Abbott adviser warns on national income

Maurice Newman, Tony Abbott’s pick as head of his Business Advisory Council. Photo: Rob HomerTony Abbott’s pick as the head of his Business Advisory Council says Australia faces a collapse in the growth of national income so severe it will feel ”like hitting a brick wall”.

Maurice Newman was until 2012 chairman of the ABC and is a former chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange.

Addressing the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia in Sydney on Monday night, he spoke of losing his ”political virginity” by throwing his lot in with the Coalition after years having ”voted for and worked for both sides”.

”Openly declaring support for one side before an election shows clearly where your sympathy lies,” he said. ”However having watched five long years of reckless spending, economic waste, class warfare particularly aimed at business and the mindless destruction of Australia’s international competitiveness, I thought I had a civic duty to stand up.”

”I have seen and heard nothing since the election to question that judgment,” he said. ”Indeed I am shocked that so much economic damage can be inflicted in just six years.”

”Labor’s commitments to its ‘better schools’ plan and the national disability insurance scheme were made in the clear knowledge of a budget already under serious and continuing pressure.”

Mr Newman said growth in real gross national income was about to collapse. ”Having become accustomed to better than 2 per cent annual growth for 22 consecutive years, we are now facing the prospect of growth with a zero in front of it. That will feel like hitting a brick wall,” he said.

Australia could no longer afford corporate welfare in the form of support to the car industry and ailing food processors. ”Giving taxpayer subsidies to ailing companies has proved to be like giving aspirin to the terminally ill. It temporarily relieves the pain but does nothing to combat the underlying disease of being uncompetitive.”

But Australia should consider relaxing competition laws in order to allow Australian companies to ”acquire the necessary critical mass” to become national champions winning business abroad.

Industrial relations should be reformed, even if the idea brings forth ”screams of outrage and the spectre of WorkChoices”.

”We cannot hide from the fact that Australian wage rates are very high by international standards, and our system is dogged by rigidities,” he said.

Mr Newman said he was speaking in a personal capacity.

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ASIC probes DJ directors’ share buys

David Jones has engaged heavyweight law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to handle its dealings with the corporate regulator, which has confirmed it is examining share acquisitions by two directors of the retailer’s shares just before the release of its quarterly sales.

One of the law firm’s senior partners, Philippa Stone, is a director of David Jones but she is not one of the two directors whose share buying is the focus of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s attention.

ASIC is taking its microscope to the share purchases by Steve Vamos and Leigh Clapham, who were both sanctioned by David Jones chairman Peter Mason.

Mason has stated publicly he does not think the quarterly sales data was price-sensitive.

However, this view has been questioned by several shareholders and will be examined by the regulator.

While the transactions were undertaken within the trading window allowed by David Jones’ internal rules, these are trumped by companies law that does not

allow trading by parties with knowledge of price-sensitive information.

So it comes down to a judgment around whether the quarterly sales numbers are price-sensitive.

Mason, Vamos and Clapham need look no further than the company’s own announcement to the ASX. All David Jones’ quarterly sales announcements have a price-sensitive symbol attached to them.

The share price rose more than 6 per cent when the sales numbers were released because they were better than the market had expected.

Vamos and Clapham followed corporate procedure to the letter and sounded out the chairman. It was only after the issue caused a stir in the media that Mason approached the regulator.

It is not clear whether Stone – a heavy hitter inside the law firm – assisted the chairman in dealing with ASIC. She is on the Law Council of Australia’s corporations law committee and ASIC’s equity offerings liaison committee. She is also a member of the Australian Securities Exchange listing appeals tribunal.

Mason said: ”Andrew Eastwood of Herbert Smith Freehills is assisting the company.”

The other recent David Jones ASX statement that had a price-sensitive tag alongside it was chief executive Paul Zahra’s intention to announce his resignation.

While these two issues might seen unrelated, they intersect in some respects. The departure of Zahra has prompted closer examination of the company and its corporate governance practices, including disclosure.

When Zahra’s decision to exit was initially announced, the market was told it was an amicable decision and he was just tired. But over subsequent weeks, information has dribbled out that the chairman and two directors under the spotlight were at loggerheads with Zahra.

It seems the directors wanted to show support for the company in the wake of Zahra’s departure announcement and bought stock, which also happened to be a couple of days after the quarter books were ruled off but before the release was made public.

ASIC is understood to have already begun interviewing some David Jones directors and examining emails between the directors and the chairman.

At best, the three men are potentially guilty of an error of judgment and a lack of an understanding of the industry and what factors can move a retailer’s share price. It is understood all David Jones directors receive weekly updates on sales.

Zahra’s relationship with Mason and a couple of other directors appears to have been the main cause of his decision to announce his resignation. The major shareholders want Zahra to stay and have voiced their support publicly for his strategy, which has started to get traction and is reflected in the full-year results and sales for the first quarter.

It is understood the root of the tension between Zahra and the three board members is around what has been described as interference in management matters.

The issue apparently came to a head at a board meeting on October 21 at which Zahra registered his protest.

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New toll road to fame and fortune?

Just over a year into the top job, Transurban boss Scott Charlton has put excitement back into listed toll roads by positioning the company as the next owner of Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel and flagging interest in buying the $4 billion-plus Queensland Motorways.

If Charlton can pull off both deals he will have created the most efficient toll road operator in the world and in the process achieved world dominance in the listed toll road operator space. It now owns all or part of nine toll roads in Sydney, Melbourne and the US.

He has also shown that the owner and operator model for toll roads can work, in sharp contrast to the litany of disasters over the past few years with traffic forecasts for toll roads by third parties inflated, resulting in several toll roads being placed in receivership, costing investors and banks billions of dollars.

In the case of the Cross City Tunnel, which was put into receivership in September for a second time in seven years, Charlton has pulled off a master stroke with the purchase of Royal Bank of Scotland’s debt exposure to the toll road for $475 million, a significant discount to its estimated $612 million face value.

It was a smart deal on both sides because RBS is keen to reduce its debt before a December 31 calendar balance date and had decided that the Cross City Tunnel was one headache too many. RBS called in the receivers in September with a view to selling the asset and getting repaid.

Transurban has made no secret it would like to buy Cross City Tunnel – at the right price. The tunnel connects with Transurban’s 75 per cent-owned Eastern Distributor motorway, which, combined with its ownership of key Sydney Motorway Network concessions such as the Eastern Distributor and the M5 South West motorway, gives it further advantages to leverage – and may present new opportunities to innovate around delivery.

Charlton’s decision to go direct to RBS and negotiate to buy the debt at a discount to face value, puts it in the box seat to do what nobody else has been able to do: make money out of Cross City Tunnel.

As the secured creditor Transurban can either cut a deal with the receiver to swap the debt for the asset or, if another party makes an offer that is higher than the face value of the debt, Transurban can outbid it or earn a bucket load of cash. If it chooses the latter it could make more than $100 million in profit.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Transurban said it would also pay an additional fee of up to $27.5 million over four years to RBS if traffic numbers on the Cross City Tunnel picked up relative to Transurban’s assumptions.

This isn’t the first time Charlton has woven his magic. He did it this year when he managed to pull off funding from the state and federal governments by lodging an unsolicited proposal to build an eight-kilometre toll road between the F3 and M2 roads in northern Sydney. The cost of building the new motorway link is $2.65 billion.

But the jewel in the crown for Transurban would be buying Queensland Motorways, which owns the tolling rights to five Queensland roads. At $4 billion-plus it wouldn’t bid alone but with a consortium of superannuation funds, maybe including Uni Super.

The former Bligh government shocked the investment community in November 2010 when it abandoned the sale of Queensland Motorways and instead offloaded it in an off-market transaction to the state’s investment arm Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC) at a discount of at least $1 billion despite private sector interest. At the time several companies, including Transurban, had completed some preparatory work for a bid, only to find the government had pulled the plug. Not surprisingly it attracted a great deal of criticism.

Three years on QIC is looking at offloading the toll road business. There is speculation it will try to structure a sale that enables it to hang on to the lucrative management rights – and fat fees – by introducing a passive investor.

The feeling is that QIC is overexposed to infrastructure assets, particularly toll roads. But there will be a long list of interested parties, including Industry Funds Management and the Canadian pension funds.

”We think Queensland Motorways is a great asset … We don’t know what the process that QIC is proposing yet. We could play various different roles as operator, owner, back office and potentially working with partners,” Charlton told a news conference on Monday.

Transurban’s shares have jumped more than 16 per cent in the past year to $7 a share as the market has renewed its interest in the dwindling number of listed infrastructure assets. Most of them came a cropper during the global financial crisis, either blowing up, being restructured or taken out. Transurban is one of the few survivors after deleveraging itself and ignoring an unsolicited takeover offer by two foreign pension funds at $5.25 a share in November 2009.

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Putting free into freelance

At The New York Times, they boast of ”all the news that’s fit to print”, but at Eric Beecher’s Private Media it seems more a case of ”all the news that’s free to print”.

Freelance art hacks have the Yves Klein blues over an edict from the media mogulette that they are not to be paid for work on the empire’s latest website, the Daily Review.

A bespoke-pitchfork wielding mob of high-profile yartz writers led by Byron Bache have signed a group letter vowing not to work free of charge for the website, to be launched on Monday.

Many of the signatories already blog for Private’s flagship site, Crikey, on a kinda-paid basis. Beecher, who owns a $2.1 million terrace house in Melbourne’s nicest inner suburb, Carlton, doesn’t deign to pay for blog entries unless they rake in a certain number of hits.

The pay scales were published on Bache’s blog but removed at Crikey’s request. However, because nothing is deleted forever on the internet, CBD can reveal how the system works. Blog entries that get 25,000 page views a month earned a ”bonus” of $193.50, those with 50,000 hits $387 and so on, with the system topping out at $4000 for a post ticking past the 500,000 mark.

However, the writers complained they would receive nothing for blogposts republished on the new website.

Those signing the letter include Crikey literary blogger Bethanie Blanchard, Crikey TV critic Laurence Barber and novelist and Fairfax contributor John Birmingham. Former Crikey stars in the shape of reporter Amber Jamieson and web editor Ruth Brown have also signed the stinging missive.

Beecher courageously hid behind the skirts of Crikey editor Jason Whittaker on Monday, as did Daily Review editor Ray Gill.

Whittaker said he could ”only support writers who are trying to earn a living in this game”, so CBD was curious to know how he was going to do this by not paying them.

Alas, his response did not answer the question. Rather, he said, Private Media’s investment in Gill and a junior to run the site was ”a big spend for us”.

He also failed to answer questions about who exactly would be writing for the site, given that those signing the letter represent most of Crikey’s existing arts team. Nor would he say how the no-pay scheme fitted with Crikey’s coverage of treatment of freelancers elsewhere, including at BusinessDay publisher Fairfax Media.

However, he did deny being embarrassed that Jamieson and Brown had signed on to the protest. So that’s OK then.Ten’s billionaires

With Bruce Gordon, James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch unable to vote their combined 33 per cent stake in Ten on the debt guarantee deal at next month’s AGM, they will be reliant on Her Roy Hill Highness Gina Rinehart to set an example for plebeian shareholders who might be wary of a deal that could give the billionaire trio security over all the company’s assets.

But, if Rinehart goes rogue, there is always another billionaire on the register who might set the right example for other investors. Documents released on Monday confirm Kerry Stokes’ Seven empire has a 2.4 per cent stake.

Shareholders will also be asked to approve an executive incentive share plan that will see chief executive Hamish McLennan awarded up to $1.48 million a year of ”loan-funded shares” in Ten. He is to be issued shares each year based on factors including share price on the issue date and ”potential volatility of the company’s shares over the life of the loan”. Luckily, the ratings of new brekky show Wake Up are not part of the calculation.Packer takes a trip

Slim Jim Packer is in Sri Lanka this week. Entirely coincidentally, legislation enabling his Crown to open a casino is due back before Sri Lanka’s parliament next month.

Got a tip?

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Wallabies can’t hide from scrums under new laws, says Wood

No place to hide: A young Stephen Moore prepares to pack down at hooker for the Wallabies against Ireland back in 2008. They meet again on Saturday. Photo: Cameron SpencerLegendary former Ireland hooker Keith Wood says the Wallabies have been forced to confront their set-piece demons after running a mile from scrummaging for many years.

Wood, still the highest-scoring hooker of all time a decade after his retirement from Test rugby, believes the evolution of scrummaging laws during the past decade helped the Wallabies avoid the tough stuff at scrum time.

The 63-Test former Ireland captain said new “soft-engagement” rules, which reduced the importance of the “hit” and put more emphasis on wrestling, had forced the Wallabies to front up.

“I have always thought Australia was trying to get away from scrummaging, that they didn’t want to do it too much,” Wood said.

“A lot of the law changes that happened have helped that, but it’s different now, there is no hiding.”

The Wallabies pack survived the challenge against Italy at the weekend after being annihilated by England on opposition ball a week earlier.

Wood said Australia were hard done-by at Twickenham under referee George Clancy but showed their mettle by turning it around in Turin. He singled out starting hooker Stephen Moore for praise.

“I think he is maturing incredibly well, he is an incredibly consistent performer,” he said. “You could see when things don’t go well for them at scrum time [in England] he was absolutely angry. That’s a good thing.”

Ireland loom as a huge threat to Australia’s burgeoning confidence. Big wins against Argentina and Italy, where the Wallabies attack was given the time and space to wreak havoc, have been interspersed with tighter, high-pressure affairs with which the team has not coped.

A second-string Ireland had a field day after warming up against Samoa on Saturday. But Wood believes the home side was just whetting its appetites for higher profile clashes with Australia and New Zealand over the coming fortnight.

New coach Joe Schmidt, whose recent promotion from provincial powerhouse Leinster to the Test role mirrors the trajectory of Ewen McKenzie from the Reds, will have the full complement of Ireland veterans at his disposal, including captain Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Brian O’Driscoll.

“Nobody has any real idea what he’s going to be like [as a coach] apart from the players,” Wood said of Schmidt.

“I have spoken to a few of them, and the non-Leinster guys are a little bit taken aback by his attention to detail. He is remarkably precise, and there may be a level of adjustment they all have to go through.

“But it’s a great thing for them that they feel challenged almost immediately. O’Driscoll [who plays for Leinster] says he’s the best coach he’s ever played under, he feels he is learning something all the time.”

The last time the countries met was in the 2011 World Cup, when Ireland shocked the Wallabies with a 15-6 win in the pool stages.

Despite that loss and a fairly even ledger during the past seven years, there still exists a widespread expectation in Australia that a Test against Ireland is a “should-win”.

“I don’t think that’s fair any more,” said Wood, who played the Wallabies 10 times between 1994 and 2003, winning just one of those encounters.

“When I look at Australia from an Irish perspective, I would say we can win. Not that we should, but certainly that we can win. And if we play to the very top of our ability I would say that we both can and should.”

Wood is intrigued with the Wallabies’ flagging fortunes under McKenzie, and thinks Ireland could be well placed to test the tourists’ character at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

“The Wallabies have foundered this year,” he said. “They are in a better place than they were at the start of the season but it is also the end of a long year.

“Ireland are playing at home, they would have to take the hope that they can win, but they will need to start the game with a high level of aggression, be incredibly accurate and incredibly effective.

“You can’t afford to make a lot of mistakes against Australia, they are always close, no matter who they are playing against.”

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Wallabies warned to beware warm Irish welcome

Ewen McKenzie has predicted a “desperate and attritional” Ireland will meet the Wallabies at Aviva Stadium this weekend.

The Australians flew into Dublin – for so long a favourite touring destination for the Wallabies – on Sunday.

But any lingering euphoria from their seven-try rout of Italy at the weekend was well and truly put to bed as McKenzie made clear the task ahead.

“The reality is we’ve been OK at knocking over teams behind us but we have to do be better at knocking over teams ahead of us,” the Wallabies coach said.

“The teams we’re about to play aren’t ahead of us [in the rankings] but they could be if we don’t get it right. We have to be able to compete in that environment.”

McKenzie is hugely fond of Dublin, having spent two weeks here in the knock-out stages of the 1991 World Cup.

But his experiences in one of the most hospitable northern hemisphere rugby cities mean there are no Guinness factory tours on the official schedule this week.

“We’re well aware that they’ll host us really well and say nice things about us but when we get on the field it’s a different story,” McKenzie said.

“We don’t want to be lulled into a false sense of security; there’s never been an easy game played [here] at all, not in my memory.”

After a balmy week in northern Italy, the Wallabies will have to adjust of daily tops of 10 degrees and frequent showers.

The Test this weekend will more closely resemble Australia’s nightmare against England than their dream run in Turin.

Ireland marks the halfway point of the five-Test tour. Plenty of Wallabies have played plenty of rugby, and McKenzie signalled he would rest players during training to ensure they were fresh for the weekend.

He also flagged straight swaps in certain positions, where bench depth allowed it.

“I think [Ireland] will try and play us into a space, it will be desperate and attritional in that sense,” McKenzie predicted. “But by the same token I think their coach has a little bit of expectation around [the fact that] they’re going to express themselves with the ball.”

Ireland’s recent high water mark – apart from mauling Australia in the World Cup – was their 2009 Six Nations grand slam victory.

But after that glorious season of nine wins, one draw and not a single loss, victory has been harder and harder to come by.

New coach Joe Schmidt has come in with promises – much like McKenzie – to reinvigorate Ireland in attack.

A five-try performance against a depleted Samoa was, as Schmidt said, “a super exercise”.

The real test is old foes Australia, who are not at their peak, and then the big dogs of world rugby, the All Blacks.

“Everyone’s going to see us as an opportunity. They’ll look at the win loss [record], and say it’s a good time to play us,” McKenzie said.

“I don’t know beyond that. They’re in a situation where they won the Six Nations [in 2009] and then every year they’ve won fewer games … so they’ll be looking to climb the mountain themselves.

“They’ve got their own backyard to be looking at. From a confidence point of view, we know what they’re aiming at. Hopefully they’re concentrating on New Zealand.”

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Ashes 2013: Ryan Harris backs George Bailey to be a Test success

George Bailey is ready to make the leap from limited-overs sensation to the Test arena, according to Australia’s pace leader Ryan Harris.

The 31-year-old Tasmania captain has been heavily tipped to be named in the Australian team on Tuesday for the opening match of the Ashes series next week, an honour that would make him the country’s 436th Test cricketer.

It is a squad captain Michael Clarke predicted, on Monday, was full of ”no-brainers”, all but picking itself. But, for Bailey, selection against England would be the culmination of a long-held ambition.

Nine years after his first-class debut, he was considered for a berth on Australia’s tour of India earlier this year but, after a Sheffield Shield season in which he averaged only 18, his inclusion could not be justified.

Form, however, is anything but an issue for him at present, even if it is with a different coloured ball.

Bailey’s 478 runs in six games, at an average of 95.6, lit up Australia’s one-day series in India and rammed home what he has been quietly arguing with the bat since his ODI debut 20 months ago: that he can be an international player to be reckoned with.

Australia are searching for a middle-order rock that can go some way towards replicating what another late Test bloomer, Mike Hussey, was able to provide and Bailey, who has been in competition with state colleague Alex Doolan for a maiden call-up in Brisbane, will be hoping he can be it.

”I think he’s ready for it,” Harris said. ”I think he’s in the form of his life. He’s done very well in the one-day arena and just bowling to him last week [in the Shield match between Queensland and Tasmania] … he just looks solid.

”He’s obviously got his game where he wants it to be and he’s on top of his game. If someone is like that and is in form, I think it [doesn’t matter] what form of the game you’re playing, it’s the same result – you’ve still got to watch the ball and hit the ball and that’s what he’s doing.”

The great-great-grandson of George Herbert Bailey, a Tasmanian cricketer who toured England in 1878, Bailey is rated for his leadership qualities; the attribute behind his shock elevation to the Twenty20 captaincy two summers ago when he had not yet played for Australia.

Harris said Bailey’s modest return in first-class cricket last season should be overlooked given his recent output.

”Sometimes you have to forget about averages and, at this point in time, with such a big series, you’ve got to pick your best players to be in those positions,” he said. ”He’s one of those guys at the moment.”

Elsewhere, the Australian squad was expected to have few surprises, with David Warner retained at the top of the order after an explosive start to the season and Mitchell Johnson to join Harris and Peter Siddle in the attack after also starring in India.

Likely Australia team for first Test in Brisbane:

Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Ben Hilfenhaus/James Faulkner.

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Ashes 2013: MitchellJohnson to go for Poms’ throats

Mitchell Johnson says he is bowling faster than he ever has, and has vowed to give Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook a good going over with the short ball in the first Test.

And if the left-armer, who is set to receive an Ashes recall on Tuesday, cannot send England’s linchpins packing, then hurting them would be the second option, he said.

Trott received a sneak peek of what he can come to expect from Johnson next week in Brisbane during the one-day international series in September, when he was hit on the head by a searing bouncer and also lost his wicket to another short ball.

”I look at the England one-day series and really went hard at a few of those players, in particular Trott. I think he’s come out and said he’s not worried about the short ball, but we saw what he was like in the one-day series, he definitely didn’t like it,” Johnson said.

”There are guys in their team who we’ll definitely go after.”

Cook, the England captain, can also expect to receive some rough stuff from the fiery and rejuvenated Johnson, who has twice broken Graeme Smith’s hands and last summer shattered Kumar Sangakkara’s finger.

”If I can get a few of those rearing balls towards the ribs or those throat balls and if he gets in the way of it that’s his own fault,” Johnson said. ”You’d rather get the wicket more than anything, you get a lot of joy out of that when you get a player like that out. I [had] a look at last summer and Sangakkara was an example. I’ve busted his finger and he’s one of their best players, so they were one short and I got a couple of those in the middle order. If you can’t get them out, that’s the second option.”

Johnson could well be the fastest bowler in world cricket at the moment. During the recent limited-overs series in India, which was dominated by the batsmen, Johnson frequently broke the 150km/h mark, once reaching as high as 155km/h. The scary thing for England is Johnson was not even trying to bowl fast. Not surprisingly, batsmen are not exactly lining up to face him in the nets.

”It was something I wasn’t actually working on in my time off, I was a little bit surprised that my speeds were getting there,” he said. ”I felt like it was coming out of my hands at good pace. When you speak to some of your teammates and those you play against, they give you a good indication it’s good pace.

”I don’t think I’ve consistently hit the 150s. If I can do that and swing the ball it becomes a big weapon.”

The great Dennis Lillee has also been working closely with Johnson, encouraging him on long runs to help him build the fitness required for the longer run-up he has used since coming back last year from a career-threatening toe injury. ”When I sit back and look at it, I felt like my run-up rhythm was the best it’s ever been, I’ve lengthened my run-up since coming back from my toe injury.

”That’s made a big difference. I just feel like I’m getting better momentum through the crease and being able to hit those speeds without applying myself out of the water or forcing it, it felt pretty good.”

Johnson said he had also been used in shorter spells, which allows him to bowl at a higher intensity.

”If I was bowling eight-over spells I wouldn’t be able to bowl at that pace for a long period of time,” he said. ”Maybe I could get through a Test match doing it like I could during the week [last week] but I don’t think I could sustain it for the whole summer.”

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Racing NSW, government combine to boost autumn carnival

John Messara: “If you are interested in racing, you will want to be in Sydney for this week”. Photo: Louise KennerleyThe state government and Racing NSW are set to deliver a long-promised boost to the Randwick autumn carnival with huge prizemoney injections to attract the racing world to Sydney.

And it is hoped that one week of racing at Randwick in April will come to rival the eight-day Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington, which is the crowning jewel of Melbourne’s racing calendar.

The concept has been in the pipeline for more than two years and will be announced by Racing Minister George Souris at Racing NSW headquarters on Tuesday.

A small committee has been working on the meeting for the past year and former Australian Turf Club chief operating officer Ian Mackay was appointed the chief executive of the series last January.

Racing officials were extremely tight-lipped about the final make-up of the series on Monday, claiming that “it could still fall over” if it was to appear in the press.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said at the time of Mackay’s appointment he could not reveal much about the series because of ”commercially sensitive negotiations”.

“This new race series will complement the wonderful facility that is being developed at Royal Randwick and give Sydney a world class racing carnival. The hard work now begins for us to deliver this, ideally in time for 2014,” V’landys said in January.

The Herald understands the carnival will target the best horses from Asia and North America and Canterbury racecourse is set to become a quarantine centre for the overseas visitors.

Canterbury is scheduled to hold its last meting for the autumn on March 12 and will not race again until April 23, which will allow it to be used as a training and quarantine venue by any international stables.

Racing NSW chairman John Messara told a select group of owners and breeders during this year’s Easter sales in April about the concept.

”If you are interested in racing, you will want to be in Sydney for this week,” he said. ”I would think we would get horses from Japan and North America to compete at the meeting.”

It is believed the funding will come from a revamp of the way the NSW government distributes funds under its agreement with Tabcorp, bringing it into line with the Victorian model, under which racing in that state picks up about $85 million a year more than its northern neighbour.

”If we can get this plan in place it will be an incredible boost for the industry in NSW,” said Messara about the difference in funding levels during his address in April.

”We have been working on this for quite some time and it would make NSW the leading open jurisdiction in the world in terms of returns to owners.

”We can’t match some of the closed markets in Asia but in the next couple of years it will be great to be part of the industry in NSW.”

The focus will be the races at Randwick during the autumn carnival – the main group 1s, including the Doncaster, the T.J. Smith, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Sydney Cup, are likely to get significant boosts in stakes. The announcement on Tuesday is expected to make it clear whether the goal of a start next year has been reached.

However, there are also plans to use some of the additional funding in grassroots racing around the state.

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Michael Clarke takes swing at ‘naive’ former coach Mickey Arthur

Michael Clarke has opened up for the first time about his rift with Mickey Arthur, saying he was ”pissed off” at the former coach during the Ashes and labelling the South African naive for the way he handled the aftermath to his sacking.

Launching The Ashes Diary in Sydney on Monday, the Test captain said he believed Australia had emerged as a stronger group before next week’s first Test against England at the Gabba.

The book does not contain the same fireworks that catapulted Ricky Ponting’s autobiography into the headlines last month but Clarke does not spare Arthur, who was sensationally cut as head coach less than three weeks before the series in England.

Clarke revealed he was furious when details of Arthur’s subsequent unfair dismissal action against Cricket Australia were made public in July, just before the second Test at Lord’s. According to a TV station’s report, Arthur’s claim to the Fair Work Commission said that Clarke had described Shane Watson and his faction as a ”cancer” on the team, and that the coach had become the ”meat in the sandwich” in the stand-off between Clarke and Watson.

Clarke strongly defends his relationship with Watson in his Ashes diary but takes aim at Arthur.

”I’m filthy. I had a long talk with [his wife] Kyly about it tonight, pouring out my frustrations,” Clarke writes in his diary entry of July 16. ”I’ve supported Mickey through thick and thin, and it pisses me off that this has come up now.

”I sent him a text to tell him as much. He’d said that he didn’t want it to come out publicly, but somehow it leaked out anyway. If Mickey didn’t know this was going to happen, he’s been naive. I still can’t believe he would allow this to happen to the team members, who had no part in his dismissal. As I’ve said until I’m blue in the face, Shane and I get on fine, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. That is healthy and natural. I am frustrated about this continually being brought up. The important thing is that our relationship has improved out of sight.”

Arthur, who strongly denies he or his lawyers leaked details of his claim, reached a confidential settlement with CA in August.

Promoting his book on Monday, Clarke said the off-field controversy that dogged Australia in England – from David Warner’s nightclub altercation with Joe Root in Birmingham to Arthur’s sacking in Bristol – had strengthened them before the return series.

”There was a number of incidents on and off the field where this team could have fallen apart and broke down. We could have lost the series 5-0,” Clarke said. ”But I think everything that happened to the team has brought us closer, and I really believe that. I really believe that the work we put in in the UK will hold us in great stead, and I believe we’ll get some rewards this summer. I think the team is in a fantastic place. The feeling in the group is outstanding. I know all the guys are looking forward to Thursday week.”

Clarke declared he would not be changing his attacking captaincy style this summer as Australia seek to turn around a year in which they have won only one of 10 Tests.

”I don’t have that negativity in me to be honest,” he said. ”It’s about trying to win games of cricket. I’ll do everything I can to help our team win as many games of cricket as possible, and sometimes you risk losing.”

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