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Comment: WikiLeaks and the senate candidate who isn’t here

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julian Assange faces many challenges as a senate hopeful.

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AAP/Kerim Okten

One of the most interesting aspects of Julian Assange’s bid for a Victorian Senate seat is who will be his running mate.

If Assange happened to fluke a win – which electoral experts say is a very long shot – and then survived any legal challenge to his eligibility, he would face an intractable problem, assuming he was still ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassy when the new Senate met some time after July 1 next year.

The constitution provides that a senator loses his or her place if they don’t turn up for two consecutive months, unless a vote of the upper house gives them leave. Historically, only one senator has forfeited his place (in 1903, through illness). Leave periods have been granted, but never indefinite leave.

While the WikiLeaks party was unrepresented on the floor, the conservative side of politics would benefit in the senate numbers.

When there is a casual vacancy, the ex-senator’s party nominates a replacement, who is formally appointed by the parliament of the relevant state.

John Shipton, Assange’s father, who is getting together the WikiLeaks party, to be launched in Melbourne on Saturday, says he is negotiating with a potential running mate, keeping in mind this person could become the accidental senator.

Assange’s bid has ramped up to another level with the appointment of the politically-experienced Greg Barns and the party’s formal launch. Barns will run the campaign while Shipton, 68, concentrates on building the party.

Barns, who now works as a barrister, was an adviser to John Fahey, former finance minister in the Howard government. He was campaign director for the Australian Republic Movement’s 1999 referendum campaign. Later he was disendorsed as a state Liberal candidate in Tasmania after he criticised the Howard government’s tough policy on boat people.

He became interested in the Assange issue through his involvement in the progressive-oriented Australian Lawyers Alliance; he was then approached for the campaign. “I think Julian’s values are pretty consistent with mine, [in terms of] the rights of the individual vis-a-vis the state”. He will be fulltime on the campaign from June.

UMR polling in September asked people how likely they would be to vote for Assange for a Senate seat – in Victoria he polled 30 per cent.

New polling is about to be done, which will provide a more realistic test now the Assange candidacy is firm and the election closer.

While Assange’s stellar support in UMR polling (including an earlier survey it did) won’t be reflected in a real life vote, it would seem to put him at least in the mix for the sixth Senate place, given that tiny votes have elected former Victorian senator Steve Fielding (although he was installed by a preference deal with Labor) and current DLP senator John Madigan, also from Victoria.

But ABC election expert Antony Green rates Assange’s chances as minimal. He will be competing with the Greens for the last seat. “If Labor and the Greens have 43 per cent of the vote, there’s no room for Assange to be elected”, Green says.

“His best chance of getting elected would be if Labor gave him preferences ahead of the Greens”.

But, despite the falling out between the ALP and the Greens, why would they? The government has been highly critical of Assange.

In practical terms, says Green, “the only way he could get elected is to get the preferences of a lot of [micro] right-of-centre parties”.

This would appear difficult, although the Wikileaks party’s negotiating power on preferences would be boosted if the new polling found his support still high. Barns said he would be disappointed if Assange couldn’t pull in 6 per cent to 7 per cent of the vote in the election adding, on the question of preferences, “I’d be surprised if people didn’t come and have a talk”.

Barns says Assange draws support from across the political spectrum; yesterday he had offers of help from a former Liberal staffer and a former Nationals staffer. But in terms of primary votes, Assange obviously would need to attract some Green and left Labor voters.

The issues on which the Wikileaks party will campaign will include accountability, greater transparency in decision making and the role of the Senate as a house of review, as well as the increase of security powers since September 11, 2001.

The party, which will also run a Senate team at least in NSW and possibly elsewhere, will make some decisions about tactics at its meeting in Melbourne on Saturday. One is how much to use online versus old media for campaigning. For Assange personally, holed up in the embassy, video and online campaigning is obviously the only way to go. Shipton estimates that the campaign will need $100,000 per candidate to run.

Apart from other points of attack, Assange’s opponents will have an obvious killer argument against him: “Why think of voting for a man who won’t be able to take his seat?”

If ever there was a tilting-at-windmills bid, Assange’s is surely it. But then the Senate does see some strange contests – and a few unexpected results.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Dark days spurring Souths skipper Sutton

On the cusp of delivering South Sydney their first major trophy in more than 40 years, Rabbitohs captain John Sutton hasn’t forgotten the dark times when wooden spoons were the norm.

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Souths will battle it out with arch-rivals Sydney Roosters for the minor premiership on Friday night – an honour the Rabbitohs have not earned since 1989 – when Sutton was just four.

There was no prize to show for the minor premiership back then, with the JJ Giltinan Shield only awarded to the regular season champion from 1997.

Prior to that the massive shield was handed over to the premiers – an image only the oldest of Souths fans can recall with any fondness.

Through good times and bad, the Rabbitohs have been judged on the run of outs since 1971 – Sutton desperate for the current crop to leave their mark.

“We’re just trying to create our own little history here by just wining games,” Sutton said.

“It’s great to be a part of the club at the moment.”

Great times indeed, with the Rabbitohs set to compete in back to back finals series for the first time since 1986-87.

But things didn’t always look this good for the Rabbitohs, or Sutton.

The club collected the wooden spoon in two of his first three seasons.

He played one finals game in his first eight seasons with the club.

By contrast, halves partner Adam Reynolds has known nothing but success since bursting onto the scene last year, having won 35 of the 50 top grade games he has played.

It took Sutton 105 games – almost six seasons – to win his 35th game.

“To be captain and winning games – when I first started there were a couple of wooden spoons here and there, it wasn’t the best of years,” Sutton recalled.

“But since Madge (coach Michael Maguire) has come along, he’s changed the culture around and it’s just great to be a part of this.

“I’m just looking forward to the next few weeks of footy – it’s going to be exciting.”

Asked if he had to remind some of his newer teammates about just how far the club has come, Sutton said:

“Most of the boys who’ve been around footy a long time sort of know where the club’s been and how it used to be.

“Since Madge has come along it’s pretty much done a full 180.”

Even Reynolds, who wasn’t even born the last time the Rabbitohs were minor premiers, is aware of the journey the club has been on.

“The club wasn’t going too well at a stage there,” Reynolds said.

“The fans stuck loyal, it’s just good to reward them these days.”

And the players too, but Sutton isn’t getting caught up in the hype.

He knows the JJ Giltinan Shield would be nice, but it is the newly renamed Provan-Summons premiership trophy the club really wants.

“It is a big game, we’re not going to deny that,” Sutton said of Friday night’s ANZ Stadium blockbuster.

“But like we’ve been doing all year, we just have to concentrate on what we have to do here at Souths.

“Our preparation has to be spot on this week – the Roosters have had a couple of losses lately, I’m sure they’re going to be coming out fired up.”

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Yothu Yindi and the Yolngu culture: dreaming of a brighter day

By Samuel Curkpatrick

Only a few decades after radio, popular music and electric guitars spread through Arnhem Land in the 1960s, Yothu Yindi rose to take a prominent and celebrated place in Australian culture.

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Forming in 1986, the band was soon making a number of international tours and their hit songs Treaty from 1991, blazed its way up the Australian pop charts.

Treaty not only became the first song in an Indigenous Australian language, Gumatj, to gain widespread attention but it also became the unofficial anthem for the reconciliation movement: “Now two rivers run their course, separated for so long. I’m dreaming of a brighter day when the waters will be one.”

Composed in collaboration with Paul Kelly and Midnight Oil, this song protested the lack of action taken by then Prime Minster Bob Hawke’s on his 1988 promise of a treaty with Indigenous Australia.

Two halves

Yet the significance of Yothu Yindi goes much deeper than the band’s phenomenal success as a popular music group. The very name of the band asserts a fundamental tenet of indigenous ancestral law. This principle of yothu-yindi or “child-mother” underpins the entire Yolngu world, the cultural and linguistic group to which the band and its musicians belong.

The Yolngu world is divided into two halves, or two moieties, known as Dhuwa and Yirritja. Everything in nature, society, language and ceremony belongs to either one of these two halves. To anyone born in the Yolngu world, your mother always belongs to the side opposite yourself: if you are Dhuwa, your mother will be Yirritja and vice versa.

This system governs important rights such as land ownership, shapes regional parliamentary gatherings and determines the particular songs and dances that are your duty to sing and maintain.

Yothu-yindi is an expression of unity in diversity, a relationship of difference (child-mother) out of which stems good society. Yothu-yindi is about the reciprocal responsibilities of caring for country and family.

Yothu Yindi’s recently deceased lead singer, who was also the first Aboriginal school principal in Australia, carried the notion of yothu-yindi into his tireless advocacy for a “two-ways” bi-cultural approach.

His 1993 Boyer lectures advocated relative autonomy, where Yolngu people, law and culture exist side by side with the rest of Australia. He was also named Australian of the Year in 1992.

Just as salt water meets fresh to create brackish water, yothu-yindi concerns productivity amid difference. This ancestral law extends into the very music that Yothu Yindi plays. As the singer told Rolling Stone magazine: “I’m using white man’s skills, Yolngu skills and putting them together for a new beginning.”

Narratives from public Yolngu ceremonies and tradition are carried by the new musical forms, contexts and instruments of Yothu Yindi. Like the colourful artwork that comes out of Arnhem Land, popular music continues to be used as a means of telling ancestral stories in the present.

Sunset dreaming

Another ARIA winning Yothu Yindi song, Djäpana: Sunset Dreaming, imagines the red sinking sun that, as the vocalist sings, “takes my mind back to my homeland, far away.” It is a song of worry and homesickness sung at funeral ceremonies. The design being painted onto the chest of a boy in the film clip shows clouds on the horizon forming out to sea. The sunset glows, reflected on the clouds and water.

Like other Yothu Yindi songs, Djäpana: Sunset Dreaming uses lyrics taken directly from the age-old ceremonial repertoires belonging to the Gumatj and Rirratjingu clans. The characteristic sound of the didjeridu (yidaki) and clapsticks (bilma) that can be heard in rock music from Arnhem Land also stem from tradition. These instruments are at the heart of ceremonial dance (bunggul) and complement the band’s rock style, creating rhythmic drive and groove.

Yothu Yindi’s performances across the country and globe are, first and foremost, an assertion of the relevance of Yolngu law today. They are a demonstration of the Yolngu ability to bring their ancestral narratives into contemporary expressions, asserting their legitimacy as they share them in an ever-changing world.

Truly Australian music

Touring through the 1990s and into the 2000s, Yothu Yindi have continued to achieve success as a widely recognised group representative of truly Australian music. Embracing popular sounds and media, they have given Australians a fresh and positive perspective on Indigenous culture. Their music exudes hope for a brighter future.

The band’s high profile gigs, such as the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, are matched by their workshops with Indigenous bands across Arnhem Land. The Yothu Yindi Foundation’s annual Garma Festival at the homeland Gulkula, continues what Yothu Yindi started, bringing people together to discuss ideas of reconciliation and to share traditional culture.

With great energy and colour, Yothu Yindi sing in celebration of the great traditions of their ancestral homelands, allowing their voices to merge with mainstream Australia in hope for our shared future.

The lead singer of Yothu Yindi has not been named or depicted in this article out of respect for Yolngu cultural protocols.

Samuel Curkpatrick does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Comment: Social isolation trumps loneliness as early death indicator

By Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation and Carley Tonoli, The Conversation

Social isolation in old age significantly increases the risk of an early death and outstrips loneliness as a factor associated with mortality, a UK study has found.

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The new findings, published in the journal PNAS, are based on a study of 6,500 men and women aged 52 and older enrolled in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in 2004, and assessed the participants’ risk of death through to March 2012.

The study assessed social isolation based on marital status, frequency of contact with family and friends, and participation in community organisations.

Participants filled in questionnaires to gauge loneliness and factors such as demographics, preexisting long term illness, age and sex were also taken into account.

The study found that socially isolated seniors have an increased risk of early death regardless of their health and demographic background, whereas the link between loneliness and early death exists only for participants with underlying mental or physical concerns.

“Both social isolation and loneliness were associated with increased mortality. However, the effect of loneliness was not independent of demographic characteristics or health problems and did not contribute to the risk associated with social isolation,” the paper said.

“Although both isolation and loneliness impair quality of life and well-being, efforts to reduce isolation are likely to be more relevant to mortality.”

Lead author of the study, Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at the University College London, said that the people in the study did not end their own lives.

“The people in this study died of the usual causes -– cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory illness — not suicide,” he said.

Loneliness versus social isolation

Professor Richard Hugman, convener of the Social Work discipline at University of NSW and Fellow of the Australian Association of Gerontology, said the findings shed new light on the connections and differences between isolation and loneliness.

“This is important because in the work of health and human service professions, as in the wider society, there is often a tendency to conflate the two – leading either to assumptions that all isolated older people must be lonely or that, if they are distinct, then it must be loneliness that is the cause of negative health outcomes,” said Professor Hugman, who was not involved in the study.

“The strong evidence that it is social isolation that has the negative impact on health outcomes is challenging because for many people it is counter-intuitive,” he said.

Dr Lynette Chenoweth, Professor of Aged and Extended Care Nursing at the University of Technology Sydney, said the findings were consistent with what had been reported elsewhere.

“When people become socially isolated and communication with others is very limited or ceases, the person can lose their health and well-being and this can lead to an earlier death. Suicide in the socially isolated person is high,” said Professor Chenoweth, who was not involved in the study.

“It’s essential that anyone at risk of becoming socially isolated through ostracism, lack of transport, income, infrastructure, function and social outlets, has a support program put in place by family, friends, neighbours, formal and volunteer support services,” she said.

“Community nurses and other health staff, such as GPs, have an obligation to help the person and their family to institute support processes and strategies and/or refer them to community support service agencies,” she said.

Professor Victor Minichiello, a gerontologist at the University of New England, said the research was significant because it includes a large sample size and a longitudinal study.

“It is consistent with what we have known for a long time,” he said, adding that the new finding “further highlights the need to look at what causes social isolation in seniors.”

“It is interesting to look at the implications of the way people are interacting, not only in the physical, but also in virtual worlds. This highlights the ways in which social networking technologies could be helpful,” said Professor Minichiello, who was not involved in the study.

“We need to be looking at what sort of services can we bring into the homes of seniors that allow greater virtual social interaction and enhance their connectivity with the world, including family and friends.”

Ageism could also be a factor, he said.

“Our society is ageist, our services are frequently based on a youth culture and from the point of view of financial institutions, once a person is no longer employed, they lose their relevance and social identity, and reduce their social networks.”

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A decade after the Iraq invasion

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

A decade after the invasion of Iraq by US led forces, calls are still being made for an independent inquiry into Australia’s role in the conflict.

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And a human rights organisation is also calling for investigations into abuses that it says continue to this day.

Ten years ago, this month, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq.

“At this hour American and Coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from great danger. On my orders coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war.”

The initial ferocious air strike – under the military doctrine of shock and awe – was the start of what the Americans dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The following day, on the 20th of March 2003, ground forces invaded Iraq.

The bloc contributing troops in the first phase was named by US President George W Bush the Coalition of the Willing, and included just four countries — the US, Britain, Australia and Poland.

Australia put up approximately 2,000 Defence Force personnel, including a special forces task group, three warships and 14 fighter jets.

Baghdad was occupied less than three weeks later, on the 9th of April, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his central leadership went into hiding.

Then on May the 1st, from the deck of an aircraft carrier and with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, US President George W Bush made this bold declaration.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle for Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Among the reasons given by President Bush and his administration for the invasion was the liberation of the people of Iraq from a brutal dictator and to bring them democracy.

But chief among the reasons was the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMDs.

No WMDs were ever found, and instead of welcoming American intervention sectarian violence fanned by insurgents frustrated the US military and politicians.

Today, combat operations have ended in Iraq and troops have been drawn down.

But the country remains in a parlous state.

Iraq expert, Dr Benjamin Isakhan from Deakin University has told a conference examining the decade since the war that Iraq is now one of the most violent and difficult countries in the world.

He says its infrastructure is crumbling, its government is increasingly authoritarian and many of the people live without adequate sewerage, electricity or water.

Dr Isakhan says Iraq is neither more peaceful nor more prosperous, and only marginally more democratic, than when the country was invaded in 2003.

International rights group Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into fresh allegations of human rights abuses by Iraqi officials.

Amnesty suggests such abuse is the cultural legacy of the war.

Amnesty International spokesman Michael Hayworth says 129 people were executed in Iraq in 2012.

“It’s doesn’t matter who is committing the abuses, whether it was the previous regime, whether it was international forces, whether it’s the current Iraqi authorities. It’s that this culture of impunity in Iraq needs to stop and wherever there are allegations of torture, other ill-treatment and human rights abuses, they need to be investigated and if there is sufficient evidence people at the most senior levels necessary need to be prosecuted for those abuses, otherwise we are going to see the cycle of violence, the cycle of impunity, torture and human rights abuses continue in Iraq.”

Just before the 2003 invasion, Andrew Wilkie was working at Australia’s senior intelligence agency – the Office of National Assessments.

After repeatedly raising his concerns internally, he quit his job in protest at Australia’s impending involvement in the coalition preparing to invade Iraq.

Mr Wilkie, now an independent member of federal parliament, says time has not diminished the shocking reality that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War was unethical, unnecessary and illegal.

“Not ethical in that it is wrong to use force except in the most extreme and justified circumstances. Not necessary because what was needed was to give the weapons inspectors more time to try and find these mysterious weapons of mass destruction and if they couldn’t find them that would have been the end of the whole WMD line of attack or argument for war. And not legal because Iraq’s material breach of UN sanctions at the time did not in itself in international law justify the use of force. There was never a specific UN resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq.”

Mr Wilkie is still calling for an independent inquiry into Australia’s role in the Iraq war.

“Ten years have passed and my concern has not diminished one bit. In fact I am probably even more concerned that we are still to have a proper inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the war. We are still to clear up the public record and put on the public record the facts of the matter and we are still to hold the perpetrators of this debacle to account.”

Brian Martin, a Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, supports that call.

Professor Martin is an expert on social activism and the suppression of dissent, and says Andrew Wilkie was a superb whistleblower.

“It’s always necessary to examine actions that lead to enormous suffering in the world and certainly the invasion of a country. I’d say Andrew Wilkie was one of the most effective whistleblowers because he did everything right, he went straight to the media and he resigned.”

Professor Martin says questions remain about the political responsibilities and moral obligations of the United States and its key coalition partners, including Australia.

He’s voiced a concern expressed by many who opposed the war in 2003.

“A lot of people are thinking for themselves and saying, why are Australian troops being sent to a place in the world where there is no threat to Australians? In fact the bigger threat to Australia, arguably, is that going into Afghanistan and Iraq could increase the risk of terrorism in Australia.”

Professor Martin also argues there’s a final irony in the war’s legacy for the United States — that the primary aggressor in the Iraq conflict suffered the most diplomatically.

“One of the results of the invasion was a decline in the reputation of the United States government around the world, especially in the Middle East.”

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Comment: National cultural policy is ‘bold, but vulnerable’

By Ben Goldsmith, Queensland University of Technology

The first major national cultural policy in 19 years was unveiled by Minister for the Arts Simon Crean yesterday.

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Minister Crean has called it “a national cultural policy for the decade.” Uncharitable souls might ask “which decade?”, given that it was first promised soon after the election of the Rudd government in 2007. It is, however, a bold and forward-looking statement.

In marked contrast to the limited detail provided by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in support of the media reforms he announced on Tuesday, more than 150 pages Creative Australia outlines a comprehensive set of proposals for immediate action, and some aspirations for the longer term. Like the media reforms, however, it may not survive if there is a change in government in September.

In October 1994, the Keating government’s Creative Nation Commonwealth Cultural Policy presented an emerging vision of a culture-led economy that was both proudly Australian and “open to the world”. Creative Australia similarly emphasises the contribution that cultural and creative industries can make to innovation and national productivity. More than half a million people are directly employed in these industries, up from around 300,000 in 1994. Employment growth is double the national average. For all the focus on mineral resources, the arts and culture are the real keys to the nation’s future spiritual and economic wealth.

Creative Australia is less anxious than its predecessor about the prospect of Australia being “swamped” by international content and culture, and more bullish about future opportunities. Great stress is placed on “joining the dots” between the arts and other policy domains, from the new national arts curriculum that embeds arts and media education in schools from primary level onwards, to the role of cultural diplomacy in Australian foreign policy, particularly in Asia.

Of Creative Australia’s funding envelope of $235 million, $190 million is new money. Much of it will come from other portfolios, as Minister Crean delivers on the partnership-oriented approach he championed during the review.

Funding and responsibility for regional touring programs will be transferred from the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport to the Australia Council. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Screen Australia will fund a new program to create 40 new media jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A new organisation, Creative Partnerships Australia, will be set up to bring together artists, philanthropists, corporate donors and sponsors. This organisation will also facilitate new funding models, with programs for micro-loans, crowd-sourcing and matched funding. A new National Arts and Culture Accord will bring together governments at all levels to agree a coordinated, collaborative three-year plan in which arts education will be prioritised.

Where Creative Nation sought to shift the policy and funding focus from supply to demand, Creative Australia seeks to enhance the “social dividend” of the arts by “supporting excellence” in production and training. Legislation will be introduced next week to “modernise” the Australia Council and give it a new mandate to support artistic excellence. The restructured council will also receive the largest single tranche of new funding, amounting to more than $75 million. Six elite training institutions will receive almost $21 million over four years. Six major performing arts companies will receive an additional $9 million. And a Major Performing Arts Excellence Pool will be established in partnership with state and territory governments to support new, innovative projects.

The new national cultural policy joins the growing rank of major policy proposals made since the election date was announced last month. But cultural policy is rarely seen as a critical vote changer. Creative Nation appeared halfway through the Keating government’s second term.

It was a thank you gift to the arts community which had noisily and effectively backed the prime minister in the “unwinnable” 1993 election. Most of its programs, which included ambitious upgrades to Indigenous art support, innovative SBS content production, funding for commercial television production and cutting-edge multimedia technologies, were able to be implemented and run for one full funding cycle before they were dismantled by the Coalition after 1996.

Creative Australia comes very late in the current political cycle, and this may prove to be its downfall. Despite its ambitions, and the minister’s enthusiastic support, and notwithstanding the substantial program for change, this policy may not be given the opportunity to be as influential as its predecessor.

While the Minister pleaded at yesterday’s launch for federal political bipartisanship given the importance of the arts to Australia’s future and identity, its long-term impact will probably depend on the outcome of the forthcoming election.

Ben Goldsmith does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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‘Child warriors’ open up about traumatic experiences

Deng Adut was twelve when he held his first AK47.

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After years of practicing with toy wooden guns, his new weapon felt heavy and awkward, nearly reaching his shoulders. Still, it wasn’t long before it became his only form of security.

“When I didn’t have my guns with me you feel like naked,” Adut tells SBS’s Insight. “But once you have the guns, you have so much power in your hands. Every time I have my gun it’s always loaded. Safety button is off because I know at any time something would happen.”

When Adut was a very young child, he was taken from his family to be trained as a solider in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He says he was often beaten and tortured for disobedience and had close friends who were killed. Adut also witnessed many killings by firing squad, which he says was one of the first things he was exposed to as a child soldier.

“You see these people falling down and the blood just keep flowing. I remember one guy refused to die. He refused to die until he was shot in the head and those memories were shocking.”

While Adut was forcibly taken and trained as a child soldier, others like former Neo-Nazi skinhead Frank Meeink willingly chose to join extreme causes as a child.

‘I LOVED SEEING FEAR IN THEIR EYES’

Growing up in a troubled and abusive home in the United States, Meeink was indoctrinated into the Neo-Nazi movement at the age of 14.

“As I joined into this movement I become part of the Christian identity which is the far right Christian group. We would go to bible studies, learn about how we should hate the Jews and the gays. Then we’d go out, at bible studies, we’d shoot guns at targets and plan to start a race war in America.”

Anyone that was not of European descent or part of his circle was an enemy he tells Insight. Meeink adds that the movement gave him a sense of identity and belonging, but above all, he “loved” being feared.

“I remember looking in people’s eyes when we would come up on them and seeing fear in their eyes and I loved that. Up until that moment in my life I feared everything,” he tellsInsight.

Meeink has since abandoned his beliefs but he joins a number of people on the Insight forum who, as children, were exposed to extreme – and often traumatic – political situations.

RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA

Clinical psychologist Deborah Gould works at the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and sees many people such as refugees who have lived through traumatic events like war.

“A lot of the effects that we see on children are from parents who are themselves traumatised and struggle to parent. If a parent is traumatised, one of the messages is that the world isn’t safe,” she says.

“There is also a shattering of assumptions about life and that people are good. Those are quite horrible lessons for a child to learn.”

But people can recover. Gould says that the key to teach survivors how to react differently to former emotional patterns and triggers.

“What we aim for is for them to always remember [the trauma] but not to have the trauma response to the memory. If they have developed something like PTSD, trauma counselling is important.

“But in some cultures the idea of talking about something doesn’t make sense. [In these cases] physical activity is the most therapeutic thing, for example meditation, yoga, theatre and dance. The key is to have some form of intervention rather than nothing.”

Catch Insight tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE.

WATCH PREVIEW

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US dismisses ‘evidence’ of Assange grand jury

On the ABC’s Q&A program last night, information activist and wikileaks supporter Matt Watt presented documents to US ambassador Jeff Bleich, claiming to provide evidence of a US grand jury indictment for Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange.

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“These are subpoenas for two US citizens, one is David House, the other one is unnamed, for a grand jury, it’s got the grand jury number on it as well, will you now admit the grand jury exists?” Mr Watt asked Mr Bleich on the program.

David House, who is named in one of the documents brandished by Mr Watt, testified at a grand jury hearing over his involvement with alleged Wikileaks source Bradley Manning in June 2011.

The US has repeatedly reaffirmed its position to not discuss the alleged existence of a grand jury tasked with extraditing Mr Assange from Sweden on charges of espionage.

Last night, Mr Bleich dismissed such claims, saying people misunderstood the US’s refusal to discuss a grand jury as confirmation that it exists.

“This is one of those sort of ‘gotcha’ things that people love to do about Julian Assange,” he said on the program.

“The United States has nothing to do with it [Assange’s charges in Sweden], we are not connected to it in anyway. And to say there must be something going on that is secret is…it’s movies and fantasies and spy novels.”

Mr Watt says the reference carried by the documents, ““10GJ3793”, reveals an active grand jury reference number for Mr Assange’s extradition and indictment, with “GJ” indicating “grand jury”.

“The two documents are subpoenas to appear before a grand jury in Virginia in the US. It doesn’t give the exact description of Wikileaks, but it does give the same description of charges that they are investigating,” Mr Watt told SBS.

“It’s quite publically known that there is a grand jury underway for Mr Assange and these documents confirm that with a grand jury number that is identical on both documents.”

But Mr Watt accepts that even if the documents are legitimate, it could be a coincidence that there are similar espionage cases underway before a possible grand jury.

“That’s a fair assumption to make, but David House is a friend of Bradley Manning and he was involved with the Bradley Manning Support group who transcribed the grand jury events when he appeared, even though it wasn’t allowed,” he said.

Mr Watt said he put the documents to Mr Bleich last night to highlight Australia’s duty of care for Mr Assange and to reveal the plan he believes the US has for him.

“I believe the Australian government has effectively abandoned Julian Assange,” he said.

“He has requested assistance from the Australian government to make a representation on his behalf to the Swedish government in particular, to ensure things like no further extraction.”

Senator Carr said it would be harder to extradite Assange from Sweden than the UK, because “the Swedes say it is our policy … that we never extradite someone on a matter to related to military or intelligence”.

“They just don’t do it,” he said.

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Comment: the silence surrounding Prisoner X

By Felix Patrikeeff, University of Adelaide

When Melbourne man Ben Zygier, an alleged agent of Mossad, or perhaps a double agent, died in December 2010, his end was barely perceptible.

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He had been held anonymously in solitary confinement at a high-security prison in Israel. A notice of his death appeared on the Internet, and then promptly disappeared. His name was not made known at the time.

It had to be secured by Australian investigative journalists. Australian authorities were informed of the death, and the unfortunate man’s body was returned to his family in Australia, but leaving behind his wife and children in Israel.

Ben Zygier (also known as Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burroughs) was supposed to have disappeared quietly, and neither Australia nor Israel seemed in a hurry to shine any light on the incident.

Ben Zygier had been locked in the high-security Ayalon prison for ten of the eleven months after the much-publicised death of a senior Hamas figure, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, in Dubai on 19 January 2010. The timing is most important, as Zygier was reportedly taken into custody a month later.

Hamas members at a memorial for slain senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It is suspected that his assassination was carried out by Mossad agents. AAP/Ali Ali

Al-Mabhouh’s assassination had been organised for Israel by 26 agents of its external intelligence agency, Mossad. The majority of these had travelled on UK or other cloned European passports. Four had fake Australian passports. Their cover was blown by Dubai authorities, who relatively quickly amassed a great deal of evidence, including CCTV footage of the agents following Al-Mabhouh to his hotel room.

In the maelstrom of press coverage that followed Dubai’s revelations, the third-party countries whose passports had been counterfeited raised very vocal protests against Israel for the unconscionable use of false passports to perpetrate covert action.

Australia’s then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, generally a taciturn politician, was in important ways quite blunt and certain in his views on the situation, emphatically stating that “no government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign government”. A member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra (presumably the resident Mossad agent) was expelled. And then silence.

The use of counterfeit passports dominated the airwaves. In the year before the Al-Mabhouh killing, there had been other Australian press investigations going on regarding the use of our passports, but at that time the focus was on dual citizens and a technically legitimate use of the passports (through name changes).

Zygier was caught in that particular net, but protested vehemently that he had nothing to do with a covert role. The question is, where did the leads that allowed our journalists to pursue the story come from? They came from our own “intelligence sources”.

What all of this suggests is that our agencies (both news and, presumably, security) had been working hard on the use of passports by dual citizens. This may have extended to breaking the cover of one such user, Zygier. Normally, such an action will not result in the measures taken against “Prisoner X”, as Zygier became known, after being detained by Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency). An agent whose cover has been blown becomes all but useless to the agency they work for, and, if they have been working deep in cover in hostile areas, potentially endanger themselves.

Incarceration in Ayalon Prison was not to protect Zygier, and, as it has been pointed out by authoritative commentators, the way in which he was dealt with by Israel was really quite unusual.

But equally so, one could argue, was the “hands off” approach adopted by Australian authorities in a case where an Australian citizen had been deprived of his identity, held in a maximum-security prison, investigated and tried in camera, but whose wife had known where he was, brought in an Israeli lawyer seasoned in the human rights area, and, it would seem, have urgently pressed for something to be done concerning her husband’s plight.

Ben Zygier may well have been “turned” by Australian intelligence after his involvement in procuring passports for Mossad agents. ABC/Foreign Correspondent

Did she also contact the Australian Embassy in attempting to exhaust each and every possible method of exerting pressure on the Israeli Government? Presumably that did happen, but there was a general silence about that.

In a recent Parliamentary Committee hearing, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gave an entirely plausible explanation as to Zygier’s case and why it had not appeared on its radar: the files were being investigated by our intelligence agencies, and, presumably, not by DFAT itself. But would Zygier’s wife not have tried to deal with the Australian authorities here regarding her husband’s desperate situation? There is general silence on that question too.

We know from what the Israeli government has said that opening up this case could cause considerable embarrassment, but it did not say for whom specifically: Israel itself, or Australia.

We have also heard the conjecture that one of the reasons why Zygier found himself in such a situation was that perhaps he could no longer bear the crisis of conscience of having his morality challenged by what he was instructed to do, or alternatively what he saw done, by Mossad, and therefore blew a whistle.

These aside, there is, of course, another potential explanation, and that is that Zygier had been a double-agent, but a very well concealed one until, presumably, his name became known to journalists, and, by extension, to the general public. If this was the case, who might his other “masters” have been?

The Zygier case has been remarkable in that, even with the scant information that has emerged since the story broke, it has provided tantalising insights into intelligence agencies both here and in Israel. However, and as so often happens, clandestine agencies, and governments, have a habit of relying on deep and stubborn silence to obliterate the sensations that emerge in such cases. If it does here, we can only conclude that the Israeli and Australian governments would prefer to have the matter buried with Zygier. The reasons why remain intriguing.

Felix Patrikeeff does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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A dying art: Chan Shaw’s work showcased in Sydney

An exhibition has opened in Sydney featuring the work of one of Australia’s most remarkable fashion designers.

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From a Chinese migrant family, Vivian Chan Shaw’s hand-knitted garments have for decades attracted international attention.

Chan Shaw’s unique attention to detail led to a lifetime’s work and it all started casually.

“Somebody wanted somebody in a fashion shop. I thought, I might just sort of stick my nose in and see what I can do,“ the fashion designer recalls.

More than stick her nose in, Chan Shaw became a trailblazer of Australian fashion in the ’70s and ’80s. Propelled by necessity, as a single mother of four children.

“But when I got into it, more and more and more, I loved it, it was sort of like second nature,” she says. “I thought, I am home, this is it!’

Her family had been here a while. Migrating in the Gold Rush in 1860, but she was born in Hong Kong, then raised in Sydney – as a fashionable child. Her mother owned a clothing boutique and her grandmother taught her how to knit.

As a designer, she pioneered working with artisan hand loomers and innovative and experimental knit-wear became her trademark.

“It’s sort of like a dying art, because it’s very hard to do and very time consuming,” says Chan Shaw. “It’s not as easy as say running up a garment on a sewing machine, so that’s the difficult part.”

Chan Shaw’s daughter, designer Claudia Chan Shaw, works with her mother, and says it’s not just the designs that are unique, but also the way they are made.

“To find something hand made in Australia, let alone Sydney – you know everything these days is made in China and India and Bangladesh – it’s very, very unusual,” says Claudia. “Sometimes you’ll have Australian designers having little capsule collections made in Australia, but it’s very, very rare for an Australian designer to have the complete collection – every single piece, including jewellery, all made here.”

Chan Shaw approached America and Europe with a single focus and the oldest sales and export technique.

“We used to take what we call a ‘trunk show’ over, which means you take a whole lot of garments, put them in a bag, and have a showing,” she says. “We usually sold the whole lot. We would come back without any.”

The secret: her distinctive process.

Each handmade garment is valuable because they couldn’t be copied en masse. Like her daughter’s wedding dress, worn once, and now in the Powerhouse Museum.

It all helped Australia’s fashion image. Before Vivian, Australia’s only fashion image was of Drizabones and swimwear.

“Vivian opened doors in those famous American department stores that were so tough,” says fashion luminary Leanne Whitehouse. “And to sell to those department stores – you didn’t sell a collection of knits – you sold a top, and there was a buyer for the tops, and there was a buyer for the skirts and a buyer for the dresses, and to have a cohesive collection sitting in one of those department stores was like winning the lottery.”

Through four decades of Vivian Chan Shaw’s designs, a distinct and unwavering style has endured, remarkable in the fast changing world of fashion.

She puts her longevity down to this uniqueness.

“We are different. We aren’t for everybody, therefore we have a selected sort of clientele,” says Chan Shaw. “If they love us, they love us forever. Really, they have grown old with me, together.

Vivian Chan Shaw designs to her own rhythm; she’s not a slave to fashion. Her elegant flounces, unique colouring and hand-made detail inspire intense loyalty from her life-long customers – local and international.

A special design commissioned for Barbie’s 30th birthday is attracting wearers such as Dionne Warwick and Margaux Hemingway.

At 78 and still working, Chan Shaw has surprised even herself with the way it all turned out.

“I was thunderstruck,” she says of walking through her own retrospective. “I thought, God – is that what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years? I mean – I must have!”

Vivian Chan Shaw – 40 Years, A Retrospective is on display until 13 February in Sydney.

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Comment: Change at the top – what next for BHP Billiton?

By Tim O’Shannassy, RMIT University

The board of BHP Billiton Limited today announced the retirement of chief executive officer and inside director Marius Kloppers.

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Dr Kloppers is a 20-year veteran of the company, serving 12 years as a senior executive. He was appointed CEO in October 2007. Dr Kloppers’ retirement from the CEO role will be effective 10 May 2013, and from the group effective 1 October 2013.

BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser praised the efforts of his retiring CEO in today’s board announcement. Mr Nasser drew attention to Dr Kloppers’ steady stewardship of the company in the global financial crisis environment, driving new investments, and delivering strong shareholder returns during his tenure, with the group outperforming its peers.

The decision has been taken that Dr Kloppers will be succeeded by Andrew Mackenzie, currently BHP Billiton’s chief executive non-ferrous.

Dr Kloppers described working for BHP Billiton as a “privilege”, paying tribute to current and former colleagues, in particular former chairman Don Argus and former CEOs Paul Anderson and Chip Goodyear.

Media reporting in recent weeks has focused on the need for the group to rework its strategy. The commodity price boom encouraged strong spending from mining companies to increase productive capacity. Federal Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson is on the record in 2012 as saying the mining boom is over, so times have changed.

Big miners such as BHP Billiton set the tone for strategy in their industry. In 2012, BHP Billiton communicated to the market that their strategy focus for the current year is on reducing operating costs and non-essential expenditure. There has been suggestion of a slowdown or stop of some development programs, closure of higher cost operations and a significant targeted cost reduction program across the group. However, there have been few specifics provided to the investment community on details of this cost-cutting program.

The financial result presented today was in line with analyst forecasts, but a little disappointing. First half total revenue was down 14% at US$32.2 billion with net profit down 58% at US$4.24 billion.

Against the backdrop of these announcements there has been some media and shareholder chatter on succession planning at BHP Billiton in recent months.

Not all media commentators have seen Dr Mackenzie as a clear choice for the prized position of BHP Billiton CEO. Names including Marcus Randolph, Alberto Calderon and Michael Yeager have been suggested in the Fairfax media, with the view that a CEO with a strong operations background may be best suited to the role.

Dr Mackenzie has occupied a variety of roles in oil and gas, petrochemicals and minerals with organizations including BP and Rio Tinto, as well as enjoying a distinguished academic career. Dr Mackenzie joined BHP Billiton in 2007.

Dr Mackenzie will join the BHP Billiton board in May. BHP Billiton pride themselves on succession planning, though none of the contenders for the CEO succession currently are on the board of the world’s biggest miner. A small number of quality inside directors balanced by a strong chair and a majority of outside directors can make a strong and sound contribution to organisation strategy. Such an environment can also help to prepare senior executives for succession.

Looking to the future, the challenge for BHP will be to reduce costs, develop the right growth assets, and deliver strong returns to shareholders. Investors have become more vocal on the need for mining companies to improve their yield to investors, which are a fraction of what financial services companies can deliver.

Tim O’Shannassy does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Pigs and pollution: China ‘can’t keep ignoring the environment’

By Yanshuang Zhang

In a joke currently circulating on China’s most popular social media, Sina Weibo, a Beijing resident boasts about his happy life in the badly air-polluted capital, saying that every morning when he opens the window he can enjoy a free smoke.

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A Shanghai resident sniffed:“Bah! Every time we turn on the tap, we get free pork soup.”

Hilarious, but grim. Deadly air is shrouding most big Chinese cities and thousands of dead pigs have been found in the Huangpu River: things are bad enough that China’s normally compliant Parliament has begun to protest.

By last week, more than 6,000 rotting pig carcasses had been cleaned up from Huangpu River, which supplies tap water to Shanghai. These dead pigs were mostly dumped by nearby pig breeders in Zhejiang province. They don’t have the capacity to do biosafety disposal of sick animals, nor can they get compensation from the government for such losses from disease due to a lack of insurance and compensation mechanisms in the industry. Traces of some common pig viruses have been found in some of the animals floating in the river.

Experts from the central government claimed the issue had been appropriately solved, ruling out the possibility of major threat to public health. They further clarified no sick animals had been butchered and sold for meat in this case. However,one would expect the rumours to continue because many similar cases have been reported in the past several years.

The tip of the iceberg

The dead pigs of Shanghai are just a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. In recent years increasing numbers of “cancer villages” in China have been revealed, mainly on social media sites and blogs where activists and environmental experts raise public awareness of soil and groundwater contamination. In these polluted areas, soaring rates of diseases like stomach cancer are believed to be caused by drinking contaminated water containing hazardous chemicals disposed of by local industries.

In February, Deng Fei, a former investigative journalist and now an influential activist, initiated a campaign, inviting Chinese “netizens” to take photos of polluted rivers in their hometowns and upload them to Weibo. Meanwhile, in coalition with journalists and environmental activists, he launched a “China Water Crisis Independent Investigation” which regularly releases information on Weibo about water quality nationwide. His call received thousands of responses from net users, and for the first time provoked a national debate on groundwater safety.

Based on an insider source, Deng further revealed on Weibo the truth about a recent water dispute that arose in Weifang prefecture, Shandong province. Some local companies are believed to have discharged underground pollution for years, severely contaminating ground water and giving the area one of the highest rates of stomach cancer in the world. However, during the investigation the local government tried to cover up and even block media coverage.

Outrage over pollution has widely spread among ordinary Chinese people, and even attracted attention on social media channels throughout the world.

Jimmy Palmiotti, the famous inker of Marvel Comics expressed his condemnation of water pollution in China. Twitter

Some Chinese media have also joined the crusade against water pollution. Event People’s Daily, the Party’s mouthpiece outlet, has stepped in and issued a series of appeals on its Weibo account. They warn “enterprises shouldn’t poison the public to chase higher profits; government agencies shouldn’t loosen their regulations for the sake of their work performance”, “we want a GDP that won’t kill the next generation, and from the government to the public, we should all trumpet the cause of water pollution control and preserve clean water sources for a beautiful China”.

According to the China Geological Survey, 90% of underground water has suffered different degrees of contamination, with more than 60% suffering severe contamination. Also according to statistics released by Xinhua News Agency, in 118 Chinese cities only 3% of the underground water is considered moderately clean.

Chinese netizens take to the internet with their grim humour as a way of revolt.

A no-win situation

Furious public opinion has made it hard for the authorities to ignore these crises. During the annual National People’s Congress and China People’s Political Consultative Conference which has just ended, the questions around water quality as well as other environmental issues in China were frequently raised on the urgent agenda. The new elected government has pledged to tackle the growing health crisis provoked by environmental degradation.

There are appeals to speed up environmental legislation to improve environment quality and push for a strict time-line for solving environmental problems. The new leadership has effectively announced several new laws and standards on environmental protection over the last two months, including a detailed implementation framework from the Ministry of Environmental Protection. It seems the new leaders have been gradually living up to their promise to establish an effective service-oriented government which draws a clear line between itself and the old.

Keeping the balance between economic growth and environmental protection is a critical challenge for the new government. China is still on a course of seeking maximum economic growth. Unless the whole nation gets down to pursuing a sustainable development, there will never be a win-win situation in the relationship between human and nature.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

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Thousands of fans celebrate Wanderers in Western Sydney

The Red and Black mob was celebrating a near-perfect start to the A-League, with plenty to be proud of: winning the regular season, setting new records with 10 consecutive wins and selling out stadiums.

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“We didn’t miss any game,” said a fan. “We went to Newcastle, to the Central Coast, to Campbelltown, we didn’t go to Melbourne. Just anywhere we could drive, we went”.

Skipper Michael Beauchamp says Western Sydney will extract a silver lining from their A-League grand final defeat in the form of renewed focus next season.

The Wanderers went down 2-0 to the Central Coast in front of over 40,000 fans at Allianz Stadium, ending an astonishing maiden season with their first loss since January 6 when, ironically, they went down to the Mariners by the same scoreline.

They entered the title decider on the back of a 13-game unbeaten streak – which included a record 10 consecutive wins – and as minor premiers having created Australian sporting history as the first start-up club to clinch silverware in their first year.

Accomplishments made even more remarkable when you factor in it was all achieved under a first-time head coach, 39-year-old Tony Popovic, who was in charge of a side that had been hurriedly thrown together just weeks before the season started.

But with the championship trophy the only thing to elude them, Beauchamp feels it now gives them a focus for next season. “It definitely hurts and that’s going to be a factor next season – we don’t want to feel that again,” he said on Monday.

“So come that first day of pre-season that’s going to be our goal to be a part of the grand final again and be on the winning side.”

The Wanderers had fielded several players on Sunday, including Aaron Mooy, Jerome Polenz, Kwabena Appiah-Kubi and Shannon Cole, who either weren’t regular starters or had just comeback from injury.

Popovic conceded maybe they weren’t “match hardened” and “weren’t as sharp as they could have been”. He said he now had an appreciation of how the Mariners feel to have lost three grand finals in the last seven years. “Losing a grand final is not easy,” he said.

“I know the Mariners have done it three times and I can see now what that feeling is like. It’s not nice.

“But you have to look at the positives.

“There’s a lot of hunger in this club to be the best we can be and we feel we can be even better next year. “Although things have gone well, there are a lot of things we’ve learned along the way.

“Everything is new for us and in every key area we want to do things a bit better. “So come the pre-season we’ll set some new goals.” Popovic acknowledged the tremendous supporter-base the club had. “I have a lot of football experience overseas,” he said.

“But it was something I’d never seen where after a big game like that and a defeat for your club, all your fans hang around for a good hour after the game. “That’s true support.”

Meanwhile, several players are out of contract – including Dino Kresinger, Joey Gibbs, Tarek Elrich and Tahj Minniecon. Popovic said he would asses things this week before deciding on their futures.

“Once we sit with the players this week … we’ll take the next step and have a look at which areas we want to improve on and whether we need to bring in some players or not.”

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