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Magpie AFL star Ron Richard dies, 85

Collingwood’s 1953 premiership star Ron Richards, regarded as one of the AFL club’s most revered figures, has died aged 85.

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Richards, who also served the Magpies as reserve-grade coach, match committee chairman and director, lost a long battle with illness on Friday morning.

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire described Richards as a Magpie royal. He said Richards was able to emerge from the considerable shadow of his celebrated older brother and 1953 premiership captain Lou, helping to guide Collingwood for decades.

Ron Richards was one of Collingwood’s greatest servants, McGuire said.

“Ron distinguished himself in everything he did at Collingwood, be it as a star of the 1953 grand final who had been picked out by Jock McHale for an unaccustomed role on the wing, coach or administrator,” McGuire said.

“Ron was best on ground in the flag triumph.

“Later, as Lou moved into the world of show business and the media, Ron dedicated himself to Collingwood, something he cared for deeply.

“He served as a thirds and seconds coach. He spent time on the board and he sat by the side of Tom Hafey and Leigh Matthews as chairman of selectors.

“In any discussion of great Collingwood men, Ron Richards — Collingwood life member, AFL life member, legend and premiership star — cannot be overlooked.”

Former teammate Murray Weideman said Richards was small, tough and courageous.

“It was a great thrill to play in that side and, if you look at Lou (Richards), Des Healey, Bob Rose, Thorold Merrett and all those great, great players to play for Collingwood that year, Ron was one of them,” ex-Collingwood skipper Weideman said.

Richards played 143 games from 1947-56.

He was Matthews’ match committee chairman when the Magpies won the 1990 flag, their first since 1958.

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Comment: Cleaning up Assad’s chemical weapons ‘new Mideast gold rush’

Giulano Porcari has spent the past decade shuttling back and forth from his native Italy to Libya, where his company has a multi-million dollar contract to destroy the country’s stockpiles of chemical weapons.

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He would love to do the same type of work in Syria, where the quantities of armaments — and the money companies like his could potentially earn for eradicating them — are exponentially larger. So, though, are the risks.

“Of course I would love to get a contract in Syria — it’s the same work we did in Libya, just a lot more of it,” he said by phone from Italy. “But at the present time it’s too dangerous. Do you think I want to be shot at? No thank you.”

Syria’s apparent willingness to put its chemical weapons under international supervision and eventually destroy them has been seen as a win for Russia, which proposed the deal. The Obama administration, meanwhile it being alternately hailed as pulling off a last-minute solution to the crisis — or chided for getting caught flat-footed by Moscow’s diplomatic maneuvering.

The actual work of eliminating Syria’s armaments won’t be done by the U.S. or Russia, however. It will be done by companies like Porcari’s firm, Sipsa, which could make enormous amounts of money for their efforts. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with Fox News, said that destroying his stockpiles will take at least one year and cost roughly $1 billion.

“I think it is a very complicated operation technically and it needs a lot, a lot of money,” he said.

The size of that potential windfall could spark a global gold rush as companies from around the world flood into Damascus hoping to get some of the work.

“I’ve had discussions with a few contractors already and they’re salivating at the prospect of working in Syria,” said Paul Walker, an expert in arms control and nonproliferation at Green Cross International. “There are not that many countries that need this type of work.”

Once Assad disclosed his sites, contractors would have to separate the chemical substances themselves from the warheads of his rockets, artillery shells or missiles that had been designed to carry them to their targets. Next would come the physical destruction of the chemical weapons themselves, which could be done two ways. The first involves spraying the chemicals themselves into specialized furnaces and then burning them at around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for one or two seconds. Nerve agents like sarin can also be rendered largely harmless by the addition of liquid sodium hydroxide, while mustard gas can be made safe with alkaline water.

Walker, who was one of the first Americans to visit Russia’s chemical weapons facilities in the 1990s, said that he would expect giant U.S. firms like Bechtel and Parsons to bid for any Syria-related contracts, particularly if the destruction work was funded by Washington. The companies declined to comment.

The firms might have a hard time winning the work, however, given the depth of the anti-U.S. feelings in the Assad government. Instead, Walker said, Russian companies — which have been destroying their own countries’ weapons stockpiles for decades – could wind up with the business.

Those contracts have the potential to be enormously lucrative. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles are thought to be disbursed across as many as 50 separate sites. Given the danger of trying to move the weapons in the middle of an active conflict, many non-proliferation experts say that new facilities would need to be built at each chemical weapons facility to destroy all of the toxic substances. Building, staffing and running that many new facilities would be so expensive that foreign companies could earn even more money than Assad has estimated.. Private security firms, which would be hired to protect both international monitors and contractors like Porcari, also stand to earn large sums of money if the destruction work goes forward.

There is one major caveat, though. Working in Syria would be extremely dangerous, and absent a peace deal some contractors might decide that the risks to their personnel outweigh the money they would earn by destroying chemical weapons in the midst of a bloody civil war. Porcari, for instance, says he wouldn’t go to Syria while its civil war was still raging.

Even if the fighting subsides, moreover, the logistics of the destruction work would be daunting. Take Libya, where Porcari’s firm has been working for years. The government of then-Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi declared that it possessed chemical weapons in 2004 and promised to get rid of them. It hired Sipsa to build an incinerator at Rabta, its largest stockpile of mustard gas. A key part of the machinery broke down shortly after the plant went into use, however, and Porcari said he wasn’t able to send in a replacement before the country erupted in civil war in 2011. More than a year passed before the company finally managed to put in the new piece of equipment.

The delay has slowed Libya’s destruction efforts significantly. Nine years after vowing to get rid of its weapons, Libya has destroyed barely half of its total mustard gas stockpile and just 40% of its stores of chemical weapons precursor elements.

Walker and other non-proliferation experts believe that destroying Syria’s stockpiles will be much harder than in Libya, and much more expensive. Companies that accept the risks of working in an active warzone stand to be very richly rewarded. The success of the international effort to force Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons will depend, in large part, on how many firms are willing to roll the dice.

©Foreign Policy, 2013

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Chieka sets Waratahs top two target

Coach Michael Cheika has boldly set the NSW Waratahs an ambitious target of finishing in the top two of the 2014 Super Rugby competition, after revealing two more newcomers to his squad.

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Former Australia A back Matt Carraro and young hooker Tolu Latu are the latest additions to the 30-man roster, leaving Cheika with only one spot to fill.

The other newcomers previously announced are Wallaby backs Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps, Springbok loose forward Jacques Potgieter, utility back Jono Lance and back-rower Tala Gray.

Cheika will look for one more front-rower to round out a squad for which he has set a testing goal, after they finished ninth overall and third in the Australian Conference in his first year in charge.

“If we can finish top two, then we’re a chance of winning it – that’s our holy grail,” Cheika said.

He wasn’t concerned he would be placing undue pressure on his players by setting such a high target.

“I think the players would be dirty on me if I didn’t want to set that ambition, now that I feel the base is there,” Cheika said.

“I’m still not convinced about this whole pressure thing. If you are not playing the game to win it, why else are you playing?”

He said focusing on their mental approach and converting more scoring opportunities would be the areas they needed to target to crash the top two.

Cheika said NSW needed to capitalise more on their strength in the scrum and lineout and adopt a more physical approach, while continuing to employ a running style.

“Certain parts of our team will have to become better,” Cheika said.

“The defensive side of the game, we can put a bit more sting in our tail.”

Winger-centre Carraro played for the Brumbies in 2007 and the Waratahs in 2008-09 and returns to Australia after club stints in England and France.

Latu 20, who played in Sydney University’s club premiership-winning side last weekend, is just the second hooker in the squad behind Wallabies star Tatafu Polota-Nau.

He started in the centres before moving into the back-row.

“I got told ‘mate, you are too unfit and you are too slow to be in the loose forwards so you should try your hand in the front row’ … that was probably the best move that I’ve made,” Latu said.

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PM Abbott rejects call for GST changes

The federal coalition has again rejected calls by cash-strapped Western Australia to lift the rate of the GST but still plans to include the impost in a broader review of the taxation system.

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The Tony Abbott-led government will unveil a discussion paper on tax reform in coming months inviting comment on the GST, ahead of a white paper due before the end of its first term.

Liberal Premier Colin Barnett says GST revenues flowing to the states and territories from the consumption tax aren’t growing fast enough to fund basic services like health and education.

He acknowledges Mr Abbott made a promise during the recent federal election not to lift the 10 per cent GST or broaden its base to include food and health services before the next poll.

But Mr Barnett believes most Australians would be prepared to “cop” a rate rise to 12.5 per cent if it meant delivering vital state services.

WA was this week downgraded by global credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for showing “limited political will” to adopt measures to increase state government revenue.

ACT Labor Chief Minister Katy Gallagher supported the WA leader’s call for a debate on the GST.

“If there is to be any rational discussion about the GST, all states and territories need to back in any federal government that’s prepared to examine and look at whether the rate does need to go up, or exemptions need to change,” she said.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said there would be “no change to the GST, full-stop, end of story”.

While states like WA faced “structural challenges” to fund schools and hospitals, there was no easy solution.

“Sometimes it’s too easy to default to a single silver-bullet solution when in fact the solution needs to be much broader and far more sophisticated,” Mr Hockey said on Friday.

Mr Hockey was speaking in Bali, where he was attending an APEC Finance Ministers meeting.

Acting Labor leader Chris Bowen said the ALP remained opposed to any change to the GST.

Tasmanian Labor Premier Lara Giddings spoke with the prime minister by telephone on Friday and urged Mr Abbott not to change the way the GST revenue is distributed.

WA and Queensland say the funds should be paid out on a per capita basis, but Ms Giddings says this would leave Tasmania $700 million short.

“Liberal state governments around this nation have to get their hands off Tasmania’s fair share of the GST,” she said, adding she also did not support any change to the base or rate of the tax.

WA Liberal Senator Alan Eggleston supports a review of federal-state financial relations, including the GST, to fund roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“The GST in its present form … needs to be discussed,” he told AAP.

Acting Queensland Premier Jeff Seeney says the Newman government won’t push to change the GST.

But Liberal Victorian Premier Denis Napthine wants a larger slice of the GST pie.

South Australia – like Tasmania – opposes any changes to the distribution, base or rate of the GST.

Northern Territory Treasurer Dave Tollner said changing the GST could hurt Australia’s exports.

WA this week lost its coveted triple-A credit rating when it was downgraded to AA+.

NSW Treasurer Mike Baird would not comment on lifting the rate of the GST, but said all states were united in the push to lower the GST threshold for overseas online purchases.

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