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The Olympic bronze medallist, unbeaten this season, clocked the fastest time in the world this year of 52.

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83 seconds for victory.

Dalilah Muhammad of the United States was second in 54.09 and her compatriot and 2011 world champion Lashinda Demus took third in 54.27.

“To run under 53 seconds – it is fantastic. The reason for my improvement is that I changed coach and I now train with the boys,” the 26-year-old told reporters.

“They are faster so they are my motivation.”

After London 2012, Hejnova linked up with Dalibor Kupka, former coach to 2004 Olympic decathlon champion Roman Sebrle, and she counts European 400 metres gold medallist Pavel Maslak among her new training partners.

“It’s a fantastic season for me. I’m still unbeatable… and I broke my personal best and the national record,” Hejnova added.

It was only the second track gold for the Czech Republic at a world championships after Ludmila Formanova won the 800 in 1999.

American Demus went off fast and was the first to rise but Hejnova never let her rivals get too far in front, relying on her strength over the second part of the race to reel them in and leave them trailing.

Medal favourite Perri Shakes-Drayton was a disappointing seventh after suffering an injury to her left knee during the race.

“It was going all right until the first hurdle and after the first hurdle my knee just felt funny,” the Briton said.

“It was going so well, leading the heats and the semi. But tonight after the first bend I was just going back and back and back.”

Russia’s Olympic champion Natalya Antyukh did not make the final.

(Writing by Alison Wildey, editing by Justin Palmer)

Aged care providers have written to federal MPs, appealing to them to pass legislation to introduce the government’s aged-care reform package.

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They say that if necessary, Labor should allow opposition amendments – but it’s important to have the package approved before the September election.

 

Thea Cowie reports.

 

The letter from the aged care providers uges MPs to pass the aged care reform with or without amendments.

 

It’s signed by 22 heads of organisations claiming to represent almost a million Australians.

 

They include aged care providers, carers and consumer groups for the elderly.

 

The groups say they’ve been waiting for this legislation to pass since Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister.

 

Chief executive of Catholic Health Australia Martin Laverty is one of the signatories.

 

“What we’ve got at the moment is consumer groups, unions, provider groups all agreeing that this legislation needs to go through the parliament. There might be some areas where the government needs to concede to the opposition requests for amendments. We say to the opposition and the government – strike a deal this week so that we can be confident that the legislation is going to pass through the parliament before the election so that it doesn’t get forgotten with all of the things the parliament has to deal with.”

 

The government’s “Living Longer Living Better” aged-care reform package would cost three-point-seven-billion dollars over five years.

 

Parliament would need to pass five separate bills for it to take effect.

 

Its supporters say the package would enable an extra 40,000 elderly Australians to remain in their own homes in the five-year period.

 

They say it would also give people greater control over how they pay for their care in residential homes.

 

Catholic Health Australia’s Martin Laverty says expanding the choices available to elderly Australians is the most important aspect.

 

“Choice. If there is one reason why this legislation needs to be passed it is because it gives to older Australians greater choice to stay in their own homes longer if that’s what they choose to do.”

 

The groups say another important element of the reforms would be a proposed nine per cent wage increase for aged care workers in coming years.

 

Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation Lee Thomas says without the pay increase, improvements in aged care will fail.

 

“Wages in aged care is amongst the lowest of the low. It’s nothing for a nurse working in aged care to be earning 300 to 400 hundred dollars a week less than a nurse doing pretty similar work in a public hospital down the street. When budgets get tight at home sometimes they have to make decisions about leaving the sector and going to work in different environments.”

 

But there are only four sitting weeks during which this legislation can pass before the parliament rises for the federal election.

 

During that time the government needs to pass all of its budget measures, changes to the private health insurance rebate and education reforms.

 

The aged care groups say they’ve committed an enormous amount of time, energy and resources to the reforms, in anticipation of them taking effect from July 1.

 

Manager of government business in the federal parliament, Anthony Albanese, says it will be the opposition’s fault if the bills don’t pass.

 

“They’re a confused lot, the opposition. Their natural instinct is to say no to everything. We haven’t had an indication yet of exactly where they stand but we have to assume that they will say no because usually they say no to everything.”

 

But the opposition spokeswoman on ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says the coalition won’t be rushed into signing off on legislation it’s barely seen.

 

“The debate in the House of Representatives only started on the 14th of May this year. This government, after sitting on the Productivity Commission report for more than 250 days, and then waiting another 327 days before bringing the bills before the parliament. Now the minister is forcing everyone to accept his incomplete and potentially very concerning bills within the next 16 days of parliamentary sessions.”

 

The question though is exactly what question to ask.

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Difficult, right?

And so there we go again getting ourselves in a tough-to-break circle and not knowing quite where to start.

That’s partly because the question definitely not to ask after a taking a hit like this is whether or not it is time to pull out of Afghanistan.

This kind of talk often occurs any time there’s tragic news about an Australian casualty as if – surprise! – it was always thought there was a military presence in Afghanistan for fun or that Australia should only be involved if it is convincingly ‘winning’.

Guess what?

Afghanistan is a mess and will probably always be a mess while a government cannot control a country where Taliban are considered by some to be a preferable alternative to rule from Kabul.

So the question should not be ‘Is it time to withdraw Western military forces?’ but more ‘What kind of condition can the country be left in to give Kabul’s government and the West an end game?’

The weekend’s attack underlined two points.

The first is pretty obvious.

Afghanistan is a dangerous place for anyone and everyone.

(That 22 of the dead were members of Seal Team Six, the unit that led the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound, killed by a lucky-to-have-hit RPG shot, also demonstrates how successful that extremely risky operation into Pakistan really was.)

Second, Kabul’s government (and, by proxy, the West) has no control over large sections of the country. The reality is that insurgents rule parts of the country ten years after George W. Bush pushed the button to invade Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC.

“It was not as bad… two years back, but recently it has deteriorated dramatically,” Nafisa Hejran, a member of the Logar Provincial Council told the New York Times.

The newspaper reported that two weeks ago Hejran received a death threat from insurgents telling her to “quit her job”. Most members of the provincial council in Logar no longer attend council meetings because it is too dangerous.

“The Taliban are setting up checkpoints on the main road, searching peoples’ pockets for ID cards and documents that indicate they work either for Afghan government or the international forces,” she said. “If they find something, then they behead the person on the spot to create fear and terror among the people.”

Yes.

Well.

That would have that effect, wouldn’t it?

So the circle continues. Foreign troops supposedly working to make Afghanistan (and the rest of the world) a better place are killed by extremists who will chop the heads off other locals trying to establish some form of functional government.

Wait.

What was the original question again?

Centre Jerome Ropati has been added to an extended five-man bench in the only change to the Warriors’ NRL side to face Penrith in Auckland on Sunday.

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Coach Matthew Elliott has otherwise retained the same 17 players who have turned out in the Warriors’ past three matches.

Ropati, 28, has made 140 first-grade appearances, but his previous two seasons were ruined by serious knee injuries.

The former Kiwi has again had a disrupted year, turning out just twice in the NRL in between battling injuries or playing for the Auckland Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup.

He missed the Vulcans’ big win over Canterbury-Bankstown last weekend, travelling to Gosford instead to provide cover for the Warriors’ outside backs against Manly.

With four rounds to go, the Warriors sit 10th, two points above the 13th-placed Penrith, who inflicted a 62-6 thrashing on them in May.

While the Warriors’ comeback since that defeat has been stalled by losses over the past two weekends to Cronulla and the Sea Eagles, the Panthers have dropped their last four.

Elliott says the Warriors know what Penrith, despite their recent form, are capable of.

“We’ll undoubtedly be reminded about what happened the last time we met, but a lot has changed since then,” he said.

“We’ve shown plenty of improvement generally, but had a tough day against a very, very good Manly side on Sunday.”

Warriors: Kevin Locke, Ngani Laumape, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (capt), Elijah Taylor. Interchange (from): Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux, Jerome Ropati.

A leading business group believes the federal coalition’s small business policy is a step in the right direction for a sector that remains in the doldrums.

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has formally launched the plan, which includes earlier promises to reduce business red tape and cut the corporate tax rate.

“The extent to which we can peel back regulation is a good thing, the extent we can lower the overall taxation burden on business is certainly a good thing,” Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) chief economist Greg Evans told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

The small business plan also highlights Mr Abbott’s promise to scrap the carbon tax – something the ACCI has supported for sometime to help lower energy prices.

The policy’s release coincides with the ACCI’s latest small business survey showing continuing weakness in the sector.

“We are beginning to see some stabilisation in this survey, although stabilising at generally contractionary levels,” Mr Evans said.

The small business conditions index was 41.2 points in the June quarter, a minor improvement on the 41.1 points in the previous three months.

But the index remains below the 50-point mark separating contraction from expansion.

Sales, profitability, investment and employment all stabilised below 50 index points.

But selling prices continued to slide, touching a record low for the survey of 43.4 points, the lowest in 17 years.

“Business is under considerable pricing pressure in the market place. It’s not able to lift its own prices and it continues to be squeezed by higher costs,” Mr Evans said.

“That’s having an impact on the bottom line and profitability.”

Lower interest rates are yet to make their mark, with Mr Evans pointing out overdraft rates for businesses were still around eight per cent compared to mortgage rates below six per cent.

Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia general manager Yasser El-Ansary said the next federal government must invest in small businesses to generate jobs and opportunity across the country.

“Reducing red tape is central to making life easier for small businesses and we welcome the coalition’s pledge,” he said in a statement.

“Cutting red tape should be an ongoing process – not a one-off promise that happens at each election.”

The coalition’s commitment to improving small businesses’ access to finance was also important because the sector didn’t have the same bargaining power as larger businesses.

“What’s missing from today’s announcement is a plan to give Australian small businesses a leg up in the Asian markets,” he said.

“Australia’s future prosperity is inextricably tied to the living standards and prosperity of our neighbours in Asia.”

Its recent report “The Inside Story of An Outdoor Nation” shows shrinking backyards, more screen time and long working hours have concerning implications for the nation’s health.

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But opinion varies as to who or what is responsible for this phenomenon, as Kerri Worthington reports.

 

 

The Planet Ark research found a link between time spent outside and the size of people’s gardens.

 

Spokeswoman Rebecca Gilling says the iconic quarter acre block is a thing of the past and the shrinkage has coincided with more time being spent on indoor activities.

 

“People living in units or apartments spend on average about three and a half hours a week doing recreational activity outside. People with large backyards spend over five hours a week outdoors. And that’s not doing boring things like mowing the lawn and hanging out the washing. It’s actually getting into the garden, taking the dog for a walk, whatever it is, playing sport.”

 

Rebecca Gilling says Australia hasn’t got a culture of using local parks the way city dwellers elsewhere in the world do.

 

“I think in Europe people have lived in apartments for decades so they use their local parks in a much more frequent and formalised way than we do in this country. Because we think of ourselves as being outdoorsy then that seems to be enough. What we find is for every hour we spend outside we’re actually spending over seven hours inside in front of the television or the computer.”

 

Taking a contrary view, Monica Richter of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Sustainable Australia program says there is a trend of smaller backyards but that doesn’t mean people don’t go outside.

 

Ms Richter says more parkland and urban spaces like sports fields, community gardens and facilities are opening up and that’s bringing people out of their homes and into the community.

 

“With the trend towards people with families moving back into the inner and middle rim of our cities it’s showing that these spaces are being used. There’s a higher demand for play facilities for children and sporting facilities. You know, a kid’s backyard becomes the publicly available, publicly accessible parks and facilities. The good thing about this trend is that it’s creating community, the community produces a lot more walking rather than people moving about just in cars.”

 

It’s a different story in the outer suburbs of Australia’s cities, where most of the population growth takes place.

 

There, developers are obliged to provide a certain amount of parkland when building new housing tracts, but those areas remain extremely car-dependent.

 

It’s there, too, that the phenomenon of a big house with a tiny garden is most common.

 

The Institute of Public Affairs director of deregulation, Alan Moran, says this is because land prices are too high due to government* involvement in the planning system.

 

Mr Moran says excessive bureaucratic involvement has led to an explosion in the price of houses and forces developers to provide smaller blocks.

 

“The government actually leans on builders in terms of planning permission to actually ensure the blocks are relatively small, But it also, by not allowing development to take place except where it allows it, where it actually makes a permit available, then the government is reducing the amount of land available and that increases the price and puts a lot of pressure on people to go for smaller blocks.”

 

But the real problem, says author Tony Hall, an Adjunct Professor within the Urban Research Program at Griffith University, is not the size of housing blocks.

 

“What seems to be happening is the house size increases dramatically and whatever the size of the lot, people expand the house to cover the lot. And Australia now has the largest house sizes in the world. Another big, dramatic change that takes place at exactly the same time in Australian society is the working hours change. Australia goes from a low working hours society to the highest in the world. This is not a matter of being paid more, but you don’t take your holidays, you work weekends, you work beyond your contract, this kind of thing. All this happens at exactly the same time in Australia.”

 

Dr Hall says a major cultural change in 1990s Australia was brought on by financial deregulation that encouraged unprecedented levels of indebtedness.

 

“People take out huge loans to buy huge houses. They’re big deep square plan, they have very few windows, very little outlook, large interior spaces without natural light and ventilation. They’re just big, they’re not nice to live in. If you had a house which was nice L-shaped with nice windows looking out on swimming pools and things then that would be more expensive per square metre. You’re being sold these big things, they’re not nice to live in, but people often don’t notice you can’t look out because they’re not there in the daytime because they’re working all these long hours. The whole thing seems to be one kind of package.”

 

It’s not all gloom from the point of view of one social researcher.

 

Monica Richter of the Australian Conservation Foundation says the public health consequences of the indoor lifestyle have become so apparent that authorities are taking action.

 

“Yes, we have a more sedentary life. Yes, as we rely more on our cars we don’t do as much exercise, we don’t walk to public transport facilities, so we are seeing increases in obesity, particularly childhood obesity because we get less exercise, because we’re eating more. Those are societal trends, bit on the other hand, we’re also seeing that the facilities are starting to be made available for children and families to get out — bicycle lanes, we’re seeing parklands being opened up for play facilities, for dog runs. There are a number of trends occurring and I do think we’re seeing that councils and governments and developers are investing in making sure that those facilities are available.”

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon concedes his team’s top-two chances are done and dusted, but says having to travel for two straight weeks won’t hold any fears for his side.

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The Dockers moved into third spot on the table with a 74-point hammering of Port Adelaide in Perth on Saturday night.

But for Fremantle to nab second spot and a home qualifying final, they would need Brisbane to upset Geelong at Simonds Stadium next Saturday.

That scenario is highly unlikely, with Lyon already resigned to missing out on a top-two berth.

Fremantle round out their season against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

And unless Geelong stumbles against Brisbane, the Dockers would have to again make the trip to Melbourne the following week to take on either the Cats or Hawthorn in a qualifying final.

At no point this season have Fremantle been forced to travel two weeks in a row.

But Lyon pointed to his team’s strong performances on the road in last year’s finals series as proof his players could handle the burden.

The Dockers stunned Geelong in an elimination final at the MCG last year before coming close to beating Adelaide at AAMI Stadium a week later.

“It’s part of the business. I’m sure we live in WA and if you don’t finish in the top two, you’re going to fly. We’ll be fine,” Lyon said.

Fremantle could welcome back as many as three players from injury next week, with ruckman Aaron Sandilands (fractured cheekbone), Clancee Pearce (calf) and Luke McPharlin (calf) all a chance to play.

But even more changes could be on the cards, with Lyon hinting at the possibility of resting some key players against the lowly Saints.

“We just need to make sure we prepare our players in the best light possible going forward,” Lyon said after the 21.8 (134) to 9.6 (60) win over the Power.

“We’ll sit down during the week and bang out some ideas.

“We have an opportunity to prepare for the first final as best we can. What that looks like I’m not sure.”

Rebounding defender Nick Suban might miss the Saints clash after experiencing hamstring tightness against the Power.

But forward Hayden Ballantyne looks to be in red hot form heading into the finals after shaking off a shoulder injury to kick four goals against Port Adelaide.

CHESTER-LE-STREET, England, Aug 9 AAP – England defended their agonisingly slow scoring rate and poor shot selection on day one of the fourth Test at Chester-le-Street.

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The home side scored at just 2.64 runs an over to be 9-238 at stumps.

England captain Alastair Cook took 164 balls and 231 minutes to make it to 51, the third slowest half century of his career.

Jonny Bairstow took it to a whole new level when he went 64 minutes without scoring and was eventually out for 14.

England spent 15 overs moving from 183 into the 190s.

Jonathan Trott actually picked up the pace to score 49 from 60, but his 73-run stand with Cook went to waste when he tried to lazily flick Nathan Lyon off the pads.

When Kevin Pietersen fell at 3-149, England went on to lose 6-75.

England were their own worst enemy with Trott, Pietersen, Ian Bell and the tail guilty of reckless shot selection.

Trott defended England’s slow scoring, crediting Australia for bowling well and putting them under pressure.

“At the beginning of the series everyone said the Australians have got a good bowling line-up, and that’s true,” he said.

“We’ve made it difficult for their batters and they’ve made it difficult for us.

“It’s about trying to squeeze every run out of the game and apply as much pressure as you can.”

England have already retained the Ashes, but Trott admitted Australia have the momentum after drawing at Old Trafford and taking the ascendancy at Chester-le-Street.

However, Trott believes 250 is a par score at Durham, where the biggest total all county season has been 339.

England spearhead James Anderson has a better average at Durham than at any other English Test venue and Trott believes his side can quickly regain momentum.

“It ebbs and flows over a long series. We’ve got to try and wrestle it back tomorrow like we have done in the past,” he said.

“Test match cricket is five days. You can’t go out there and give your wicket away, you hang in there and wait for your time and you have to earn the right to score runs in Test cricket.

“Australia bowled pretty well and set good defensive fields and made it difficult.

“Two hundred and fifty I think is the average score around here at Durham.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a serious concern but I’d say we’re disappointed that we got ourselves into a good position then got ourselves into a bad one.

We’re not too sure what a good score would be first innings on that wicket.

“Batting first was the correct decision, getting ourselves to about 150 for two, and as a group we’re pretty disappointed that we’ve ended the day behind.”

Trott said England’s performance was “uncharacteristic”.

The South-African born No.3 scored two big hundreds in the last Ashes series, but averages just 24.42 this series.

“I’ve been able to get three good starts and haven’t gone on. But that’s cricket,” he said.

“There’s no divine right (to score).

“Things haven’t gone my way but I’ve still got full confidence I’ll be able to do that hopefully in the next innings.”

Opposition leader Tony Abbott ventured into safe Labor territory on day three of the election campaign promoting his $5 billion plan to cut company tax to the workers he says it will benefit.

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First stop was a soft drinks factory in Salisbury, north of Adelaide, in the Labor seat of Makin held by Tony Zappia on a relatively safe 12 per cent margin.

Liberal candidate Sue Lawrie joined Mr Abbott and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey on an inspection of the production line at Bickfords, which employs about 175 people nationwide and 120 in South Australia.

The coalition formally announced its policy to lower the company tax rate by 1.5 percentage points within two years, if it wins government on September 7.

“This is very, very good news for the workers of Australia, the businesses of Australia and the people of Australia,” Mr Abbott said as he made the announcement earlier in the day.

He reiterated the point at Bickfords.

“We are today reducing company tax so that your job security increases,” Mr Abbott said.

This could be the biggest ticket item of this campaign, so the attention was firmly on Mr Abbott.

Ms Lawrie didn’t get an opportunity to address the media pack, unlike the Liberal candidates running for marginal seats visited by her leader earlier in the week.

But the former Telstra worker, who’s been working for Liberal front bencher Christopher Pyne, didn’t feel snubbed.

“I wasn’t expecting anything,” she told AAP.

“This is really Tony’s day.”

Ms Lawrie ran as the Liberal candidate in the seat of Port Adelaide in the last state election, earning a 13 per cent swing in her favour, but still falling short.

“If I replicate that I’m easily home and hosed,” she said.

Mr Abbott’s second event on Wednesday was a campaign launch for Liberal candidate Carmen Garcia, who’s running for Adelaide, held with a 7.5 per cent margin by Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis.

The leader talked up his tax cut and emphasised Ms Garcia’s Fillipino background.

“Carmen is one of many candidates who aren’t part of that old Anglo establishment that used to so characterise our party,” Mr Abbott said.

“I’m so proud of people who have come to this country not to change us but to join us.”

If Ms Garcia unseats Ms Ellis she’ll be the first federal MP of Fillipino descent.

The 34-year-old mother has run a not-for-profit multicultural youth service and worked with refugees, some of whom came to Australia on asylum seeker boats.

Ms Garcia says the coalition’s policies to stop the boats are about humanity.

“We don’t want to see any more deaths at sea,” she told AAP.

“I don’t think it’s more humane letting people with opportunity and means, that can afford to pay for plane tickets and make several travels to Australia, to jump the queue.”

Manly are hopeful of securing the services of David Williams for another three seasons with an offer tabled to the former representative winger’s management.

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Williams has put his injury woes behind him following a horrible run of luck over the last four years that’s resulted in the 27-year-old sitting out the 2010 campaign with a shoulder injury, breaking his neck in 2011 and rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament against Brisbane last year.

His 18 appearances this season are the most he’s made since breaking into the NSW side in 2009 and his form has been red-hot with five tries in his last five games to help catapult the Sea Eagles into third spot on the ladder.

Geoff Toovey’s side take on the Warriors on Sunday in Gosford in a repeat of the 2011 grand final and the club is hopeful his management can rubber stamp the new deal to keep him at the club for rest of his career.

“We have room in the cap to keep David and we want him to stay,” a club official told AAP.

“We are just waiting to hear back from his management team now, but confident we can announce something soon.

“The ball is in their court so to speak.”

Williams has been a key part of the success of the Sea Eagles over the last six years after making his debut in the grand final-winning season in 2008.

After seeing the likes of Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Steve Matai, Brett Stewart and Justin Horo all re-commit to the club, he is keen to do likewise.

“I’d love to stay, it’s a great group of people… I would like to finish my career out here,” Williams said.

“But it’s up to my management and the club at the moment.”

After putting his injury issues on the backburner, Williams is flourishing in a high-octane attack that has clocked up 198 points in the last five games.

However, he is not relishing the task of coming up against a Warriors side he ranks as one of the dark horses to make an impact in the finals.

Matt Elliott’s side have lost just two of their last nine and recently beat Melbourne.

And although they are currently just outside the top eight, Williams expects the men from across the Tasman to feature in September.

“If they decide to put consistent football together they can beat anyone,” he said.

“When you have a six foot four winger who’s five foot wide like Manu Vatuvei running at you it’s not fun.”

Republican candidates gathered in New Hampshire this week to stake their claim as the person to beat President Obama in next year’s election.

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Why New Hampshire? It’s a key state in what’s known as the “primaries”, a process that’s equally fascinating and tedious.

In a bandwagon that candidates hope will swing across the nation, voters in each state must nominate those coveting the Republican Party’s nomination.

It’s an election, often brutal and vicious, before the Presidential election. To complicate matters a little more, each state has its own preferred process. One state may open the elections to all voters while another may only allow voters registered with a specific party to vote on its nominees.

Primaries start in early 2012 but the shuffling has already begun. New Hampshire historically holds its primary early so it’s a state where a candidate wants to gain early momentum.

So it is that Republicans have wheeled into Manchester, New Hampshire, this week for a debate between seven of leading Presidential want-to-bes who will try to impress Republican voters with their conservative credentials.

So please meet:

Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who failed to win nomination in 2008. A Mormon, he is considered a smooth front-runner but faces challenges explaining his health care policy as governor to national right-wingers. It’s what “Obamacare” was based on.

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, whose personal life has infamously been a mess with divorce and affairs. Not helping: his staff quit en masse last week.

Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, an understated solid Christian and conservative who could emerge as the leading candidate.

Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party pin-up, who is a fiery ideological twin to Sarah Palin. If Obama is for it, Bachmann is 100 per cent against it.

Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has promoted teaching creationism in schools, made controversial comments about homosexuality and linked Catholic Church sex abuse in Boston to liberal culture. You might think that would rule him out. You’d be wrong.

Ron Paul, congressman from Texas, is a libertarian and another Tea Party favourite. To be successful, he’ll have to defeat Bachmann and win over her fan base.

Herman Cain, a former CEO of a pizza company made headlines recently by announcing that President Obama “was raised in Kenya” and has previously said he was unsure if Obama was born in the United States.

There’s still time for other candidates to step up but you’ll notice the absence from this debate of Sarah Palin and, perhaps, Jon Hunstman, a former ambassador to China under President Obama. Neither has yet declared candidacy and probably only Huntsman will.

Both are unlikely to win nomination anyway. Palin will prefer her well-paid role being loud on the sidelines rather than commit to a platform that may not survive real world scrutiny. Huntsman, a moderate who may have potential to challenge the President, is unlikely to impress the Republican base with his work in China for Obama.

It’s that petty and that polarised.

Financial Markets Authority chairman Simon Allen’s role in negotiating the government’s convention centre for pokies deal with SkyCity has been recorded as a potential conflict of interest, the regulator says.

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Mr Allen, a former investment banker who has chaired the market watchdog since May 2011, took a key role in talks with the casino and hotel group, according to papers released by Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Minister Steven Joyce last month.

He was enlisted by Mr Joyce to strengthen a government negotiating team that was up against SkyCity executives with experience in winning gaming concessions in Australia and Asia.

SkyCity gained extra slot machines and a 27-year extension to its exclusive licence in Auckland as part of a deal to build the $402 million convention centre.

“Simon Allen disclosed his role in relation to SkyCity to FMA and it has been recorded as a potential conflict of interest under FMA’s conflict of interests policy,” Liam Mason, FMA board secretary, said in an emailed statement.

“FMA has rigorous conflict of interests policies for its board and staff, to maintain confidence in the integrity of the organisation.”

Mr Joyce told BusinessDesk last month that he tapped Mr Allen, whom he met as chairman of Crown Fibre Holdings, after he became minister following the 2011 election, to give the government negotiators “some stronger commercial expertise”.

The talks had ground on since SkyCity first made its proposal in September 2010 to fully fund a national convention centre in exchange for a list of wide-ranging concessions.

That list was virtually cut in half by the time a heads of agreement was signed this year.

Before Mr Allen’s involvement, the company and government officials couldn’t even agree on what had been said at meetings they both attended, papers show.

Mr Mason said the regulator’s board members “are chosen because of their diverse range of experience in the financial markets, ensuring that FMA’s governance is well-connected to the markets it regulates”.

Syria’s opposition has accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of gassing people with one report suggesting more than 1,300 people have died as a result of the alleged chemical attack.

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Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

 

Syrian opposition groups allege more than 1300 people died in a massacre involving chemical weapons near the capital, Damascus.

 

A spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Saleh, is calling on UN chemical weapons inspectors – who have been in Syria since Tuesday – to do more to investigate the incident.

 

“What we want is from those inspectors to come in and see the people that were killed in the countryside of Damascus. We want them to look at the victims, we want them to investigate who used those chemical weapons. It’s very obvious to us that these chemical weapons were used and were carried out using ballistic missiles. Only the regime has that capability and the willingness to use them against innocent civilians.”

 

Videos distributed by activists – which have not yet been independently verified – appear to show medics attending children and adults struggling to breathe.

 

Others show rows of dead children and adults wrapped in white cloths, their bodies showing no obvious signs of injury.

 

But a spokesman for the Syrian military strongly denies the allegations relating to the use of chemical weapons.

 

“The media channels of sedition and misinformation who shed Syrian blood have lied as usual that the Syrian Arab Army used chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus today. The general leadership of the army confirms these allegations are completely false and are a part of the dirty media war that is led by some countries through the media against Syria.”

 

The United States says it will consult with its partners on the United Nations Security Council about the reports.

 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says US officials have not yet been able to independently verify reports about the use of such weapons in Syria by government forces, but he expressed alarm and called for an urgent United Nations investigation.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on what may or may not have happened. Fortunately, we have credible professional investigators with the United Nations on the ground in Syria right now, let us give them the opportunity to take a look at what happened, let us give them the opportunity to interview witnesses, let us give them the opportunity to collect some physical evidence, and then we we can reach a conclusion about what exactly happened there. But suffice it to say that though the use of chemical weapons is something that the United States finds totally deplorable and completely unacceptable, and those who are responsible for the use of chemical weapons, if it’s determined that is what happened, will be held accountable.”

 

The United Nations Security Council has held an emergency meeting to discuss the alleged chemical attack in Syria.

 

Security Council members France, Britain, the United States, Luxembourg and South Korea requested the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.

 

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is demanding UN chemical weapons inspectors get full access to the site of the alleged attack.

 

“If verified this would be a shocking escalation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We are determined the people responsible will one day be held to account. I hope it will be made clear that the UN team now in Damascus will have unrestricted access to the area concerned and the United Kingdom will be raising this at the United Nations Security Council.”

 

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed since Syria’s civil war erupted, pitting Bashar Al-Assad’s government forces against opposition groups seeking to end his family’s four-decade rule.