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Experienced Warriors centre Jerome Ropati expects the next four weeks to give him a firm idea of whether he’ll be back playing rugby league next year.

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Ropati is on an expanded five-man bench to face Penrith in Auckland, raising the prospect that he will make just his third NRL appearance of the year on Sunday.

After his two previous seasons were cut short by serious knee injuries, the 28-year-old has again spent time on the sidelines in 2013.

He says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll be back next year, “but I’m leaning towards that way”.

A key factor will be how things go over the final four rounds of the regular season.

“It will confirm a lot of things that I do have in my mind as to what I want to do next year,” he said.

Ropati’s last match for the Warriors was in early May in the 25-24 win over Gold Coast, before he was hit by a hamstring problem.

He worked his way back by turning out for the Auckland Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup and last weekend travelled to Gosford as cover for the Warriors in their match against Manly.

The 11-Test Kiwi admits the road to recovery over the past 2-1/2 years has been tough, especially with his body not responding as he had hoped.

“After doing everything I can, it still isn’t responding the way I would like it to,” he said.

“However, I’m in good shape right now and the mind is quite as ease.”

Ropati is completing a one-year contract with the Warriors, for whom he has made 140 appearances, the first 10 years ago this month.

He has had discussions with the club about his future and is comfortable with where the issue lies.

Coach Matthew Elliott said the timing of Ropati’s reintroduction to the NRL would be important.

“I really feel he’s got a contribution to make heading into the back end of the season,” he said.

“His maturity, his influence on other players is pretty profound.”

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As Mynamar emerges from political isolation there’s been an explosion in artistic expression in the country.

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Before there were strict controls on what Burmese could do on stage, but now artists are seeing a relaxation of the rules and their changing country is providing them with plenty of inspiration.

 

The country’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, has reunited with this group Thee Lay Thee – Three fruits – and is enjoying exploring the new-found freedom.

 

Rebeccah Henschke reports.

 

 

Zarganar stands in the middle of his studio in downtown Yangon, a circle of dancers listening to his every word.

 

He has selected them carefully in order to make a political statement.

 

“I choose all of the colours and I choose all of the religions: there must be Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and the Hindus. There are all of them from different backgrounds so we can say this is unity in diversity.”

“Why is that important now?”

“Because in our country some people said our people, our Burmese people, they can not accept the diversity. Diversity is very important for the democracy you know. So unity in the diversity is very important recently in our country. Some people they don’t know what diversity is, what unity is and what democracy is – they don’t know.”

 

This, his latest dance and comic performance, is a response to the ongoing civil war and ethnic conflicts that are raging across the country.

 

Zarganar’s stage name literally translates as ”tweezers” – it’s said that he pulls out fear.

 

Jailed four times for criticising the government, he continues to push the boundaries.

 

“In our country 25 per cent of the parliament seats are already occupied by the military automatically so I would like to ask our President that they should give another 25 per cent of the seats to our comedians so that half the parliament would be crazy. This is just a joke but I don’t like this 25 per cent – why do we have to give the military 25 per cent?”

His freedom to make jokes like this is very fresh.

 

He was sentenced to 59 years behind bars in 2008 for criticising the government.

 

An international campaign led to his release.

 

To escape similar arrest, Kay Thee from Zargarnar’s comic group Thee Lay Thee avoided arrest by going into self-imposed exile in Thailand.

 

He recently returned home to Myanmar and is not really sure how the authorities are going to respond to their work now.

 

“As a comedian I have a duty to say what I think. I don’t care if I will be arrested for it. It is my duty. Maybe one day they will come and arrest me but I can’t predict what is going to happen. But comedians are better than politicians because the people listen to us.”

 

Like many political activists, his family has paid a high price.

 

While in exile in Thailand his father died and he didn’t get to say goodbye.

 

He left him this letter that Kay Thee reads often.

“If my father knew the suffering I would have in Thailand he wouldn’t have recommended my path in life, but he did motivate me. The other thing that motivated me is the cruelty, the torture, the monopoly that is happening in Mynamar.”

During his years away, his parents dealt with their longing by taking photos with his stage posters.

And to protect his mother he never told her why he was in Thailand.

 

“When I first found out I had to be hospitalised because of the shock and worry. But now people come and praise his work to me and I am very proud.”

 

She too was a performer; a dancer.

 

And now she can watch her political comic son performing out in the open, continuing the family tradition and pushing for a new more just Myanmar.

 

But for now everyone, including Zarganar, is cautious.

 

“Now we have a little bit of freedom in our country. Not full freedom. Our country is not America. Our country is not England. Our country is two years old. Just two years old. So just baby steps, we can say.”

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Students say they’re locked in a David and Goliath battle with universities over how to spend student services fees.

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The National Union of Students (NUS) says many universities aren’t properly consulting students on how to best spend student services and amenities fees (SSAF).

“Sometimes it does feel like a bit of a David and Goliath scenario where you have the university with all the funding pool, with most of the power when it comes to distribution,” NUS president Jade Tyrrell told AAP.

“Then you have the David in the form of the students and the student organisations trying to fight for the funding.”

She says students must control their own affairs to guarantee independent voices and advocacy.

The University of Newcastle is one of 18 universities the NUS says have taken over student services or service providers since 2006.

At its Ourimbah campus, student association Campus Central (CC) has been denied any SSAF funds for 2013.

The organisation believes the cut is part of a university campaign to reduce the number of student associations across its four main campuses.

“We believe that one of the main aims of the university is trying … to remove those organisations that are independent and aren’t just bowing down to the university’s wants and demands,” CC president Liam Grant told AAP.

“SSAF is such a big deal for universities now in regards to this large amount of money coming through.”

University of Newcastle deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Parfitt has told CC the university has no intention of seeking to control student representative bodies.

AAP made repeated attempts to contact the university but received no response.

CC now believes the university is actively trying to erode its revenue base by opening a coffee shop that undercuts prices of the cafes the student association runs.

The situation has forced CC to sack almost a third of its staff – many of whom are students – lift prices, shorten opening hours and reduce its student advocacy and support services.

“The only impact that the students have seen is a negative impact,” CC chief executive Michael Maas said.

Mr Maas and Mr Grant say CC tried repeatedly to get details from university management about what it thinks is wrong with the organisation.

Mr Maas said it was a typical David and Goliath fight.

“They’re just coming in and steamrolling us,” he said.

“But we’ll go out fighting so that the students on this campus and on every other campus in Australia will know that what the University of Newcastle is doing is not right.”

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“There’s only one word for it,” Mick Fanning said.

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“Perfection.”

There are days in professional surfing when the athletes are the luminaries.

And there are days when the waves are so impeccable that the location itself is becomes the pre-eminent figure.

World title contenders Fanning, Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson are still alive at the Billabong Pro Tahiti after a gem of a day at Teahupo’o when, according to Fanning, perfection looked like this: not a breath of wind, cloudless skies, warm and impossibly blue water, lush and towering mountains in the background and endless lines of swell hugging the reef in a marathon day of heats that amounted to a non-stop, eight-hour highlights package.

Fanning plucked a ten-point ride like he was picking a coconut from a tree.

Needing a 9.97 in the final minutes of his third-round heat against American Ian Walsh, Fanning posted the fourth 10 of the contest to consolidate his place at the top of the world rankings.

“It was heart in your mouth stuff,” he said.

“I was looking at the waves late in that heat thinking, ‘Can I? Should I?’ There are times when you need those clutch performances.

“It’s what you train for. It’s what you work hard for. It’s why you work on your mind so you can stay cool in those moments and excite when you need to.

“They’re the kind of wins you don’t forget.”

Fanning posted 17.83 points to Walsh’s 17.6.

Slater followed him into the water and swooped into a couple of postcard-perfect barrels to trump Australia’s Anthony Walsh by 18.97 to 16.23.

From dawn to dusk, the waves kept coming.

“This is the best Teahupo’o I’ve surfed in years,” Slater said.

“It’s A-plus.”

Parkinson was forced into the role of spectator because his third-round heat against Tahitian Alain Riou was unable to be staged before dark.

“It’s been torturous to sit here all day and watch,” he said.

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The election campaign focus on jobs and the economy has continued on day 11 with the Prime Minister announcing Labor’s plan for the development of northern Australia.

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The plan would involve establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone with lower company tax, and expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme from Western Australia into the Northern Territory.

 

But the Opposition describes Labor’s plan as just a poor imitation of the Coaltion’s blue-print for the north.

 

Kevin Rudd says he has a three pillar plan to “turbo charge” northern Australia’s economy and ensure the nation continues to prosper once the China resources boom ends.

 

“I believe in the Territory, I love the Territory. I have been here stacks of times in the past and I like coming back here. I see it as huge in where we want to take Australia in the future in Asia, huge in terms of economic potential. All we’re talking about is giving people a bit of a leg up.”

 

To that end, Mr Rudd says a re-elected Labor government would create a Northern Special Economic Zone to attract new Australian and foreign investment.

 

He says the zone would simplify investment rules, streamline application processes for major projects, and introduce tax incentives.

 

While not committing to an exact figure, Mr Rudd says he would like to see the company tax reduced by about a third within five years.

 

But when asked who exactly would benefit from the tax cut, Mr Rudd contradicted himself several times before saying Labor was still working through the details.

 

The second pillar of Mr Rudd’s plan is to expand the Ord River irrigation scheme from WA into the Northern Territory.

 

Mr Rudd is promising $10-million to help settle Native Title disputes he says are holding back the expansion.

 

He says finalising Native Title claims would free up about $14,000 hectares of land and increase agricultural production by about $150-million a year.

 

Mr Rudd says a Labor government would work with the Northern Territory government and the Northern Land Council to sort out the disputes.

 

“We’ve been entirely mindful of those sensitivities. Equally mindful of the need to expand agricultural export opportunities across Northern Australia. When you talk about expanding the Ord by a third this is a large slice of territory and I’m proud of the fact that we are stepping out, making a decision to make this work.”

 

The final pillar of Mr Rudd’s vision for northern Australia is to develop 20 year growth plans for Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott says Labor is copying the Coalition’s plan.

 

“I’m pleased that Mr Rudd has finally woken up to the potential of northern Australia. This is something that the Coalition has been talking about for the last three years and Mr Rudd is playing catch up politics.”

 

In June the coalition unveiled its own 20 year plan to develop the north of Australia, which also involved tax incentives.

 

Labor slammed the plan at the time saying it was long on rhetoric and short on detail but now Mr Rudd is facing the same criticism from the Coalition.

 

Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne is not impressed with either of the major parties’ plans.

 

“What they’re talking about is code for environmental destruction, lower wages, poorer conditions for workers and longterm lack of resilience for local communities. And I won’t be surprised if the pair of them get together and decide they’re going to turn the rivers inland. This is such backward thinking and it’s interesting that they’re both adopting Gina Rinehart and Bob Katter’s ideas.”

 

Labor’s plan for the north of the country came as the Coalition unveiled an 11 point plan for Tasmania.

 

Tony Abbott says a Coalition government would strengthen Tasmania’s role as the gateway to the Antarctic with a $38-million upgrade to the Hobart airport and a $24-million Centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research.

 

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The 43-year-old has recorded four top-threes in his last nine major starts and relishes the prospect of a head-to-head duel with Tiger Woods at this week’s PGA Championship.

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“I can taste some of my best golf coming out. I can feel it,” Mickelson told reporters after playing a practice round at Oak Hill Country Club on Tuesday.

“That has motivated me to continue to work hard and enjoy it, and I’m enjoying it more than I ever have. I’m as motivated as ever to compete and to play and get the best golf out of me to hopefully play against Tiger when he’s playing his best.

“That would ultimately be the goal. If I can play as well as I can at the same time he’s doing the same, I would love that opportunity.”

The likelihood of a Mickelson-Woods showdown at Oak Hill in the season’s final major is highly promising with both players having produced winning form in recent weeks.

Mickelson clinched his first British Open crown at Muirfield last month with a stunning final round of five-under-par 66, one week after he had triumphed at the Scottish Open.

Woods romped to victory by seven shots in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone on Sunday to earn his fifth PGA Tour title of the year in just 11 starts.

TIGER’S INFLUENCE

A final-round duel at Oak Hill between the two top-ranked players in the game would certainly spike television ratings and Mickelson has repeatedly said that he has benefited hugely as a golfer due to the influence of world number one Woods.

“Certainly my record doesn’t stand up to what he’s done in the game,” said Mickelson.

“It’s just incredible what he’s accomplished with the number of wins, the number of majors and the consistency that he’s shown throughout his career. But in the last five or six years, I’ve had some pretty good success head-to-head.

“He’s a great motivator for me. He’s helped me work hard. I’ve loved competing against him. He’s really brought the best out of me, especially when we’ve been paired together, and I hope that we are able to play together for many more years.”

Asked whether he had a specific tally of major wins in mind by the time he ended his Hall of Fame career, Mickelson replied: “Right now, just six. That’s all I’m thinking about.

“I don’t have a specific number. I would really like to have won all four (majors), and I’m one leg away here with the U.S. Open, and I’ve been close there a number of times.”

Mickelson has won the Masters three times and the British Open and PGA Championship once each. He has been a runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times, including this year.

“I’ll be putting in extra effort every year now for that particular event, especially,” said Mickelson. “That would be the one thing that I think is fairly obvious.”

Long renowned for his magical short game, Mickelson cites the improvement in his driving and putting as the main reasons for his ability to contend consistently at the majors in recent years.

“I feel very confident in my ability to get the ball in play off the tee and I feel very confident in my ability on the greens now,” he said.

“I’ve turned weaknesses into strengths, I believe, and this serves me well in major championships.

“I feel like now the major championships are possibly the easiest ones for me to be in contention and maybe even win, because of those weaknesses becoming strengths.”

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)

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Holden boss Mike Devereux has thanked the company’s employees for their “loyalty and flexibility” in backing a revised pay and conditions deal that could help save the car maker’s Australian manufacturing operations.

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With the vote by staff completed on Friday, Holden said the new enterprise agreement had been accepted by a strong majority.

It will now be submitted to the Fair Work Commission for approval.

“Changes like this are never easy and the yes vote is a huge commitment from the hardworking men and women of our Holden team,” Mr Devereux said in a statement.

“These labour-related cost savings and productivity improvements are crucial to putting our Elizabeth manufacturing facility on a path to global competitiveness.”

The new deal is expected to save Holden about $15 million a year and includes scrapping a wage rise scheduled for November.

But it will only come into effect when Holden approves its next generation vehicle program, a $1 billion investment to build two new cars in Adelaide from 2016.

To ensure that program goes ahead the company has already indicated it will need ongoing financial support from state and federal governments.

It has already been pledged $275 million in a package negotiated last year, but is now thought to need another $200 million.

The federal election has stalled negotiations with the Labor government while the coalition is sticking by its position to cut $500 million from overall auto industry assistance.

Holden has said it will have talks on further assistance with the new government after the September 7 poll.

Mr Devereux said Australia remained a high-cost country, not just for making cars but for making anything and while Holden had to be globally competitive so did the country’s industry policy.

“As a local manufacturer, Holden is asking for a fair go. Australia must be able to compete fairly on the world stage,” he said.

“We need clear, consistent and globally competitive government policy to help secure a long-term future for automotive manufacturing.”

The changes to Holden’s enterprise labour agreement also come after Holden recently made 400 staff in Adelaide redundant and cut its vehicle production in response to softening market conditions.

To the end of July this year, demand for the company’s locally-produced cars was down 28 per cent to just over 30,000.

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has defended a Liberal candidate and former police officer who admitted before an inquiry to having socialised with a notorious drug dealer.

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Ray King, the Liberal candidate in the Sydney seat of McMahon, gave evidence before the Wood Royal Commission in 1996.

He told the commission he was off duty when spotted with heroin dealer Salvatore “Sammy” Lapa.

While the final report by Justice James Wood found a number of “inappropriate associations” between police and clubs in Sydney’s western suburbs, no adverse findings were made against Mr King.

He faced no criminal proceedings.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne he stood by Mr King, who after the Wood inquiry went on to be promoted three times and became the local commander in Liverpool.

“He certainly was before the Wood Royal Commission back in the mid-90s, as so many NSW policemen were,” Mr Abbott said.

“No adverse findings were made against him and that’s the key thing.”

Mr Abbott described Mr King as a “very highly respected policeman” who served the country with distinction.

“I’m very proud to have him as our candidate,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr King is standing against Treasurer Chris Bowen in the seat, which Labor holds by a margin of almost eight per cent.

Liberal Party NSW state director Mark Neeham told Fairfax Media that Mr King had been interviewed by the party’s nomination review committee and determined to be a fit and proper person to be a candidate.

Mr King has defended his record as a police officer after his appearance at the commission more than 16 years ago.

“There were no adverse findings against me and my service in the NSW Police continued with distinction,” he said in a statement.

“I was later promoted to Inspector and went on to become Superintendent of Cabramatta, Fairfield and Liverpool local area commands.”

A spokeswoman for Mr King said he wouldn’t comment further.

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The Vienna zoo has made a birth announcement: Yang Yang and her mate Long Hui are the proud parents of another baby panda, the third one born of natural conception.

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The newborn arrived at 12.24pm on Wednesday, his pink skin covered with a white down. He measures around 10 centimetres and weighs about 100 grammes.

“No other European zoo has up to now succeeded in conceiving this animal species by natural means,” the Schoenbrunn zoo said in a statement on Thursday.

Other European zoos have relied on artificial insemination in efforts to propagate the endangered species. Female pandas have a very short period of fertility, just two or three days annually.

The new baby panda will remain isolated with his mother Yang Yang for several months, until the two decide themselves to leave their niche.

The zoo’s director sent out a reminder of the fragility of a panda’s first year of life.

“Even as we rejoice, we must remain realistic. The mortality rate for giant pandas in the first year is at 40 per cent, ” said Dagmar Schratter in a statement.

The first panda born of natural conception at the Vienna zoo was in 2007 and Fu Long became a major attraction, drawing thousands of visitors. Three years later his brother Fu Hu arrived, adding to the panda mania.

The two pandas left the zoo at the age of two, adhering to the contract with the Chinese authorities. In the wild, young pandas leave their parents at that age.

China is the owner of all pandas born in captivity in zoos.

Fewer than 1,600 pandas remain in the wild, mainly in China’s Sichuan province, with a further 300 in captivity around the world.

At the Schoenbrunn zoo, the 10-year loan of Yang Yang and Long Hui ended in March but negotiations to renew the loan are nearly complete, says Europe’s oldest zoo, which is located in the park of the former imperial residence.

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0001pt;line-height:normal;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none”>McAfee subsequently went into hiding and if you thought that was all that was pretty tropical, here’s where the weird get weirder.

So the latest twist in the highly-publicised case sees McAfee starting his own blog after police in Belize called him a person of interest in the slaying of his neighbour.

In phone interviews, he has never said where he’s hiding, but in his blog this week, he claims to have disguised himself as a grungy street peddler and a foul-mouthed German tourist, and claims he approached a reporter outside his staked-out home on the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye.

“I darkened the skin of my face, neck and hands carefully with shoe polish and put on an LA Saints baseball cap with the brim facing backward and tufts of the front of my hair sticking out unkempt through the band,” he said.

Perhaps even more surreal: his blog, which is hosted by graphic novelist Chad Essley, will be turned into a comic book.

“The true story of my unusual friendship with the antivirus king,” it says.

It’s difficult to differentiate fact from fiction in the increasingly paranoid-sounding McAfee.

He recently blogged “I am old and foolish and forget the basic tenets of reality sometimes.”

But it’s certain to get a little weirder before the end.