One of the great things about democracy is that there are no prerequisites for being an elected representative.

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Some people might pine for a meritocracy or a geniocracy. Given there’s a fair slab of people going around who think they’re intelligent but who I think are as dumb as a box of hammers (and they no doubt think the same thing about me), it’s just as well we are not ruled by people who, due to passing some test, have been deemed smarter than everyone else.

No, in a democracy the only prerequisite to being a member of parliament or senator is that you get elected. As a result, we get a fair range of folks along the spectrum. Lately, the tendency has been towards more lawyer types (or at least those who have studied law, if not practised it) and political advisors. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter than others would be – just that they are better at bluffing.

So, where has Mr Hockey moved on to? To equality of opportunity. He says it is about the government helping “get people to the starting line.” Which sounds nice, until you realise it’s about the government getting everyone to the starting line, and then ignoring that the race is rigged.

This group does not include Victorian Senator-elect Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiast Party, who had a train wreck of an interview last Sunday with Mike Willesee. Given his age, Mr Muir would be just old enough to remember a time when Mr Willesee was the test politicians supposedly had to pass (this was back when politicians went on commercial current affairs shows – ask your parents about it). So, not surprisingly, he was a bit nervous and he fluffed his lines that he had most likely tried to learn by rote.

But performing well on TV is among the least important qualities a politician needs to possess. Most backbench ALP and LNP politicians would be slaughtered if they had to front up against Sarah Ferguson on 7:30. Heck, as Christopher Pyne showed last month, even Ministers can be embarrassed on national TV. It’s why the political parties only let a few select MPs onto the national stage – and why we always see the same faces.

Oh look, it’s Tanya Plibersek and Malcolm Turnbull on Q & A. Again.

The reality is no one – probably least of all Mr Muir – expected him to get elected. He’ll be voted out in 6 years time, at which point he’ll at best become the answer to a question at a political party’s local branch trivia night.

I’ll wait to see how he speaks and votes as a senator before casting judgement on his abilities. No doubt he’ll provide us with enough ammunition over the next 6 years to use against him without needing to argue that because Channel 7 kept filming him while he asked a minder some tips on how to cope during a TV interview he is thus unworthy of a seat in the senate.

Rather than worry about what some minor senator says on TV, I’ll concern myself more with things uttered by those who hold the leadership of our nation. 

Joe Hockey, for example, addressed the Sydney Institute on Wednesday night. In attempting to argue that his budget really is fair, he decided to suggest the criticism was all a kind of 1970s class warfare thing. He argued with apparent sincerity that:

“The truth is governments have never been able to achieve equality of outcomes. Some governments try but they always fail. Only in a closed economy, based on old style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes. We have moved on.”

Apparently equality is a case of either full socialism or nothing. I mean, if you can’t get a Gini coefficient of zero why bother?

So, where has Mr Hockey moved on to? To equality of opportunity. He says it is about the government helping “get people to the starting line.”

Which sounds nice, until you realise it’s about the government getting everyone to the starting line, and then ignoring that the race is rigged. 

Australia currently has one of the highest levels of intergenerational social mobility  in the world. In Australia, your wealth is much less determined by the wealth of your parents than it is in the USA or UK. So it seems a bit odd that Hockey would suggest our system is broken. I guess the motto is now, “If it ain’t broke, break it and then say you’re fixing it”. 

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, was overseas also saying things much more dopey than anything said by Ricky Muir.

While in Canada, Mr Abbott talked about needing to come up with climate change policies that don’t “clobber the economy”. This was rather curious, given he said it a week after the latest GDP figures showed Australia to be among the fastest growing economies in the OECD.

The last time Canada’s economy was growing faster than Australia’s was in the first quarter of 2011 – a year and a half before the carbon price was introduced.

Our GDP in the past 12 months grew by 3.5% compared to Canada’s growth of 2.2%. So, talking about our economy being clobbered might have sounded a little odd to his audience.

But then they would have been at least reassured that our system of government is a democracy and decidedly not a geniocracy.

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.


Fears are held for dozens of Australians still in Iraq as an Islamist terror group waging war in the north draws nearer to Baghdad.

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There are 90 Australians registered on the federal government’s Smartraveller service as being in Iraq, despite the official advice that no one travel to the Middle East nation.

But the true figure is likely higher, as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can only count people who have lodged their details with the government’s travel registry.

There’s no word yet on Australia’s diplomats based in the embassy in Baghdad, or what plans are in place should the situation worsen.

The government has decided that from next year, Australia’s consular staff will move in with their British counterparts in an effort to save money on security.

The government has been trying to boost trade ties with Iraq in recent years through embassy and Austrade officials, and has delivered around $400 million in aid programs over a decade.

Australians also work in agriculture, construction and the resource sector in Iraq, among others areas.

The government has already advised Australians in Mosul, a northern Iraqi city of two million captured by militants, that it can’t help them leave but they should do so immediately if it’s safe.

US companies have begun evacuating hundreds of contractors from northern Iraq as jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, or ISIL, continue their campaign against government forces.

The extremist group seized the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit in a full-blown assault earlier this week, and there are genuine fears they could reach the capital.

ISIL, also known as ISIS, was listed as a terrorist organisation by the government in December, and has been described as one of the world’s most deadly and active terror groups.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said no one should underestimate the threat posed by the group, and the Obama administration was taking it very seriously.

“It would be a very serious and critical development for the world generally if a large chunk of Iraq was to fall into the hands of al-Qaeda type terrorists,” he told reporters in Washington shortly after meeting President Obama in the Oval Office.

When asked if Australia would be involved in any military action, Mr Abbott would not rule it out.

The Australian Greens urged the prime minister to rule out sending troops into Iraq for a third time, saying further conflict wouldn’t fix the problems plaguing the region.

Australia officially ended its six-year military presence in Iraq in 2009, but only withdrew its last two officers in November last year.


A burglary defendant who won his freedom because of a jury’s mistake lost his life a few hours later when he was stabbed to death in a fight.

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The jury in the trial of Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, mistakenly signed a not-guilty form on Wednesday, and the flabbergasted judge said he had no choice but to order him to be released from jail because the verdict had already been put on the record.

It was too late when the judge finally learned that the jury was unable to reach a verdict, stalling on an 8-4 vote in favour of guilt.

Prosecutors might have had an opportunity to retry Pearson, but by then, changing the verdict form would have meant Pearson would be tried twice for the same crime, which is illegal under US law.

After being released from jail, Pearson went to the home of his sister, Lasandra Jackson, to get some clothing and belongings. Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said Pearson apparently got into a fight with his sister’s boyfriend, 35-year-old Willie Gray.

The two had a history of problems, said Dyer, adding that investigators believe Gray killed Pearson, who was found dead in the street with a chest wound from a knife or gun and a cut on his stomach. Investigators found a steak knife near the body, Dyer said.

Gray was arrested and treated for injuries to his hands before being booked on suspicion of murder, said Dyer, adding that Pearson might still be alive if it weren’t for the jury’s “mishap”. Pearson had a long criminal past, Dyer said.

William Terrence, who prosecuted the case, told The Associated Press that despite the bizarre chain of events that led to Pearson’s release, the man he tried sending to prison didn’t deserve to die that way.

“There’s not a death penalty on a burglary,” Terrence said. “I’m not sitting here thinking he got what he deserved.”


Adelaide’s star players have been put on notice by coach Brenton Sanderson ahead of Saturday’s AFL clash with fellow finals aspirants North Melbourne at Adelaide Oval.

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The Crows, yet to string back-to-back wins together this season, were on track when they edged ahead of Fremantle to hold a two-point lead at halftime last Sunday at Patersons Stadium.

But Adelaide’s slight lead unravelled in the second half as the Dockers stormed home to win by 40 points.

“At critical times in the Fremantle game, there wasn’t that ability to think our way though in a calm situation,” Sanderson said on Friday.

“We didn’t have enough consistency from our leaders last week so we need more from our star players – it’s as simple as that.

“We do need a contribution from our 22, but we need a consistent output from our stars, from our leaders.

“If you look across the competition and not just in our industry, good players play well when it matters.”

Just three Crows were awarded with best-and-fairest votes by Sanderson and his coaching staff after last week’s crushing loss.

“We only had three players get votes in our club champion award last week, so 19 players didn’t get a vote,” Sanderson said.

“You are not going to win too many games when 19 players get zero votes.”

Veteran defender Brent Reilly, who will celebrate his 200th game on Saturday night, is a welcome, experienced inclusion for the Crows.

Reilly’s career was left hanging in the balance when he was axed following the Crows’ demoralising round-six loss to Melbourne, but impressed in the club’s SANFL reserves side to earn himself a recall to reach his milestone game.

“We certainly need him tomorrow, it’s an important game for us and a milestone game is good timing too because our boys certainly do lift for those occasions,” Sanderson said.

“When the pressure came a bit last week, we didn’t handle it and I think Radar’s (Reilly) experience will help control the situations when they arise.”

Along with Reilly, the Crows have also named midfielders Matthew Wright and Matthew Crouch at the expense of Charlie Cameron (groin) and omitted youngsters Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Jarryd Lyons.

The Kangaroos, who are undefeated interstate this season but have not won in Adelaide since 2003 against the Crows, have regained forwards Lindsay Thomas and Robbie Tarrant, and omitted Majak Daw and Sam Wright.


The charges are the culmination of a 16-month investigation into the administration of dubious supplements in 2012 at the Melbourne-based Essendon Bombers, one of the Australian Football League’s oldest and most powerful teams.

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The AFL disqualified Essendon from the competition’s playoffs last year, banned the club’s head coach James Hird for 12 months and slapped the team with a record fine for bringing the full-contact indigenous game into disrepute.

But the fate of the players remained uncertain, with investigators relying on witness testimony and circumstantial evidence rather than positive drug tests.

“Based on the advice of our legal counsel and a review of the evidence… I have reached the conclusion that these players have a case to answer under the World Anti-Doping Code,” ASADA CEO Ben McDevitt said.

Essendon reluctantly acquiesced to the AFL’s sanctions last year, but chairman Paul Little said the club would fight the charges against the players in court and cast doubt on the legality of the joint investigation by ASADA and the AFL.

“Enough is enough,” Little told reporters in Melbourne after confirming the club had launched legal action against ASADA.

“We will not be bullied and we will not allow our players to be hung out to dry any longer.

“The structure that was put in place, the joint investigations structure, was not legally enforceable.

“We’re very confident around that and the courts will determine whether our confidence is justified or not.

“We’re very happy to run the course of an 18-month or two-year investigation.”

An independent probe commissioned by the club last year found governance failures had contributed to a “disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment”.

Local newspapers reported grisly details of players being taken away from their training base to be injected with peptides in private clinics.

Peptides are short chains of amino acids which athletes can take in supplement form to aid muscle growth and re-generation.

A number of them are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), including growth hormone and Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1).

ASADA is also investigating the administration of banned supplements to multiple players at one of the country’s top-flight rugby league teams, the Sydney-based Cronulla Sharks, and is expected to lay charges in coming days.

SHOW CAUSE

The scandal threatens to bring Essendon to its knees, with a majority of those charged still active players on the club’s 47-man roster.

First-time doping offenders face a two-year ban, according to the WADA code, but could have their suspensions reduced if they cooperate with authorities.

The players have 10 days to respond to the charges, which ASADA refer to as ‘show cause notices’.

“This information along with the evidence collected by ASADA will be put to the independent Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel for consideration,” ASADA said.

ASADA chief McDevitt said he hoped to cut deals.

“You could end up going from two years to 12 months to six months,” McDevitt told state radio ABC.

“What I’m encouraging individuals now, and the club, and the AFL, is to have a think about this very carefully and have discussions with us.”

Even six-month bans for all players involved would gut Essendon’s playing roster, with the impact on sponsorship and season tickets certain to bite hard.

The club lies ninth in the 18-team table, halfway through the AFL’s regular season.

New AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, who has walked into a firestorm after replacing long-serving boss Andrew Demetriou last week, said the charges were “just the start of a long process”.

“It’s essentially a proposition, an allegation to which they have to respond,” he told ABC radio. “It’s not an indication of guilt.”

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes and John O’Brien)


The leader of a Congolese crime syndicate in Melbourne, a man known as “More Power”, used false passports and identities to import ice and send hundreds of thousands of dollars abroad, a court has heard.

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Police allege Kiza Masange imported almost six kilograms of methamphetamines, and say he is called “More Power” by his underlings in the African crime gang.

They fear he will use false passports to flee overseas if released.

But Deputy Chief Magistrate Jelena Popovic granted the 26-year-old bail on Friday, saying Masange faced an inordinate delay before trial in the overworked court system.

Masange is accused of importing the ice into Australia hidden in USB drives, a tea set and the lining of a suitcase.

A search of his Burnside home allegedly turned up 3.7kg of methamphetamine, false South African passports and $96,500 in cash, the Melbourne Magistrates Court heard.

Detective Leading Senior Constable Fiona Cleeland told the court Masange had used false passports to transfer some $400,000 to people overseas.

She said he was an unacceptable risk to leave the country if bailed.

“If released I have grave concerns given Kiza Masange has access to large amounts of false documents,” she said.

The three drug parcels intercepted by Customs were addressed to a fake identity Masange was using and his African grocery store in St Albans is a front for his illegal operation, Det Sen Const Cleeland said.

Australian Federal Police are still investigating the Congolese syndicate and expect to make further arrests.

Ms Popovic conceded flight risk was a concern in the case, but said a lengthy delay before any trial amounted to exceptional circumstances.

She said the bail conditions she was imposing, which include a curfew and twice daily reporting to police, were among the most stringent she had handed down.

Masange arrived in Australia as a Congolese refugee in 2006, but has since become an Australian citizen.

He is charged with importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine and possessing false passports.

He will face a committal mention hearing in August.


Named vice captain with seasoned back Adam Ashley-Cooper before the series, Hooper was promoted after Stephen Moore’s reign lasted barely a minute before the hooker suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 50-23 win in Brisbane.

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France will also have a second captain in two weeks, with Dusautoir taking the armband off prop Nicolas Mas after being rested at Lang Park as he recovers from a bicep injury.

Australia’s youngest captain for decades, 22-year-old Hooper will concede 10 years and some 36 caps to Dusautoir, but suggested he would not take a backward step against the seasoned flanker.

“We’re aware of the challenge they bring and Dusautoir is obviously the leader of that pack and will be at the forefront and I’m sure bring a lot of passion,” Hooper told reporters in Melbourne on Friday ahead of the clash at Docklands stadium.

“He’s obviously a class player… As a number seven, you want to play these guys and play the best in the world.

“He’s been at the helm for France for a few years now and is a really tough competitor… We’ve been preparing for that this week.”

Long touted as a future Wallabies skipper, Hooper had his first taste of captaincy at Lang Park last week and was typically tenacious at the breakdown, allowing the Wallabies backs quick turnover of the ball in the seven tries-to-two rout.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre lopped two-thirds of his starting side at Brisbane, introducing a raft of players who arrived late for the tour after contesting the French club final.

Les Bleus players have queued up to pledge a far more spirited effort on Saturday, and Dusautoir’s leadership will be key to France’s hopes of forcing a series-decider in Sydney next week.

“I really suffered with my guys last week,” the 32-year-old said. “We have to improve on many points… To defeat the Wallabies we have to be perfect (in many areas).”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O’Brien)


Les Bleus captain Thierry Dusautoir is demanding perfection as the Wallabies prepare for a French backlash on Saturday night.

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One of 10 changes to the second-rate outfit whipped 50-23 in Brisbane, Dusautoir’s clarion call promises an entirely different challenge at Etihad Stadium.

The inspirational flanker, who memorably led France to the brink of an unimaginable 2011 World Cup triumph, is hellbent on avenging last week’s “suffering” to end a 24-year drought in Australia.

“We want to show another face of our team,” he said on Friday. “We know in order to defeat the Wallabies, we have to be perfect.

“It wasn’t the case last week. That’s the pressure, to be perfect at each point.”

Helping his ambitions immensely are the new personnel, all rested and ready to show they’re side is better than a sliding world ranking of No.7.

Along with Dusautoir, coach Philippe Saint-Andre has recalled chief playmaker Remi Tales, giant strike weapon Mathieu Bastareaud, canny halfback Morgan Parra and star winger Maxime Medard.

The Wallabies, who weathered an early yet brief first Test onslaught, are under no illusions what a passionate French team can produce.

“Different night, different stadium, almost a different team to be fair,” said centre Matt Toomua. “Things can change very quickly.

“They will be a lot stronger. Game two was always going to be a focus for them.

“They would have targeted this game from the start.”

Toomua was quick to say the flipside for Australia is an extra week of preparation which has them equipped to build on their precise seven-try attacking display.

Victory would bring a sixth straight victory, their best streak since 2004-05 when Eddie Jones was in his last year as coach.

New skipper Michael Hooper is expecting a boots-and-all stoush with 2011 world player of the year Dusautoir in a fiery baptism as captain.

The 22-year-old NSW Waratah is 11 years younger and 36 caps less experienced than his opposite number but Dusautoir has credited Hooper as ahead of his time and a major danger for the tourists.

Both are relishing the pivotal breakdown battle.

“As a No.7, you want to play these guys and play the best in the world,” Hooper said.

“Dusautoir is obviously the leader of that pack and will be at the forefront and I’m sure bring a lot of passion.

“We’ve been preparing for that this week.”

Toomua’s job is even bigger out wide – he’s the main man assigned to stop 120kg centre Bastareaud.

The Brumbies playmaker gives 30kg away to the Toulon powerhouse but isn’t shying away from muscling up in defence.

Toomua has been a revelation since he moved to No.12 for the Wallabies late last year and continues to pack a punch with his tackling.

“I like to use (my defence) as a weapon and impose myself,” he said.

“Having said that I’ve never played someone that size in the centres before.

“I’ll have my hands full.”


Time is running out for Stefan Martin to guarantee his AFL future.

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But Brisbane’s third-choice ruckman will get his best chance yet to show he has what it takes against lowly Greater Western Sydney at the Gabba on Saturday night.

In just his sixth game since 2012, injury-plagued Martin will line up against Giants ruckman and ex-Sydney premiership winner Shane Mumford who leads the competition in hitouts (42.3 a game average).

Fresh from outpointing the Western Bulldogs’ All Australian Will Minson in his 2014 debut last round, Martin knows another good showing will go a long way to a contract extension.

But the clock is ticking – in six weeks, No.1 ruckman Matthew Leuenberger is due to return from a knee injury.

“Realistically, it is the last chance to prove myself,” Martin said.

“I missed all of last year with injury and the first half of this year as well.

“I started wondering whether I’d keep doing them (hamstrings) my whole career.

“You never know if you’re going to overcome that.”

Incredibly, Martin has torn his hamstring three times since November.

Overall, Martin has been restricted to 63 games in seven seasons due to various ailments.

Injury has hampered his AFL career but it might yet help kick-start it again.

Apart from Leuenberger, the Lions’ ruckman stocks were also hit hard by Trent West’s recent season-ending knee injury.

Enter Martin.

He nabbed 17 disposals, 32 hit-outs and six clearances in his first outing of 2014 after just two reserves games, inspiring a last-round win over the Western Bulldogs – Brisbane’s second straight.

“I got through an AFL game and I guess that’s a pretty good test. I’ve got confidence in my body now,” Martin said.

The Lions (16th; 3-8 record) will aim for three straight wins when they line up against the Giants (18th; 2-9; lost past eight).

They have thrashed GWS to date, kicking 37 goals to 14 and winning by a combined 152 points in their two encounters.

Inspirational Giants co-captain Phil Davis returns since suffering a serious kidney injury in round one.


Goalkeeper Kelsey Wakefield has put in a world-class effort to ensure the Australian women’s water polo team beat Canada 8-7 on Friday in a tight quarter-final at the FINA World League Super Finals in China.

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While it was a tough game for the field players, the defensive effort in goals from World Championship silver medallist Wakefield proved to be the game breaker for the Aussie Stingers.

With Australia leading 8-7 in the final 30 seconds, Wakefield saved a Canadian shot from rocketing into the back of the cage.

The Stingers’ goal scorers were Olympic bronze medallist Rowie Webster (3 goals), and fellow World Championship silver medallists Keesja Gofers (2), Jayde Appel (2) and Hannah Buckling.

In the opening quarter, Webster and Buckling netted goals, while Canada also scored two, setting the tone for the remainder of the game.

The second term was equally close with Gofers successfully shooting twice, only for Canada to match that effort as the scores were locked at 4-4 at the main break.

The second half was where the physicality stepped up, with the Stingers unable to shake Canada for the score to be 6-6 at the final exchange.

Kicking up a gear in the final stanza, the Stingers looked to Webster and Appel, who both found space to score, while Wakefield was wise to the attacks from Canada, keeping Australia in the lead at the final whistle.

Stingers player Eliesha Browne said it was a good test for the Aussies after a tough 11-10 loss on Thursday to Italy in their final group match.

“We went hard from the first whistle to the last and we had great individual efforts in offence matched by solid team work in defence,” Browne said.

The Stingers will play the USA or Brazil at 8pm (AEST) on Saturday night in the semi-finals.