Xstrata ramps up austerity to defer $1bn spending

Coal comfort.SWISS miner Xstrata has swung into austerity mode in the face of falling commodity prices, targeting cost savings of $US970 million and deferring $US1 billion worth of spending this year.
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Xstrata overnight reported a 31 per cent drop in interim earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to $US4 billion, compared with the previous corresponding half-year, due to a severe drop in commodity prices in the first half of 2012, blamed on renewed turmoil in the eurozone and a slowing growth rate in China.

Attributable profit fell 23 per cent to $US2.2 billion, or US75¢ per share, before exceptional items which reduced earnings by $US253 million. Impairments included: $US514 million against its investment in Lonmin, a $US162 million loss on the sale of a hydroelectric project in Chile to a joint venture with Origin Energy; $US111 million from closure of the Brunswick zinc mine, and $US21 million in merger costs. These were offset by a $US579 million deferred tax credit tied to July commencement of the Mineral Resource Rent Tax in Australia. The board declared an interim dividend of US14¢ per share, up 8 per cent on a year ago.

Xstrata is in the throes of a friendly scrip merger with major shareholder Glencore International and yesterday’s profit drop could see those investors hoping for a higher price. Shareholders are due to vote on the merger on September 7.

Chief executive Mick Davis said if the merger was voted down ”the inherent capacity of Xstrata to generate value as a stand-alone company remains very powerful indeed”.

Mr Davis decried the ”lack of conviction syndrome” which had spooked commodities markets and said the current slowdown was cyclical, not the end of the secular change in demand. Addressing concerns that shale gas would undermine thermal coal demand, Mr Davis said shale production would be largely confined to the US until next decade and coal would remain the cheapest power source for developing economies.

Xstrata shares rose 2 per cent or 18.5 pence to 901.5p in early London trade. Glencore shares also rose 2 per cent or 7.15p to 336p.

Xstrata said the $US970 million in savings would more than offset expected cost inflation of about $US580 million in 2012.

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Transurban risks backlash over CEO pay

TRANSURBAN risks infuriating shareholders again after it was revealed that its former chief executive, Chris Lynch, received a total salary package of $7.36 million for his last year in the job.
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The release of his pay details came as Australia’s largest listed toll road operator took a cautious approach to dividend guidance for this financial year due, partly, to volatile economic conditions.

Executive pay at Transurban was a bone of contention among shareholders for most of Mr Lynch’s four years in the top job. The pay report shows his total package of $7.36 million included $1.76 million in short-term cash bonuses and $3.08 million in share-based benefits.

Although Transurban appeased investors last year by changing the way it rewards management, Mr Lynch’s pay risks raising the ire of investors at Transurban’s annual meeting later this year. His total pay for 2011-12 was 9 per cent higher than the $6.75 million he received the previous year. It amounted to about 8 per cent of Transurban’s total employee expenses.

Transurban yesterday reported a 9 per cent rise in proportionate pre-tax earnings to $784 million for the year to June, which was better than analysts had expected. But the company, which operates CityLink in Melbourne and the Hills M2 and Westlink M7 in Sydney, disappointed investors with its distribution guidance of 31¢ per security for 2012-13.

Shares in Transurban closed down 9¢ at $5.94 following its cautious outlook statement.

Transurban’s new chief executive, Scott Charlton, said the board had decided to take a more cautious approach because it was a ”transition year” for the company and due to volatile economic conditions.

Although not all of the distribution forecast for this financial year will be paid out of free cash flow, Mr Charlton said it should not be taken as a sign that Transurban would return to the days when it adopted the so-called Macquarie model of using borrowings to fund dividends.

Transurban has experienced slight weakness in traffic volumes on some of its motorways, including CityLink, which comprises more than half of its toll revenue.

Mr Charlton, who took over from Mr Lynch last month, said it was difficult to ascertain whether the weakness was due to economic conditions or construction works on some of the roadways.

Transurban also warned that the completion of an upgrade to the M2 could be delayed because of wet weather. It had been due to be completed by the middle of next year.

The company posted a 50 per cent fall in net profit to $58.6 million, which was largely the result of a $138 million write-down in the value of its investment in the Pocahontas roadway in the US.

Transurban spent $US611 million on the Virginia toll road in 2006. The company said it was considering the future of the roadway, which could include selling its interest in the asset. The company will pay a final distribution of 15¢ per security on August 14, which takes the payout for last financial year to 29.5¢. It compares with a total payout of 27¢ in 2010-11.

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Company tax cuts report due

More tax trouble is looming.TENSIONS between miners and Canberra are threatening to flare up again in the coming weeks, as pressure to fund corporate tax cuts puts the industry’s tax breaks under the spotlight.
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After company tax cuts were scrapped in this year’s budget due to political opposition, an expert panel appointed by the Treasurer is due to report as soon as this week on how the government could fund company tax cuts in the future.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has signalled that any company tax reduction would have to be ”revenue neutral”, so the panel is expected to float cutting a wide range of corporate tax perks.

And despite miners’ hostility to any tax rises, it is understood the Business Tax Working Group sees cutting hundreds of millions in tax breaks for mining exploration as one way of freeing up revenue.

Accelerated depreciation rules, which benefit miners and airlines in particular, are also likely to come under scrutiny, as the working group asks big business what it is prepared to give up in exchange for lower taxes.

A source close to the working group said the depreciation rules for mining were especially wide-ranging, and cutting the instant write-offs for explorers would be included as one option in its upcoming report.

”If you’re a mining company and you buy mining rights you get an immediate deduction for that,” the source said. ”You’re getting a right to mine, it lasts a long time, should you write that off over a period?”

Instant asset write-offs for miners are worth about $300 million a year, Treasury says. Accelerated depreciation of equipment such as aircraft, trucks and tractors cost more than $1 billion a year in forgone revenue.

Any removal of mining tax breaks would likely face a bitter reception in the industry, which is being hit by falling commodity prices and weak overseas demand.

When an April report from the working group floated cuts to exploration write-offs in the lead-up to the budget, the mining industry took out anti-tax advertisements in national newspapers.

The Business Tax Working Group, led by Board of Taxation chairman Chris Jordan, has until the end of this year to report on whether company tax cuts are justified and, if so, how to pay for them.

But after Ms Gillard said in June that she had ”no doubt” company taxes should be lower than their current rate of 30 per cent, the working group is set to argue the case this month for corporate tax cuts.

Echoing the Henry review of taxation, the group’s report is expected to say Australia’s relatively high company tax rate of 30 per cent is due to be reduced because it could affect the nation’s ability to attract capital.

The challenge, however, is how to pay for lower company taxes.

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Farewell Robert Hughes – critic, raconteur, fisherman, shooter,historian, memoirist

Robert Hughes at the 1997 Sydney launch of his book The Fatal Shore. Robert Hughes with former PM Gough Whitlam at the launch of The Fatal Shore in 1987.
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IN THE American century the art critic Robert Hughes was the first Australian to turn from England and take Manhattan.

Thousands of Australians, including his mates in the Sydney Push, Germaine Greer and Clive James, were carving careers in swinging London’s fag-end years. But Hughes was the only one to complete an Atlantic crossing.

He had erupted as a precocious art critic from the land of the convict taint on the pre-Murdoch Sunday Times when the man from Time happened to flip through a copy of Hughes’ 1969 flop Heaven and Hell in Western Art.

The magazine was America’s window to the world and the men and women who worked on it belonged to a sort of east coast Brahman class. But when the senior editor phoned to offer the Time art critic job, Hughes recalled he was so stoned he thought it was the CIA calling.

”In a measured and dignified way, I told this spook exactly what I thought of the American imperialism whose tool he was, of American policy in Vietnam, of American perfidy. It was quite a little performance. I then, secure in the knowledge of a good day’s work compressed into a couple of minutes, hung up in his ear,” Hughes wrote in a 2006 memoir Things I Didn’t Know.

Nevertheless, he moved to Manhattan in 1970 and wrote for Time for the rest of the century.

Along the way he evolved into a leading intellectual, who not only defended art against postmodernism but also educated and informed millions around the world in immensely popular TV series and books such as The Shock of the New in 1991.

His 1987 hymn to Australia, The Fatal Shore, is his best known work. The book heroically reminded Australians the convict taint that had caused collective amnesia in previous generations could be a badge of honour, and few were surprised when the expat emerged as a leading voice of the republican movement.

Hughes died in New York yesterday from a long illness. He was 74. He had been in bad health since a 1999 car accident in Western Australia left him in a coma. A protracted court case in which he eventually pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm and was fined $2500 further eroded his health.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday Australia had lost not only a frank critic and writer, but an esteemed historian who made significant contributions to tracing and telling Australia’s colonial history.

”Few people … can have been so completely cosmopolitan, and completely Australian as Robert Hughes. His was, in every sense, a great Australian voice.”

Another Australian occupant of the world stage, satirist Barry Humphries, said Hughes was an old friend and a great and fearless critic. ”He gave a wonderful and witty speech at my last birthday party in New York and I’m deeply saddened that alcoholism, or whatever name it sometimes goes by, should have claimed yet another distinguished victim,” he said.

His niece Lucy Turnbull said Hughes combined irreverence and larrikin charm and humour with an incredible gift for language: ”He was a real man’s man … he was a very keen fisherman and shooter as well as being an erudite and very learned communicator and so knowledgeable in the arts.”

Hughes came from an establishment, but Catholic, family. His grandfather was Sydney’s first lord mayor, his father was a highly decorated First World War pilot who trained Australian flyers in the Second World War and died when Hughes was 12. His brother Tom, was John Gorton’s attorney-general but, dumped by Billy McMahon, retired to a glittering career at the Sydney bar. He also had a brother Geoffrey and sister Constance.

He was educated at Sydney’s Riverview and, if the Jesuits did not keep their man, they inculcated a grasp of religious iconography that impressed the man from Time. Hughes failed to finish an architecture degree at the University of Sydney, drew cartoons and wrote art criticism for the Packer family’s current affairs magazine The Observer and then set sail for London in 1964.

In 1967 he married Danne Emerson. The marriage produced a son. Academic Catherine Lumby recalls the pain Hughes went through when they divorced. ”Life was pretty freewheeling for some in those days but Bob wasn’t one of them,” Lumby said. ”He … was clearly hurt by what was occurring.”

His son, Danton, committed suicide in in 2002.

Hughes married twice more. The second marriage, to American artist Doris Downes, was in 2001. She had flown to be with him after the 1999 Broome crash.

Barry Humphries knew Hughes in expat London and as young bohemians around Sydney in the mid 1950s. The satirist once joked he modelled Les Patterson on him, partly because in 50 years in New York he never lost his Australian accent.

Nor did Hughes lose his sense of place: He remained an Australian citizen.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said Hughes’s sister Connie was a nun.

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Art critic and author was destined for success

ROBERT Hughes was always larger than life. His personality was so forceful that he dominated every gathering in which he took part, from a conference to a casual lunch. He was witty, irascible, opinionated and impatient with fools. Although everyone was his audience, he had a gift for friendship that put people at their ease.
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Hughes was one of a generation of great expatriate intellectuals, who had many characteristics in common. Like Barry Humphries, Hughes had the knack of shooting down opponents with one well-turned barb. Like Clive James, he had a lifelong love affair with the English language, no less obvious in a small magazine article than in a large book. Like Germaine Greer, he had a temper and an ego that occasionally alienated his fans.

He was always destined for success, but he shot to worldwide prominence with the television series The Shock of the New (1980). It was the ideal successor to the original art mega-series, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969). Hughes picked up the story where Clark had left off, displaying his gift for the well-turned one-liner.

Although most people probably got to know Hughes through his appearances on TV, he will be remembered for his writing. His early Art of Australia (1966) was a sparkling read, although of dubious value as art history. After spending 10 years as art critic for Time magazine in New York, the book The Shock of the New (1980) was more sure-footed and became a worldwide hit.

His masterpiece is undoubtedly The Fatal Shore (1987), a monumental examination of the early years of Australian settlement. For Hughes this project was a way of paying his dues to Australia. It surprised him that it became an international bestseller, making the small world of colonial history into a topic of global interest.

The Fatal Shore made Hughes one of Australia’s favourite sons. He sacrificed that high esteem after being catastrophically injured in a car accident south of Broome, in 1999. While sympathies were running high, he spoke and acted in a brazen, arrogant manner and was widely criticised. He returned to the United States denouncing Australia and swearing never to return.

But return he did, and all was forgiven and forgotten. The only problem was the state of his health, which had been permanently shaken by the injuries received in the car crash.

For a man like Hughes it was hard to grow old, let alone grow old as an invalid.

A man’s man and a ladies’ man, he was always the centre of attention. His views were forthright, and expressed with astonishing eloquence. He wrote with intelligence and integrity, and brought a literary flair to the much-maligned discipline of art criticism.

He will be remembered, quite simply, as one of Australia’s finest writers.

John McDonald is a long-serving art critic for Fairfax.

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Riding on Deek’s experience

It’s the odd-couple relationship which started from one of Canberra’s most devastating disasters and now Robert de Castella is ready to help Caroline Buchanan take Olympic Games gold.Almost a decade after bushfires ripped through Canberra’s south, destroying more than 500 homes and killing four people, Buchanan and de Castella have formed an athlete-mentor relationship they hope will yield Olympic glory.The pair hardly seem to have much in common – de Castella is a marathon legend with an expertise in endurance while Buchanan is a daredevil BMX star with a thirst for adrenaline. But both had to rebound after the fires tore through their lives and a meeting organised by Buchanan’s dad sparked a long-term relationship.It’s de Castella’s advice that is helping Buchanan deal with the hype and expectation of being a medal favourite in London.Buchanan will begin her Games campaign tomorrow morning when the seeding runs of the women’s BMX competition start at the Olympic precinct.She’s ranked No.2 in the world and is the time trial world champion, but the chance to win gold has been the source of her motivation for the past four years.‘‘[De Castella] just told me to be the professional I am and that I’m the ‘complete yellow pages book’,’’ Buchanan said. ‘‘He said anything that happens on the course I can handle it, and that’s great advice.‘‘I’m going to use that going into these races … it’s not about his bike knowledge, it’s about giving the support and I appreciate it.’’De Castella has been Buchanan’s official mentor since they teamed up through an Australian Sport Hall of Fame scholarship program initiative.But their relationship runs much deeper than mentor and student.The bushfires brought them together and they’ve remained close since. And even when she was nine years old, de Castella could recognise Buchanan’s talent.But it’s not the technicalities of flying over jumps they share.Instead, it’s the way to handle the pressure of performing on one of the biggest stages in world sport.De Castella was a marathon world champion in 1983 but could only manage fifth in his Olympic campaign the following year because he put too much pressure on himself and trained too much.Buchanan’s other high profile mentor – surfing great Layne Beachley – is also in London.‘‘I’m still getting used to talking about riding and not running,’’ de Castella laughed. ‘‘When we first met she just had that quiet confidence and determination to do well, but attitude is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s just such a big deal to come to your first Olympics and have that expectation of winning … it’s really challenging and difficult to deal with it.‘‘I don’t know much about the event at all, but I know what you need to do to manage all the pressure. I do have a bike and I have come off a few times, so I know the dangers, but it’s more about dealing with everything around what happens in the race.’’Buchanan was too young to compete when the sport was added to the Olympic schedule four years ago.Since then she’s had a burning desire to reach her goal of racing for Australia in London.The 21-year-old has worn the Olympic rings on a chain around her neck to remind her of what she was working towards. So is she feeling the pressure with her dream on the verge of becoming a reality?‘‘Not really, and I like pressure,’’ Buchanan said. ‘‘Diamonds are made under pressure and I definitely enjoy it. ‘‘I think most of the pressure is going to be on the local girl, so I’m just going to enjoy it.‘‘Winning the time trial [world championship] was good for me, I know over the four international races we’ve had this year, I’ve been the fastest by the clock on every single trap. ‘‘So I’m just focusing on consistency and that’s one of the big keys coming into an Olympics.’’
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Stable dumps suspect jockey

RACING giant Darley Australia has distanced itself from Mark Zahra after the top jockey was named as being under investigation for race fixing.
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Darley Australia’s managing director, Henry Plumptre, said yesterday that Zahra (below) would not ride a Darley runner until the police probe into his handling of a horse at Cranbourne last year was completed.

”Mark is not currently riding at the moment, but I think we’d leave it until the investigation is finished,” Plumptre said.

”This industry stands or falls through the integrity of our sport, and if there is an issue all I can say is that we’d be extremely disappointed.”

Zahra was reported as saying yesterday: ”They told me I’m not needed, at least until this thing’s over. The really disappointing thing is that I haven’t been charged with anything. I’m implicated in something, I guess, but I haven’t been charged.”

Darley is owned by United Arab Emirates Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, who has racing bases in six countries. Zahra has been one of the leading riders for the global stable’s Melbourne base, collecting more than 100 wins on Peter Snowden-trained runners during the past few seasons.

Zahra rode Baikal in a race at Cranbourne in April last year. He is being investigated for allegedly riding against beaten favourite Retaliate to give Danny Nikolic’s heavily backed mount, Smoking Aces, an improved chance of winning. Smoking Aces won the race.

Zahra was named in The Age yesterday and on Monday night’s Four Corners program on the ABC as being under investigation, along with Nikolic, for alleged race fixing.

Racing Victoria is waiting to be briefed by police on the investigation before considering any action against the riders.

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Six-day rule costs Swan two games

COLLINGWOOD’S hard-line decision to suspend Dane Swan for two matches was based on a season-long ban on drinking alcohol six days before a game. Swan’s indiscretion also violated a recent vow by the players to avoid alcohol completely until season’s end.
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Swan was suspended after the Magpies found evidence that he had been drinking on Sunday night. Swan did not deny drinking, as has been speculated, but did deny that he had consumed a significant amount, the proverbial ”skin full”.

Collingwood’s director of football, Geoff Walsh, said it was merely the fact Swan had broken a team rule that cost him. ”Fundamentally a strict club policy was not adhered to, and we felt that couldn’t be ignored,” he told the club’s show on Fox Footy last night.

”There’s nothing more to the suspension beyond the drinking and beyond the breach. It’s a clear mandate from the playing group and supported by the entire football department that six days before a game you shouldn’t be out and about, let alone drinking.”

Walsh said the rules applied to every player. ”Like everyone, he’s subjected to and … agreed to certain rules and certain protocols. And when they’re breached, there are consequences.

”Dane’s disappointed, there’s no doubt about that. Disappointed that he’s let himself down, let his teammates down and let the football club down. There’s no doubt he’s remorseful and disappointed but entirely understanding that his actions have led to the consequences that are on the table.”

Walsh said the suspension sent a message. ”I don’t think we’re cutting off our nose at all. What we are [doing] … is reaffirming and endorsing that we have rules and regulations that everyone, whether they’re your best [in the] playing group or they’re No. 500 on your list, we all operate and live by the same standards because we’ve all signed off on them.”

Swan is likely to play in the Magpies’ VFL team in the second week of the ban.

Collingwood considered there was evidence that Swan had been drinking when he turned up at the club for training and meetings on Monday. There is speculation he was queried about his physical condition by a teammate on Monday morning.

In the past few weeks, a concerned Collingwood skipper Nick Maxwell and vice-captain Scott Pendlebury called a meeting at which players pledged to abstain from alcohol until the end of the season.

Even before the pledge, Swan would have broken the prohibition on drinking by 24 hours. But the players’ vow to eschew alcohol meant he had broken what the club called its ”protocols” on two counts.

The decision to suspend him was made at a meeting involving coach

Nathan Buckley, Walsh, the leadership group and several other senior players. It is perhaps the clearest sign of the expected tougher line on behaviour by Buckley.

As a result of the suspension, Swan will miss Collingwood’s critical games against Sydney and North Melbourne, as the Magpies, who play only top-eight sides in their last four games, seek to secure a top-four spot.

The two-match penalty, immediately the subject of debate given the potentially damaging effect it might have on Collingwood’s flag prospects, is consistent with the suspension meted out to midfielder Sharrod Wellingham, who was outed for the season’s first two matches after he missed a rehabilitation session and admitted he had been drinking the night before.

Collingwood’s official statement said: ”The decision was made after the club became aware that Swan had been drinking alcohol six days before next Saturday’s match against the Sydney Swans, a clear breach of club protocol. The suspension followed discussions between a number of parties, including the leadership group.”

Collingwood is 14-4 and in third spot, but has Hawthorn chasing hard and fifth-placed West Coast still seeking the double chance afforded by a top-four finish.

As matters stand, the Pies would have to travel to Adelaide in the first week of the finals, with a trip to Sydney another possibility. All this is to be determined over the last month, beginning with Saturday night’s blockbuster at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, where Collingwood has won the past six times it has played there, but will have to do it this time without its 2011 Brownlow medallist and three-time Copeland Trophy winner.

Swan’s absence may be keenly felt. He has had an outstanding two months since he missed two games with a hamstring injury in rounds nine and 10. In the eight games since, he has averaged 39 disposals and been dominant in at least three games, soaring to the top three in Brownlow Medal betting.

The three-time All-Australian has avoided club suspensions or sanctions for several years, despite a reputation for enjoying himself. His most serious blemish was as a youngster, from an incident in 2003, which led to a conviction for affray. Swan was ordered to perform community service and pay $100,000 to a victim in a Federation Square brawl with a security guard. The incident almost cost him his career.

The Pies did manage, arguably, their best win of the season without Swan, when they defeated the Crows in Adelaide in round nine.

His suspension adds to a bad week for the AFL. It came 24 hours after the Western Bulldogs stood aside young midfielder Tom Liberatore for the remainder of the season after he was found by police drunk and with an ecstasy tablet in his pocket in the King Street nightclub district in the early hours of Monday.

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Swan, Buckley men on different paths

TO SAY that Dane Swan was bound to run foul of Nathan Buckley once the new coach was appointed would be an exaggeration. But it is clear that Collingwood’s past two Brownlow medallists diverge in their approaches to football.
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Unlike his coach, Swan has never been one of those players who does absolutely everything – peeling the proverbial skin off his chicken – in his preparation for games. He is a serious competitor, but relative to, say, the meticulous Scott Pendlebury, the tattooed midfielder is more old school. He has never hidden his fondness for a good time and a full social life.

Swan gives the nonchalant impression that he plays football for enjoyment and mateship, and that there are aspects of the modern game – the meetings and monastic lifestyle that it demands – that he finds odious.

Hence, no one in the Collingwood loop was terribly surprised when Swan withdrew from the leadership group before the start of the season. He’s not one for telling teammates how to behave, or for organising and running meetings. He trains – hard – and he plays.

The decision to suspend Swan for two matches is a tough one, given he hasn’t done anything to anyone. To our knowledge, he didn’t put a barman in a headlock, punch or abuse a bystander. He’s had a drink six days before the next match. In days of yore, that session would be compulsory. In his version of events – which may or may not differ from the club’s, the Pies having sought ”external” verification as well as ”internal” – he didn’t drink much.

The decision to suspend Swan is consistent with Buckley’s long-standing hard line on player behaviour. At a similar stage of 2006, Collingwood skipper Buckley was disappointed when his predecessor, Mick Malthouse opted not to suspend Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson for their role in a drunken brawl in the wee hours.

Malthouse took a more tolerant view of player misdemeanours than his skipper, who also believed that the players should have more say in enforcing standards, along the lines of Sydney and Geelong.

Buckley’s belief in player empowerment means that the leadership group, headed by Nick Maxwell, had a significant say in the decision to suspend Swan. As football chief Geoff Walsh said last night, this is a case of players abiding by their own standards, which they ”signed off on”.

That said, there is no question that players want to do the bidding of their new coach and would frame the penalty accordingly, just as their pledge of abstinence from alcohol for the last part of the season would be made with Buckley’s uncompromising standards in mind.

The tricky part for a club is always: a) what to do when the offending player is a star, and b) when the upcoming games are crucial.

There is always an argument that the rest of the team ought not be penalised for the actions of an individual. Malthouse took that stance for much of his coaching career, trading Tarrant rather than suspending him, in 2006. When Collingwood went harder and suspended Alan Didak and Heath Shaw for their drunken car crash and fictitious explanation in 2008, the club really had no choice because the pair had lied.

Here, the benchmark for punitive action was established before round one, when Sharrod Wellingham was rubbed out for two matches for drinking and missing a rehabilitation session. Walsh noted the ”consistency” of the Swan penalty.

That’s the problem with curfews and prohibitions. They can bite you at the least-opportune times.

Swan’s loss could well prove the Swans’ gain.

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Wallabies planning for SBW’s selection

“He does provide some really strong points of difference which will provide opportunities for them, but also provide opportunities for us” … Wallabies coaching coordinator Tony McGahan.DESPITE the uncertainty over whether Sonny Bill Williams will play in the opening Bledisloe Cup match, the Wallabies are preparing for the dynamic All Blacks midfielder to be running onto ANZ Stadium on Saturday week.
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Whether Williams appears in the All Blacks colours depends on talks between the Panasonic club, where he will play in Japan, and the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Wallabies coaching co-ordinator Tony McGahan said when the 30-man Australian squad assembled in Sydney yesterday, he assumed the All Blacks would do everything they could to have him playing, especially after his crucial role in the Chiefs’ first Super Rugby title triumph.

”We just have to wait and see, because they were ruling him out on Sunday. On Monday he was back in, and then today he could be ruled out again,” McGahan said. ”From the All Blacks perspective they are very keen to play him, and they’ll do everything they can to get him out on the field, because he has had a wonderful season.

”He does provide some really strong points of difference which will provide opportunities for them, but also provide opportunities for us.”

McGahan understood if the Panasonic-NZRU negotiations became complicated. ”I have worked in Japan and they can be quite clinical and demanding on what their expectations are.”

McGahan, who joined the Wallabies coaching staff this year, said management had been closely watching recent videos.

”He’s a real focal point of all the back lines he has been involved with, and certainly been a positive influence on the side he has played with this year. We’ve been looking at that, and coming up with a plan to counter it.”

The Williams influence aside, the Wallabies are not expecting any radical changes in the New Zealand approach this season, even if they have a new coach in Steve Hansen. Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans argued the top New Zealand provincial sides played ”a similar brand of football”. ”Obviously the Chiefs have

some special individuals with the likes of Sonny Bill, but beyond that there is a lot of consistency in the way they approach their work. And with Steve now in charge, I don’t think there will be a huge change in style because he has been part of the furniture for a fair while,” Deans said.

Deans is also relieved the Bledisloe Cup has reverted back to a three-Test series for the first time since 2006.

”It’s good to be involved in a series where you get a genuine outcome every year. It has been a long time. There used to be two fixtures a year, and then we went through a long period where there was four. I’d imagine for the general public it is unsatisfying to finish with a one-all or two-all draw, but one side still wins. That doesn’t quite sit right. To play three, with the knowledge that more than likely there will be a clear result, is great.

”And obviously mathematically it makes it a little more achievable as well.”

Deans confirmed that while Quade Cooper is likely to be available for the second Rugby Championship match, after playing club football in Brisbane on the weekend, James O’Connor and Pat McCabe will be missing until at least next month due to injury.

”James is making good progress, but we will not promote him before he is ready, particularly with the potential of him suffering a recurring hamstring injury. We have to make sure we take care of his long term future,” Deans said.

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