Nauru asylum seekers on hunger strike, advocates claim

The asylum seeker processing facility in Nauru.MOST of the 381 asylum seekers on Nauru are on a one-day hunger strike, with protesters calling on the government to close the camp and begin processing their claims immediately, according to refugee advocates.

The Department of Immigration rejects the claim that most asylum seekers on the island are taking part in a hunger strike. It considers people to have gone on hunger strike if they are observed to be missing three consecutive meals.

But Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul told The Saturday Age he had spoken with three asylum seekers via Skype, all of whom said the hunger strike had begun.

The hunger strike coincided with Angam Day, a public holiday held to commemorate Nauru’s population rising above 1500 – the lowest considered sustainable for a population to survive – in 1949.

A Nauruan government spokesman said he was unable to confirm the reports because of the public holiday, but the Immigration Department said it was aware of only one person taking part in a hunger strike. Advocates believe that man has been refusing to eat for about two weeks. Another man was taken to the camp’s clinic on Thursday night after falling ill.

Meanwhile, the Nauru government says a deal was struck to charge Australia $1000 a month in visa fees for each asylum seeker detained on the island months ago.

The ABC revealed yesterday that visas for asylum seekers would be charged under a new category, Australian regional processing visas, which will cost $3000 a quarter for each asylum seeker. If the camp reaches its 1500-person capacity, the scheme would cost $90 million over five years.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it was ”reasonable” that people transferred to Nauru held valid visas. ”No costs have been paid at this stage,” he said. ”The visa charges are the subject of discussions between Australia and Nauru, so it would not be appropriate to comment further. These ongoing costs are factored into the operating budget for Nauru.”

But a spokesman for the Nauru government said the matter had already been resolved.

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Swan’s switch left Rudd feeling betrayed, book says

Maxine McKew holds Wayne Swan squarely responsible for mishandling the mining tax.THE night before he turned against his prime minister, Wayne Swan went to Kevin Rudd’s office for a drink and congratulated him on defending the new mining tax, a new book reports.

As Julia Gillard’s challenge unfolded the next day, the man Mr Rudd had appointed Treasurer did not tell him he was abandoning him.

”In the case of Wayne, I did not even receive a telephone call advising me he had decided to withdraw his support from me and back Julia as replacement prime minister,” Mr Rudd tells the former Labor MP Maxine McKew in her new book. ”I had to telephone him myself.”

Mr Swan was responsible for bungling the introduction of the mining tax and Mr Rudd called in the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, to fix the mess, Ms McKew writes in Tales from the Political Trenches, to be published on Monday.

But while Mr Rudd had defended Mr Swan, the Treasurer did not reciprocate.

”In response to my question on the Wednesday afternoon,” the day of the coup, ”when I asked him ‘What’s happening?’, he replied he would be ‘voting for change’,” Mr Rudd says. ”It was only later that I discovered that an arrangement had been put in place to make him deputy prime minister” in a Gillard government. ”But the core point was this: at no stage did either Julia or Wayne say to me that, unless I undertook change x, y or z, there would be a challenge to my leadership.

”So did I feel let down and indeed betrayed? Well of course.”

But last night a spokesman for Mr Swan said: ”On the basis of the existing reporting of this book, it appears to be too full of errors, misunderstanding and untruths – and far too heavily skewed towards one particular version of events – to be taken seriously as balanced or accurate journalism.”

The Treasurer has more important things to focus on, such as ensuring Australia’s economy remains the strongest performing economy in the advanced world, the spokesman said.

Ms McKew offers a tough verdict on the coup against a first-term prime minister. ”It’s never happened before in our party. It was engineered and executed by a small group of people intent on indulging their own political vanities.”

Ms McKew is referring to the factional lieutenants and union chiefs who led the coup, the so-called ”faceless men”. But she also reports that Ms Gillard was using internal research to undermine Mr Rudd days before the coup as part of a ”conspiracy”.

Ms Gillard has maintained that she refused any part in any plotting and only made up her mind to challenge on the day of the coup.

Mr Rudd has largely been blamed for mishandling the mining tax. The announcement of the tax in its original form in 2010 provoked the big miners BHP Billiton, Rio and Xstrata to fund a vigorous $22 million ad campaign against the tax. It was used within the caucus to argue that Mr Rudd had gone to war with the business community.

But Ms McKew holds Mr Swan squarely responsible. Mr Rudd had wanted to avoid a contentious debate on a mining tax and so had set down key conditions for Mr Swan in setting up the tax. ”Rudd told Swan that he needed to secure the support of at least one of the major industry players and that he needed to have the states on side. Neither would be easy. But as West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has said, Rudd’s ‘jaw just about hit the table’ when Barnett told the PM at a COAG meeting in April 2010 that the tax was a dead duck”.

The big mining firms ”felt blindsided by an uncompromising Treasurer”, Ms McKew writes. ”Swan had not delivered and Rudd had come to believe that he had been sold a pup.”

Mr Rudd asked Mr Ferguson to find a political solution. He believed that one was in sight but the coup ejected Mr Rudd before one could be delivered.

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Labor in row on foreign workers

The draft report has already caused ructions.BATTLE lines are being drawn over a caucus committee report that urges a tougher attitude to bringing in foreign workers for resource projects.

The committee, chaired by Senator Doug Cameron, calls for a ”fundamental reassessment” of what skills are needed and available for the resources sector, given the recent downturn in employment opportunities for Australians in the sector.

”Discussions should take place with the trade union movement in order to develop an agreed formula for access to Enterprise Migration Agreements, 457 visas [to bring in foreign workers] and the operation of regional migration agreements,” the draft says.

The committee was set up after ALP and union concern over the migration deal between the government and Gina Rinehart for workers for the Roy Hill project.

The draft report has already caused ructions. The committee’s deputy chairman, Andrew Leigh, an economist, has resigned from his post because he disagrees with the interventionist recommendations. The Australian Financial Review yesterday reported Labor frontbenchers were claiming that rebel backbenchers were pressuring Prime Minister Julia Gillard to dump enterprise migration agreements and were using the issue to destabilise her leadership.

Senator Cameron, a known Rudd supporter, angrily denied the destabilisation claim, saying it was ”outrageous” that some were viewing the committee’s work through a leadership prism. He said mining companies must have a ”social licence” from the community. At present the economic and social contributions of the resources sector were insufficient to spread the benefits of the boom.

The draft report, due in caucus in late November, calls for the government to sponsor an independent private sector study on Australia’s increased reliance on the mining industry.

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Union agrees to staff working with puffing punters

Backtracked … Mark Boyd, NSW secretary of the Union ‘United Voice’.THE union representing hospitality workers, United Voice, has dropped its opposition to smoking by high rollers in VIP gaming rooms in a deal struck over James Packer’s proposed $1 billion hotel and casino at Barangaroo.

A memorandum of understanding between the union and Mr Packer’s Crown Ltd says smoking by high rollers would be a ”commercial necessity” at the complex, which would target the lucrative Asian gambling market.

The agreement is a radical departure from the union’s position in June, when it accused the NSW government of ”gambling with the health of casino workers” by not supporting an opposition push to ban smoking in the Star casino’s high roller room.

The NSW secretary of United Voice, Mark Boyd, said at the time: “The health standards are clear, there is no safe level for tobacco smoke. That’s why it is barred in every other workplace in NSW and these laws are being extended to open areas.”

He added “the casino says working in these rooms is optional but it is clear that failure to work in these rooms can damage career prospects”.

Asked why the union had changed its position, Mr Boyd said it had looked at workplace practices and air filtering technology at Crown’s casino in Melbourne. ”It’s not that we don’t have a concern any more,” he said. ”It’s that if you get rostering and technology right then it’s less of an issue.”

Under the deal, United Voice will have an office in the complex and union officials will be able to make presentations to employees during induction training.

Mr Boyd said the number of jobs available in the high roller rooms at Barangaroo would be ”a very small percentage” of the overall workforce.

The former federal Liberal leader John Hewson has questioned the NSW government’s handling of the project, which it has agreed to move to the second stage of an approval process.

Mr Packer’s proposal is being assessed under the government’s ”unsolicited proposal” process, which means if cabinet decides to award a second Sydney casino licence it will not go to tender.

”The problem here is that people perceive that Packer’s bulldozed this through,” Dr Hewson told ABC radio. He also criticised Mr Packer’s claim that even if there had been a tender, he would have won.

The Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, said she was appalled by the lack of transparency in the process. ”There’s no public consultation and it’s all been done behind closed doors by both the major parties to James Packer,” she said. ”It’s public land. It’s probably one of the most important sites in Australia”.

A Crown spokesman declined to comment.

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Signals from a careful commuter

She’s got the toughest job in the government and she’s famously shy about her private life. For some she’s going to be the next premier, for others she’s the politician with the unpronounceable surname, but for a woman who ought to have the weight of the world on her shoulders Gladys Berejiklian is travelling light.

“I am very customer-focused,” she smiles when asked how the job of fixing Sydney’s transport woes is going.

“If I get presented with a proposal the first thing I ask is: how does it help the customer?”

So far the customers appear to be giving her the benefit of the doubt. But for how long? A year and a half into her ministry, Gladys Berejiklian, member for Willoughby, NSW Minister for Transport, knows public patience can’t last.

But if she is feeling anxious she isn’t showing it.

We talk over a Friday lunch at the New Shanghai restaurant, downstairs in Chatswood Chase. It’s in the middle of her electorate and she knows people everywhere. There is even a baby to admire. The place is as busy as … well a Chinese restaurant in Chatswood and Berejiklian wastes little time on the menu. “I’m starving!” she exclaims and immediately suggests the Rainbow Beef as a specialty of the house. We settle for that with stir-fried green beans and some salty prawns and dumplings. I suggest the eel. She’s not keen but I go ahead anyway and end up being the only person who has a go at it.

We sit close together on stools at a small table that is soon crowded with dishes and chopsticks and her preferred tipple of green tea. As we talk I notice her acknowledge people with a discreet wave of the hand or a smile. Such is the political life.

Up close, Gladys Berejiklian is friendly and warm and knows her ground. She is polite and makes time. She is interested and asks questions, despite glancing at her BlackBerry to remind her she has six meetings in a row after our lunch. It’s a punishing work schedule that begins early and finishes late. It can make a mess of your health but she looks well and says she gets to the gym.

I don’t comment on her clothes but do notice a silver necklace with a name I can’t read. I politely inquire; “It’s my name in Armenian,” she replies with a laugh. “I had a bet in the office that you would never bother asking about it!” I feel suitably chastened.

Berejiklian is well aware that success in the transport portfolio is one of the key measuring sticks by which Barry O’Farrell’s government will be judged.

But what does success mean?

Well for a start she won’t be rushed. “I understand that people want me to announce things but that was what Labor did. Announce things all the time and never do anything. I won’t do that.”

In Victoria, Barry O’Farrell’s Liberal counterpart, Ted Baillieu, has earned the sobriquet “Timid Ted” for his hesitancy on the path to reform. Critics level the same charge against O’Farrell. He’s too cautious; he won’t get on with things.

As Nick Greiner once exasperatedly said to me about O’Farrell, “Look, Barry is Barry.”

Berejiklian bristles at the idea that O’Farrell might go down in history as a do-nothing Premier. “Barry will be remembered very well,” she says firmly. “He is doing a lot behind the scenes and making the decisions that set the solid foundations for the future.”

After 16 years in opposition and with a landslide on his lap it was O’Farrell who last year famously brushed aside an interview request from the ABC’s election-night host, Kerry O’Brien, with the words, “I’m only going to talk to Gladys.”

So if the proverbial political bus rumbles along doesn’t she have the inside running over the Treasurer, Mike Baird, for succession? She has seen this coming and her political discipline kicks in. She doesn’t smile and I get the message.

“Barry is my boss. I don’t agree that I have a more favoured relationship with him than others. He has good relations with all the Cabinet.”

What about leading the party one day?

“I don’t have time to take my eye off the job I have,” she says. “I don’t want to speculate about the future leadership. I am concentrating on getting the best job done that I can.”

For a person who’s been in politics for so long she is strangely reticent about her private self and is especially reserved about the issue of gender in politics.

I ask around these issues until she says, “look I’ve asked you twice, so please …”

But I can’t resist. After all it’s been the week from hell for misogynists. Julia Gillard has given them a pasting in Parliament and all over the world her speech has been tweeted, bookmarked and applauded. So what did Gladys think?

“I haven’t watched it.”

Really? I look at her but she is quite resolved. It seems hard to believe.

I get a sense of how determined she can be.

“I am not comfortable talking about politics through gender. I have always felt that the best thing you could do as a woman was to do the best job possible.”

Yes, but surely she has experienced what many talented women feel, the everyday, commonplace condescension that accompanies the successful woman?

“As far as the Liberal Party is concerned I have never experienced any discrimination,” she replies with a smile.

The daughter of Armenian migrants who fled from Syria and Jerusalem in the wake of the Armenian genocide and arrived separately in the late 1960s, Gladys grew up in the midst of the biggest Armenian community in Sydney, centred on Willoughby. The eldest of three sisters, she studied hard and stayed at home until she was 30. She worked her way up in the Commonwealth Bank, was interested in politics from an early age and had Peter Collins as an early mentor. She is a close friend of the federal Liberal MP Joe Hockey. There’s an Armenian connection there, too.

She speaks her parents’ language and has a strong sense of her heritage. She worries as they have relatives in Aleppo and Syria now is a dangerous place.

Berejiklian is single and elsewhere she has said that perhaps she will meet the right man some day. I don’t ask her about it. It’s a tough enough question for anyone in her position and politics doesn’t give you any privilege on the answer.

Right now she is struggling with trying to prioritise Sydney’s transport options. There seem to be so many projects and where is the capital coming from to fund any of them?

I suggest to her that from the outside it looks as though O’Farrell is hedging his bets on transport and setting up two competing streams of advice. First there is her Transport Ministry and then there is Infrastructure NSW, set up in the middle of last year under the leadership of Greiner, which has just produced a major report to the government recommending the WestConnex roads project as its priority. The Premier says he will go ahead with the WestConnex proposal. But Infrastructure NSW has plenty to say on buses and light and heavy rail, too. So where does that leave Gladys?

She insists there is no conflict. That Infrastructure NSW was always going to be used as a vehicle for identifying the key road project and that’s what it has done.

So how does she want to be remembered after the first term?

“I want the Opal card rolled out across trains, buses and ferries so it is available for most customers.

“I want to finish the Inner West Light Rail extension, I want the South West Rail Link well under way and construction happening on the North West Rail Link.”

I ask about how it can possibly take so long for an integrated ticketing system such as the Opal card to be introduced when other cities have their Oyster (London) and Octopus (Hong Hong)? She sighs and I gather has asked the same question.

She says she has been on the front foot with the bureaucracy. “The first decision I made as minister was to cut the number of agencies, from 10 to four. I’d been planning what I wanted to do so it was very early when I did that.

“It’s taken a while to get the bureaucracy right – now though they know that every proposal that comes to me needs to show the benefit to the customer.”

She is “absolutely committed to the North West rail project”, agrees that light rail can “move more people and is definitely better in some places”, but adds that “a quality public transport network is one where modes are integrated and you have the right mode in the right place”.

She’s no ideologue, “There’s no one answer to Sydney’s transport issues. We will need everything – heavy and light rail, buses, ferries, cars, active transport and most importantly integration between all of these.”

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Shock losses could signal Poms’ sickly state


No More Joy on Singo’s face after Gai picks barrier WTF in the Cox Plate … Nike dumps Armstrong but McQuaid clings to the UCI … Sydney braces itself for a summer of Bernie Tomic … Steve Hansen talks about everything but the end of the All Blacks’ winning streak … Richie McCaw cops another knee, then Scott Higginbotham cops four weeks … and it’s Potter’s field next season at Wests Tigers.


Did I fly back from Brisbane into a parallel universe? A lot of the big guys lost this week in the Champions League. Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, not to mention Real Madrid and AC Milan, were beaten by the likes of Ajax, Shakhtar, Schalke, Dortmund and Malaga. Never ones to underplay a problem, the British press pondered whether the results meant England was the ”sick man of European football”. The last time things were so grim was this month a decade ago, when Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United and Newcastle were handed their hats by the little guys. United were the only ones to pull off a midweek win but Fergie has his own problems. Anti-racism tee with your newspaper, anyone?


It’s been more than three years since the horrors of the Sri Lankan cricket team’s ordeal in Pakistan. Eight people were killed and seven players wounded when the bus was stopped outside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore and fired upon by 12 gunmen. No international team has toured the country since, but Pakistan’s cricket chiefs are hoping bulletproof buses will help persuade them to return. The Pakistan Cricket Board has ordered the armored buses this week, and hopes their purchase, along with a new stadium in Islamabad and the success of two exhibition matches in Karachi, will convince other cricket boards to return to the country next year.


America’s virgin track princess Lolo Jones is going for her third Olympics, only this time it could be the winter one. After a controversy-laden London campaign, Jones was this week named on the US bobsled team as a ”push” athlete – the one who runs behind, pushing the bobsled down the track, before jumping in the back behind her teammate. The women’s coach Todd Hays said he targeted track Olympians to give the team the benefit of their experience, as well as their strength and power. Jones is hoping her performance does the talking this time.


Call him the Nathan Sharpe of American football. Veteran Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has been asked back to the NFL team after his replacement Fred Davis went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. Instead of a ”coffee with [Wallabies coach] Robbie Deans”, a la Sharpie, Cooley took the following steps in his negotiations.

1. Talk to the team doctor: ”Literally, you go into the training room, and the doctor’s like, ‘How are you feeling, man, good? Good. OK, you passed.”’

2. Ask for a slab: ”Literally, I have text correspondence trying to negotiate a case of beer into my contract. They wouldn’t do it. I wanted it in writing so much.”

Let’s hope Sharpie’s getting good advice.


Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul. Otis Redding. Long before Jon Cryer was subjugated by Charlie Sheen/Ashton Kutcher he was Duckie in Pretty in Pink, dancing like a champion in a pair of Dr Martens to Try a Little Tenderness. Maybe not complete, but definitely unbelievable. Do I offend?



Meet Australia’s ”extreme utility back”. Taking versatility to new levels, Adam Ashley-Cooper has played an astonishing three Test matches each at fullback, centre and wing this season. That’s nine games out of 11, 80 minutes in all but the horror on the Highveld, and three different positions, three times. Not bad for a bloke who only took up the sport at 15.

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The one over that ended a career

Bit by bit … a “Magic Eye” sequence breaks up Ian Meckiff’s action during the Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963. Bit by bit … a “Magic Eye” sequence breaks up Ian Meckiff’s action during the Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963.

‘BASICALLY, it’s something I don’t really talk about,” says Ian Meckiff down the phone line from his Melbourne home. I’ve left a message for the former Australian fast bowler at Victoria Golf Club, where he used to be club captain, and he has called back immediately.

Meckiff is 77 now, and 49 years have elapsed since one of cricket’s most controversial episodes, one that brought an 18-Test career to a skidding and humiliating halt in the space of a single over. Meckiff still does not have all the answers as to why on that particular day, the second of the 1963 Brisbane Test against South Africa, his career went up in flames.

Remarkably, the umpire who called him for throwing four times in his one and only over just after the lunch break remained a friend and occasional drinking mate until the day he died. Col Egar, who would go on to be an Australian team manager and for three years chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, stood at square leg, and ruled Meckiff’s second, third, fifth and ninth balls illegitimate with no-balls. Australia’s captain Richie Benaud did not bowl the left-armer again in the Test, and Meckiff, at 28, promptly quit the game afterwards.

Egar required a police escort from the ground, and is said to have received death threats, but Meckiff says they remained on good terms until the former Adelaide umpire’s death in 2008. Before the infamous Test, the pair had won a lawn bowls competition in Melbourne together, and Meckiff says Egar brought the trophy to Brisbane to give it to him.

“I go over to Adelaide pretty much every year with Lindsay Kline, and we stay with Barry Jarman … We go over for the Adelaide Test match,” Meckiff says. “One of the first things that we do actually is on the first day, always at 11 o’clock when the game is starting, we would have a beer at the Colin Egar Bar.

“We’ve been doing that for years. Egar was always there of course until he died so we always had a chat. We always had a beer with him. He was a good bloke actually, a good fella to have a drink with, good fun.”

He says they never spoke about that afternoon in Brisbane, Meckiff maintaining a code of silence on the issue despite long-held suggestions of a conspiracy involving England administrators and Donald Bradman, at the time a member of the Australian Board of Control, to rub him out in an effort to rid the game of a proliferation of illegal actions. Meckiff had been no-balled in Shield cricket earlier in 1963 but not by Egar, who had passed him in domestic matches and during the tied Test with the West Indies in 1960-61, when Meckiff was run out in the most dramatic of climaxes.

“With all the furore that was going on about Murali, he [Egar] did say, ‘The way the rules are today, you’d be 100 per cent pure,'” Meckiff says. “But we never really discussed it, whether he was told by Bradman. It was printed that Bradman called together a lot of the umpires in Adelaide because he wanted them to clean up a lot of throwing problems because they had a couple of guys there that were a bit suspect.

“But whether he spoke to Col personally and said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’ I wouldn’t know. I don’t really want to know, to be honest.”

Meckiff had been first fingered by the English press during the 1957-58 England tour of Australia, and before the reciprocal visit to the old enemy in 1961 Bradman and board chairman Bill Dowling ventured to England to thrash out a truce on throwing laws and interpretations. Meckiff did not ultimately make that tour, breaking down with an Achilles injury against the West Indies, but with Australia due back in England in 1964 and having been recalled to the Test side, he was back in the firing line.

“When it came around to ’63, there was a tour of England coming up, it was most likely I think that Bradman and [England chairman of selectors] Gubby Allen did a deal. I don’t really know but supposedly that’s what happened,” Meckiff says. “It was one of those things – the game is bigger than the individual, I’ve always said – but unfortunately it was a disappointing way, more or less, to finish my career. I never played any serious cricket after that.

“I was told I wouldn’t be able to play first-class cricket anywhere but Victoria. To even play district cricket in Melbourne you could always run into an umpire who wanted to get his name in the paper, so I was far better out of it all.”

Meckiff at least had golf to fall back on – his handicap was as low as three at one point – and he forged successful post-cricket careers in radio commentary, then in advertising and sports signage for decades after that snap retirement.

No one’s life should be summed up in a sentence and, however cricket remembers Meckiff, he is content and proud of what he achieved in the game.

“It’s something that wasn’t the best time in my life,” he says. “But, by the same token, life goes on.”

Meckiff hangs up the phone. South Africa are in town tomorrow, and he will be watching when, after half a century, they finally return to the Gabba.

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IPL pot of gold could be in store for Starc

JOHANNESBURG: Mitchell Starc’s brilliant run of form is likely to have Indian Premier League franchises circling and could net the left-armer a $500,000-plus pay day in the next 18 months.

Starc is likely to be one of the most sought-after players at next year’s IPL auction, should he decide to nominate, but it’s in 2014 when he could really cash in. That is when the IPL will hold its next big player auction, when all players, apart from those deemed ”icons”, return to the market.

Starc, the Champions League’s leading wicket-taker heading into the semi-finals, has been one of the revelations of the tournament, which has become a rich source of talent for IPL recruiters.

West Indies all-rounder Kieron Pollard burst to prominence in the event in 2009 and was bought several months later for $US750,000 by Mumbai Indians after a bidding war.

Sunil Narine was last year’s rags-to-riches story, fetching $US700,000 from Kolkata after starring for Trinidad and Tobago at the Champions League a year ago.

The man responsible for assembling the Kolkata playing roster, which won this year’s IPL title, has been impressed by what he has seen of Starc in recent weeks.

”Everyone is on the lookout for good international fast bowling because there aren’t that many brilliant ones around,” said Kolkata’s team director, Joy Bhattacharya. ”Starc is a left-hander, which is always an added bonus. What happens in the IPL is a lot of Indian batsmen who wouldn’t have seen a lot of high quality international pace, and [being] left-handed makes it slightly more difficult. He has the height and bounce.”

IPL rules also enhance Starc’s prospects because each team must contain seven Indian players and ”Indian domestic players will not be used to the bounce and swing that Starc obtains”, Bhattacharya said.

He would not comment on Starc’s market value, but the signing of then-unheralded Dan Christian for $US900,000 last year shows how a player’s price could skyrocket should they attract interest from multiple clubs.

IPL berths will be limited next year, Bhattacharya said, as franchises will buy players only to replace those unavailable, but Starc will be hot property in 2014.

Bhattacharya said a player who was deemed suitable for Indian pitches and consistently performed at high standards would have great value.

Starc showed his worth on the subcontinent in the World Twenty20, where only Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis and Shane Watson claimed more wickets.

Starc is unlikely to be available for the Sixers’ Big Bash League title defence this summer as he is tipped to feature heavily in Australia’s Test and ODI campaigns.

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Tough draw but Sincero can make mark

On track: Sincero and jockey Michael Rodd will team up in today’s Cox Plate.LANNISTER (Race 1, No. 5)

I’ve got a nice opinion of her. I galloped her at Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning and she felt like a two-year-old with quite a bit of potential. Things won’t be easy from the barrier, as she’s likely to be caught wide, but has ability.

BEYOND PARDON (Race 2, No. 6)

He’s the oldest horse in the race, but he’s always been a genuine, honest sprinter in every preparation he tackles. He’s nice and fresh here and should get a terrific run from the barrier – and he’s always a threat in this grade.

SUPER COOL (Race 5, No. 4)

Very honest and his past three efforts have been strong. Having said that though, the very short-priced favourite, It’s A Dundeel, is going to be extremely hard to beat. But if he runs a forward race here, we’ll probably have a look at the derby next Saturday for him.

ILLO (Race 7, No. 4)

Michael Walker rode him the other day and thought he was working into the race like a winner, but he appeared to find the ground a bit hard. He’s a good horse on his day and if there’s a bit of sting out of the ground he’ll be right in the finish.

SINCERO (Race 8, No. 2)

Has had a faultless lead-up to this year’s Cox Plate. He’s got a terrific turn of foot when he needs it, which is always a major asset in a Cox Plate. Sure, he’s going to need some luck from his awkward barrier, but I wouldn’t discount him.

TRANQUERA (Race 9, No. 8)

Very honest filly who never runs a bad race, although she is rising in grade here. She’s good enough to cope with that and I would expect from the draw she’ll be right in the mix.

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It’s almost too close to call

THIS would have to be one of the most confusing Cox Plates in recent history. There is no standout weight-for-age performer, the three-year-olds have just as many cons as pros, and a pick-it-yourself barrier draw has thrown another curve ball at punters trying to assess the race.

There are three important form lines heading into today’s race: the Caulfield Stakes, Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Guineas. Of those, the Caulfield Stakes has been the most popular source of Cox Plate winners, with 14 horses completing the double.

That is great news for Gary Hennessy, trainer of New Zealander Ocean Park. The lightly raced four-year-old has won three group 1 races from his last three starts, including the Underwood Stakes and the Caulfield Stakes, but he is yet to race at Moonee Valley.

Turnbull winner Green Moon has plenty going for him, including a progressive profile this preparation. He took the group 1 event at his third run from a spell.

Three-year-olds have raced with mixed success in the Cox Plate but generally when a high-class colt or filly take their place against the older horses, they tend to run well – especially if they are an on-pace runner.

Guineas winner All Too Hard will get back in the field which is not an ideal scenario, but Gai Waterhouse stablemates Proisir and Pierro will be up on the pace. They will be extraordinarily tough to run down if they have recovered from recent hiccups.

And what of the hardy campaigners Shoot Out, Glass Harmonium, and More Joyous? Tried and true weight-for-age horses have an outstanding record in the Cox Plate, so these war horses must be respected.

Barriers often determine group 1 races, and Green Moon undoubtedly has the best of the draw. Pierro is also drawn well and will give a serious kick, while Ethiopia could be the blowout runner.

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