half of all time. But New Zealand has been able to fill this position with players of outstanding calibre for the last 20 years.

Sometimes Cooper will play at inside centre and here the comparison is no more favourable. Ma’a nonu, Tana Umaga, Sonny Bill Williams, Joe Stanley are or were bigger better and stronger.

The other aspect is that all of these players have been in outstanding combinations. Nonu, Williams and Umaga with Conrad Smith. Stanley with Warwick Taylor. And they’ve had some of the greatest wing three quarters/full backs playing outside them: Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson, Jonah Lomu.

The point of all this? When you think of the standout All Blacks that Cooper would have played against, all of them have been in teams with outstanding players playing outside them. This has not been the case for any Australian backline in the current century when Australia has won just 16 out of 63 test matches against New Zealand.

What this adds up to is man for man, position for position Australia has been unable to match the current world champions for more than a decade.

And they continue to rely on players such as Kurtley Beale to be their main playmaker.

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And like Cooper, Beale is not a great rugby player nor has he had the advantage of having a supercharged backline of the kind that the All Blacks have been fielding for the last two decades, to play outside him.

Australia has been unable to develop a talent pool in the way that New Zealand has. And the fact that the ageing Cooper could be considered for Wallaby selection indicates there are no young rising stars to brighten the future of Australian rugby.

 

 

 

Self-styled preference whisperer Glenn Druery is rorting the system in the worst possible way.

The Age reports: “Derryn Hinch’s preference whisperer faces cash-for-votes complaint.

Reason Party MP Fiona Patten has lodged a complaint with the Victorian Electoral Commission against Mr Druery, who also works as a staffer to Justice Party founder Senator Derryn Hinch.”

Glenn Druery: CREDIT:ANDREW MEARES

Druery handles all of Hinch’s presence deals as part of his tax-payer-funded role as one of Hinch’s staffers. This includes meeting with all the minor parties to garner preference swap deals. He charges $20,000 everone for the service and a $50,000 success fee.

But Hinch must reveal whether he pays Druery his normal professional fee on top of his salary or whether it is part of Druery’s job.

If it’s part of his job, then he’s using his role in Hinch’s office and presumably the resources of that office, to further his business and pecuniaryinterests.

If Hinch is paying him extra, then where is the money coming from?

Asleep at the wheel again?

But the role of the “preference whisperer”, while not illegal, does irreparable damage to the democratic process. Minor parties swap preferences purely on the basis of getting elected.

The preference voting system is designed to give voters a second or third choice if their candidate is not elected. Voters have a reasonable right to expect that the “how to vote” cards that are handed out indicate parties whose political views and policies are close to those of their preferred candidate.

This is highly unlikely to happen under the  “preference whisperer”.

And because the preference deals are not made public, many people may wind up having their preferences used to elect someone they would not have voted for.

 

The Maple Tree Restaurant Lorne

We visited the Maple Tree some years back and I wasn’t overly impressed. This time round it is greatly improved. For my starter I had the Smoked salmon terrine, whiskey butter, beetroot chutney, savory granola which was half a dozen chunks of jelly like salmon was the most amazing garnish. ($18) for my main I had a medium plate: Seafood linguini, mussels, fish, scallops, white wine, garlic ($32) which was excellent. DI had a main: Blue eye cod fillet, celeriac puree, sweet onion, radicchio, sauce vierge which at $39 was better value than my medium plate. The outstanding aspect of this plate was the cure and the source that shifted the blue cod to marvellous. The steamed vegetables were also outstanding. And they had Alhambra, one of my favourite beers. In contrast to last night, the Grappa was exceptional. From Masi and it made from Amazon grapes. The night before last, I got my grappa in the shot glass, last night I got it in a Baileys Irish cream glass with a little handle on the side. Restaurants really do need to begin to treat good grappa with the respect it deserves.

Saporitalia Restaurant Lorne – a must go

We had dinner at Saporitalia last time we were in Lorne. It was great then and a return visit did not disappoint.

We had the anti-pasta to begin which allows you a choice of five or 10 small dishes. For mains we had the salmon salad and the salmon linguine..

My salmon linguine was as good a pasta dish as I have anywhere. There’s a good selection of wine by that glass but the grappa which was served in the shot glass was at tad on the rough side.

This is a great restaurant and one that should be on the list for all Italian food lovers who visit Lorne.

Maple Tree Restaurant Lorne

We visited the Maple Tree some years back and I wasn’t overly impressed. This time round it is greatly improved. For my starter I had the Smoked salmon terrine, whiskey butter, beetroot chutney, savory granola which was half a dozen chunks of jelly like salmon was the most amazing garnish. ($18) for my main I had a medium plate: Seafood linguini, mussels, fish, scallops, white wine, garlic ($32) which was excellent. DI had a main: Blue eye cod fillet, celeriac puree, sweet onion, radicchio, sauce vierge which at $39 was better value than my medium plate. The outstanding aspect of this plate was the cure and the source that shifted the blue cod to marvellous. The steamed vegetables were also outstanding. And they had Alhambra, one of my favourite beers. In contrast to last night, the Grappa was exceptional. From Masi and it made from Amazon grapes. The night before last, I got my grappa in the shot glass, last night I got it in a Baileys Irish cream glass with a little handle on the side. Restaurants really do need to begin to treat good grappa with the respect it deserves.

The irony of the Wentworth by election: Kerryn Phelps would be elected on Labor and Green preferences but would guarantee supply for the Coalition

It’s an odd quirk of our democratic system. Labor and Greens voters may have allocated preferences to, and possibly elected, Phelps. They may have done this for two reasons.

The first is that they would preference Philips over the Liberal candidate David Sharma as a matter of course.

The second is because her stand on issues such as climate change and same-sex equality is closer to Labor and Greens policy than it is to Liberal policy.

The independent candidate did not receive the most first preference votes. The Liberal candidate David Sharma received 40% of the vote while Kerryn Phelps received 29.3%.

But by finishing second, she has been able to gain the narrow lead she currently holds from preferences from the Labor and Greens candidates who received 11.5% and 8.6% respectively.

Early in the campaign, she backflipped on her undertaking to preference Labor ahead of the Liberals. Not that it mattered in the long run. She appears to have picked up most of their preferences.

Whether elected or not, she has achieved a record swing in a Federal by-election and the psychological impact on the Liberal psyche of losing Wentworth for the first time in electoral history will be devastating.

Her election to Parliament would also make life difficult but not impossible for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. While he would not hold an absolute majority in the House, he can rely on Dr Phelps or other Independents to guarantee supply.

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Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie Bob Katter, Rebekha Sharkie

However, if things go pear-shaped, and they have been going pear-shaped quite regularly for Scott Morrison and his government, it could be a vote of no-confidence that is carried in the lower house that would trigger a general election.

The swing to Phelps has some interesting consequences.

Bevan Shields writes in The Age  The Wentworth smashing should send a shiver up Tony Abbott’s spine in the neighbouring electorate of Warringah. Saturday’s result proves blue-ribbon Liberal electorates will have no hesitation backing independents next year if they conclude the Coalition is still riven by leadership division and unwilling to take climate change seriously.

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Tony Abbott “I am the party and public’s best candidate for the Sydney seat of Warringah”.

Photo Andrew Meares

Abbott’s share of the primary vote plunged more than 9 per cent at the 2016 poll. A swing at next year’s election only half as big as the one recorded in Wentworth on Saturday would likely end his 25-year career in Parliament.

And Peter Dutton may have cause to be particularly worried if the tendency of the electorate to take a baseball bat to those responsible for the leadership debacle continues in his seat of Dickson. Dutton holds Dickson with a majority of around 3.5%, not enough for re-election in the current climate.

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The Wentworth result is not a result that will be reproduced in next Federal election. Wentworth was a very special case and the dismissal of Malcolm Turnbull would have been a major factor in the swing to Phelps. Just how big a factor this was will be exercising the minds of Liberal Party strategists.

Scott Morrison has been quick to point out that the Labor Party lost one third of its primary vote (down from 17% to 11%) and Greens also lost a similar amount of ground (14% to 8%).

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This is unlikely to worry either party as they probably expected to lose ground as voters endeavoured to ensure that Phelps would be elected.

We live in interesting times.

 

 

Barnaby Joyce still thinks he’s a chance to be Deputy Prime Minister again

The Guardian reports: Speculation about Michael McCormack’s position is mounting

Asked if he wanted the leadership, disgraced ex-leader Barnaby Joyce said: “I have always said that if anything was offered to me, I would take it. “It is faux modesty to say if you are offered a job, you’ll turn it down.”

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce in Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

 The National Party will have to draft him.  They may be stupid enough to do that

If they do, it will indicate that neither the party nor Joyce Joyce has any idea of the way he is perceived by Australian public nor of the damage he would do to the National  Party brand if he were to resume the leadership. But such a move would also damage the Coalition as a whole with a man as Deputy Prime Minister who was publicly disgraced and dismissed in the most ignominious way, returning to the leadership.

Not only returning to the leadership, but returning unrepentant.

It’s not as if Joyce enjoys the kind of support  that Donald Trump enjoys amongst   female Republican voters who dismiss his affairs with prostitutes as “fake news”.

He clearly doesn’t.

The Guardian also reports that Alana Johnson, a founding member of the peak representative group for rural women, Australian Women In Agriculture said: “I think rural women are angry at Barnaby Joyce and his behaviour and they would be very disappointed if National party thought he is the calibre of leader they want,”

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But Barnaby Joyce has never let anything get in the way of his own personal ambition. He doesn’t realise that his returning to the leadership will damage the National Party’s  vote, particularly in Queensland.

It will also damage the Coalition which does not have a great reputation for its treatment of women because his return to the leadership would be seen as  an indication of the Coalition’s continuing inability to deal with perceptions of its insensitivity to issues concerning women.

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Lucy Gichuhi, Julia Banks and Julie Bishop highlight the Coalition’s problems with women

As John Anderson, a formal leader of the National party and former Deputy Prime Minister said so eloquently: It’s really important that we recognise that it’s very hard to pick up the baton when the captain on the bridge finds that he can’t navigate the ship anymore.”

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The great thing about Barnaby Joyce’s return to the leadership of the National Party is that it would bring together two damaging issues for the Coalition.

The first is the problems associated with the Coalition’s attitudes towards women where Barnaby Joyce has been the poster boy.

The second is the problem of the leadership instability within the Coalition where Barnaby has also had a starring role.

The Labor Party probably can’t believe its luck.

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American Animals: A fascinating mix of real life and fantasy

British filmmaker Bart Layton has made a fascinating film in American Animals.

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The film was based on a book by Chris Evans, one of four young men who tried to steal a precious book from their University library.

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The book was John James Audubon’s Birds of America which was on display in the library at the University of Transylvania.

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Evans wrote the book while serving a seven year jail sentence for his part in the botched robbery.

American Animals is a fascinating mixture of film and documentary. As the film traces the planning and execution of the robbery, it is intercut by interviews with the four young men who actually took part in the robbery so from the beginning we know that all is not going to turn out well.

The use of the real live characters is a fascinating device, in that real-life characters never engage the sympathy of the audience. As they tell the stories, you begin to realise that these are young men who are not very bright and not very interesting.

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The cast (original characters in bold)

Blake Jenner and Chas Allen, Jared Abrahamson and Erik Borsuk, Spencer Reinhard and Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters and Warren Lipka,  

 At the core of the film is the puzzle of the motivation of the original characters. In the film, they want to do something exciting in their lives, something different. But this is hardly satisfying as an understanding of what motivated these young men to set out on  such an obviously doomed project.

The film cleverly traces the extent to which the characters become increasingly enmeshed in the plan, unable to escape often because of the pressure brought to bear by the charismatic Chas Allen.

The pace of the film changes with the first aborted attempt at the robbery where the would-be robbers turn up disguised as old men.

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At the second attempt, almost everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Events proves that watching reruns of Heist movies is not a good preparation for amateur robbers.

The four young men do not have the temperament nor the experience to conduct a robbery of this kind. And when things go wrong, they begin to disintegrate as individuals.

This disintegration is brought about by a number of significant flaws in the plan.

The books prove too big to carry, the lift they were to use for the escape does not go into the basement and finally when they endeavour to authenticate the two smaller books they have managed to steal at a leading auction house, Spencer Reinhard leaves his personal mobile phone number with the auctioneer’s assistant.

The film is interesting in that it is very difficult to have any sympathy with any of the leading characters. It is also interesting that Bart Layton managers to build the tension towards the end of the film even knowing what the ending will be.

But in the end, we do not understand the motivation of these four young men. And for my case, I really didn’t care very much either.

 

What will be the title of Melania Trump’s memoirs

A recent headline about America’s First Lady headlined  Melania Trump ignores cheating rumors about husband.

This is clearly her version of “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, has the tree really fallen?”

Stormy, Melania and Karen 

Clearly she’s a woman of some imagination.

So I began to think “What would happen if she and the President divorced after he leaves office?”

Would she write her memoirs and what would they be called?

A book by Melania Trump about her life with Donald would be a publishing goldmine.

Leave your suggestions in the Comments section of my blog

 

 

Is immigration the touchstone for the political divide in Australia.

If political polling is to be believed, then Australia has divided into three roughly equal groups. Those who will vote for Labor, those who will vote for the Coalition and those who will vote for the Greens and the minor parties.

While  this third group is by no means homogeneous, it does represent nearly one third of Australia’s population who will not provide a first preference vote for the major parties and their policies.

An article in The Guardian provides an interesting insight

It is  Divided Britain: study finds huge chasm in attitudes. These cross cultural, age and education lines.

The article makes an interesting point of possible relevance to Australia.

“In particular, it found, reducing immigration levels alone will not alleviate anxiety about new arrivals, not least since those most likely to express those views are based predominantly in areas where few immigrants actually live.

“Immigration has become a totemic emblem for the many grievances people feel in modern Britain,” said Nick Lowles, the chief executive of Hope Not Hate, in an introduction to the report.

“The strong view in many of these communities is that they have been abandoned and left to rot by the political establishment in preference to addressing the needs and wishes of new arrivals in the cities.”

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The Castle in Cambridge and East Marsh in Grimsby, Lincolnshire: Two sides of the divide.

Anti–immigration and anti-Islamic attitudes, which are more prevalent in rural and semi-rural areas where One Nation’s vote strongest, are not a result of actually living with immigrants or Muslims. They are based on a perception that resources are being directed away from  impoverished and struggling rural communities and towards  recently-arrived, city-based migrant groups.

It is this deep-rooted  resentment that Pauline Hanson is able to tap into and draw her political support.

And like most irrational attitudes, these particular attitudes are very difficult for a government of any political persuasion to shift because the causes are deep-seated and systemic.

In the meantime, Pauline Hanson continues to attract headlines with her “It’s OK to be white ‘motion which gained support (momentarily?) from 23 Coalition senators including including the deputy Senate leader and trade minister, Simon Birmingham, the small business minister, Michaelia Cash, the resources minister, Matt Canavan, communications minister Mitch Fifield, Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion and deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie. Liberal senator Lucy Gichuhi.

What were they thinking?