Taylor, Bohl take leading roles

Australia’s swim team would not be divided into two despite the appointment of men’s and women’s head coaches to take the team into this year’s world championships, the men appointed to the positions, Rohan Taylor and Michael Bohl, said on Friday.

Taylor and Bohl, who take the men’s and women’s team positions respectively from the completion of the national titles next Friday, said their goal would be to reunite the team after the tumultuous London Olympics, which was blighted by underwhelming performances and bad behaviour.

The respected pair, who fill the void left by Leigh Nugent, will hold their roles until the Barcelona world championships in July, after which a head coach would be sought and appointed. They will work closely with Michael Scott, who will start as high performance manager on May 1.

Bohl, who had nine Australian swimmers in London and also trained Korean superstar Park Tae-Hwan, and Taylor, who has trained several top swimmers including Leisel Jones, both said they did not want the head coaching job. They said they wanted to remain with their own squads and saw their positions as transitional roles.

They are keen to repair the culture of the team – described as ”toxic” by the Bluestone review – into one of high performance and results.

”It’s pretty simple really,” Taylor said. ”It’s about the focus and the attitude and we just need to remind ourselves we’re all in it, the coaches and the athletes are all there together, and we just need to remind ourselves that’s what it’s about and performances will speak on behalf of the team.”

Bohl said it came down to achieving three things.

”You want them [the swimmers] happy, you want them prepared, you want them working together,” said Bohl, who guided Stephanie Rice to three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. ”If you get those things in line the rest of it just falls in a row behind it.

”One of the things we’ve got to get back to is making sure that the team is as one. We’re all one team, we’re there together, we’re all trying to get the best performance out of the athletes. We will separate from time to time but for the most part we’ll be there as one united team.”

Bohl said they would not look to significantly change the workings of the team.

”Both Rohan and I as the men’s and women’s coaches are there really to support,” Bohl said. ”We’re not the answer I don’t think, but any coach or swimmer that makes the team has a big job in front of them and working together as one unit will go a lot further.”

One of the criticisms aimed at Nugent was that he was not strong enough against troublemakers.

Bohl is a known hard taskmaster, with Taylor jokingly saying ”you don’t want to cross him”. Taylor also said he had standards that were ”non-negotiable”.

”Our athletes should be focused on preparing themselves to perform and that should be their No.1 priority,” Taylor said. ”If they’re doing that, they’re behaviour should be reflective of that. If it’s not we’ll tell them.”

Bohl said it did not mean they would have to wave the big stick.

”That’s not really our role,” he said. ”It’s up to the individual coaches that are looking after the swimmers and the swimmers themselves to take responsibility for what they’re doing. If we do see behaviour that’s probably not becoming to what an Australian swimming representative should be I’m sure we’ll address it through the [swimmer’s coach].”

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Abortion drugs may cost $12 within weeks

The abortion drugs RU486 could be available within weeks for as little as $12 after the federal government’s expert advisory body recommended it be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, made up of medical experts and health economists, recommended listing mifepristone and misoprostol – the two drugs known together as RU486 – for termination of a pregnancy of up to 49 days gestation.

The committee found the effectiveness of the drugs was similar to that of surgical termination, but was less costly.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek welcomed the committee’s recommendation, noting the drug was on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines and had been used successfully by tens of millions of women.

She said the committee’s recommendation was only a ”first step” in listing the drug, but expected the drug to be listed ”sooner rather than later”.

”I would expect this process to take a few weeks. I would expect that a decision would be made before the election. It’s not my intention for this to become a political football,” she said.

Ms Plibersek said her department would need to ensure there was a steady and good quality supply of the drug and reach agreement on price before the government decided whether to list the drug.

If the drug was listed on the PBS, women would pay $36.10 for each of the two pills, while those with concessions would pay only $5.90 per pill. Currently, the drugs cost between $250 and $350, while surgical abortion costs between $300 and $500.

Ms Plibersek said listing the drugs would provide greater choice to women who could not afford abortion or who lived in country areas.

”Some women are travelling a day or two by bus and having to find money for overnight accommodation in a city,” she said. ”If the drug is listed I would hope it would make an extremely difficult time in a woman’s life a little bit easier.”

Asked about the drug before the committee’s recommendation was made public, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he would accept the committee’s advice. ”I would accept the advice of the technical experts,” he said. ”I understand that there are lots of people who are concerned to try to ensure that we have a humane society which deals decently with women who are in a very difficult position and I certainly have always said that the whole issue was to try to ensure that we empowered women, to try to ensure that we gave women in a very difficult position all the support they needed to make what was for them the best possible choice.”

Ms Plibersek said she did not expect the listing of the drugs to lead to more abortions, but overseas experience suggested many women had chosen medical termination over surgical abortion.

Women who had used the drugs overseas reported appreciating the ability to take the second pill in the privacy of their own home with family support.

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New mental health ‘bible’ gets the thumbs down

Australia is set for a sharp rise in workplace mental health claims because of changes in how mental illness is defined, workplace experts and psychiatrists fear.

The symptoms needed for diagnosis of some conditions will be expanded when the controversial Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – known as the ”psychiatrists’ bible” – is released next month.

Psychiatrists and psychologists the world over have criticised the changes because they risk causing increases in unnecessary treatment and mis-labelling people. But the effect of the changes on workers’ compensation cases and workplace legal disputes may be even greater.

Unlike doctors, who could ignore the new manual, courts would not be able to avoid it, said Doron Samuell, a psychiatrist with expertise in workers’ compensation and insurance.

He said the lowered threshold for diagnosing many conditions would lead to more claims. ”You can be diagnosed with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] even if you are an emergency worker and you hear details; you don’t have to be directly involved in an incident,” said Dr Samuell, from medical risk management company SR2 Health.

Another concern was that in the past the manual distinguished between disorders considered personality-based and other conditions. But that distinction would be removed, opening the door for workplaces to be held responsible for problems. ”Even if you have a recognised pattern of interpersonal conflict, your bullying claims are much more likely to get a diagnosis,” he said.

A report from Safe Work Australia this month found mental stress was the most expensive form of workers’ compensation claim. ”Besides the burden work-related mental stress places on the health and welfare of employees, the impact on productivity of workplaces and the Australian economy is substantial,” it said.

US employment and labour lawyer Douglas Hass published a paper in the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal documenting the wide-reaching effects the changes could have in the US.

”The uncertainty will lead to less risk-taking in some instances and, undoubtedly, more legal challenges in others,” he said. ”The net result for employers and employees will be more money and higher costs.”

Allen Frances, the architect of the previous manual, DSM-IV, told Fairfax that when his taskforce reduced the number of symptoms needed to qualify a person as having attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, it increased by 200 per cent. Changes to autism preceded a 2000 per cent increase.

Courts should avoid adopting the new manual, he said.

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Veteran netball coach proud of Vixen trio

Plummer products: Melbourne Vixens head coach Simone McKinnis, midcourt coach Di Honey and McKinnis’ assistant Eloise Southby-Halbish this week. Photo: Pat ScalaWhen coaching matriarch Norma Plummer looked along the Melbourne Vixens bench during a pre-season game last month, she found herself opposed to three of her former pupils – Simone McKinnis, Eloise Southby-Halbish and Di Honey. Another, Roselee Jencke, was the architect of the Queensland Firebirds’ 2011 premiership. Shades, perhaps, of Tom Hafey and his famous Punt Road coaching nursery.

Proud? Emotional? ”Yeah, I am. I was. I’m really, really proud, really rapt, because I had all those players as kids,” says Plummer, the former Melbourne Phoenix, AIS and long-time Diamonds mentor, now overseeing the young West Coast Fever team that will play the Vixens at the new Perth Arena on Saturday. ”Simone was 14 or 15 when she turned up, and Ella was 16, and you really hope they love the game as much as you and they can give back.

”They’re all good coaches. They’re reading the game well and I think they’re doing a good job. Mind you, they’ve got a lot of experienced players to work with; the test for them would be if they had a bottom team, to see if they could take that anywhere. But I’m sure they’re learning their craft, and I think it’s the future of coaching for Australia. We can only survive at the top if we’ve got people passionate about wanting to keep us there.”

And also, she says, with elite-level experience, such as that offered by the decorated Vixens trio. Head coach McKinnis was a defensive champion of 67 Tests, including world championship and Commonwealth Games success, and her assistant Southby-Halbish a fine 36-Test shooter who won Commonwealth gold in 2002 and five national titles with the Phoenix. Honey, a specialist midcourt coach for both the Diamonds and Vixens, represented Australia from 1983-89, and was inducted as a Legend into the Netball Victoria Hall of Fame.

Thus, it was a teacher-student reunion of sorts at Royal Park in March, and the Vixens’ new team recognised the significance. ”Norma came up after the game and said ‘well done, we’ll get you next time’, sort of thing, but we were saying ‘look, all three of us came up under you’,” McKinnis recalls.

”And she got a little bit emotional, because she loves it, she loves the sport, and to see players that she’s worked with in coaching roles now, I think that’s a big deal for her, too, because she’s very much about the sport, and the development of the sport, and the development of the players that she’s had come through with her.”

While McKinnis was the first, Southby-Halbish had always seemed the most natural future coach, as a smart and famously vocal player and captain with a highly regarded netball brain. The uncompromising McKinnis way was to lead more by action and example; interestingly, Liz Ellis remarked recently that, of all her former Australian teammates, she considered the star wing defence among the least likely to swap her bib for a clipboard and witches hats.

Honey is the newest addition to the Vixens panel, McKinnis’ friend and former speedy-midcourt teammate, currently the head coach at Geelong Grammar and the Barwon Sports Academy, with experience at both local and state-league level. Collectively, the triumvirate will face Plummer’s West Coast before a crowd of more than than 8000, as the Fever attempt to extend an unbeaten 2013 home record while the fourth-placed Vixens back up from loss No.1 and will be again be without key shooter Karyn Howarth, who has been ruled out for a second consecutive week with knee soreness.

”It’ll be good. I always love catching up with Plummer, but she’ll be super-competitive,” laughs McKinnis. ”She’ll be out to kick our bums, no doubt.” Plummer: ”Why wouldn’t I be? I don’t ever go out there not trying to do that! But if we put up how many games (the Vixens) have all played to what we’ve got, they’d be wanting to kick our backsides with the experience they’ve got on that court.

”My lot are learning like mushrooms, so they can have their ups and downs as a group, but they’re getting better. I’ve only been here for 18 months and they’ve been a bottom team all the time, so it’s a lot of work to change the culture and bring them up and make them believe. Just having a crack’s not good enough, and I don’t come from that culture.”

Instead, Plummer’s roots are in Victoria, where winning is the only expectation, and to where she will eventually return when her work is done. Yet, decades later, the former Australian captain and coach of two world title-winning teams has a passion for the sport – and coaching – that is undiminished. ”I’ve never lost it,” she declares, convincingly.

Consider this exchange after West Coast’s one-goal loss to the Vixens in round 12 last year. ”I had a joke with Simone and Ella on the bench saying, ‘look out, I’m comin’ for ya!”’ says Plummer. ”They were laughing, but I’m really pleased to see them there, and they’ve got years in front of them to keep it going. I know I’m on sort of more borrowed time now, but you feel really good that they’re stepping up. That’s what you hope you pass on.”

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Sultry thriller scoops the dirt


General Release


Towards the end of The Paperboy, Nicole Kidman – in superb form as Southern white trash – says: ”I wanna go live in the swamp.” Hell, yeah! This whole movie is a swamp – a seething, messy murder investigation infused with the sweaty smell of bodies and driven by a casual force that is seductively unstable, darkly funny and strangely exhilarating.

Based on a novel by Pete Dexter, director Lee Daniels (best known for the Academy Award-winning Precious) pulls in a top shelf cast and helps them get down and dirty. Set in 1960s Florida, the film opens with the murder of a racist policeman, a brutal crime that puts the very nasty Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) behind bars. Believing it to be a miscarriage of justice, journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his black colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) descend on the steamy town to scoop the dirt. Driven around by Ward’s lovesick younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), the paperboys are joined by Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a fortysomething sex-bomb who’s become erotically infatuated with Van Wetter – even though they’ve never met. Charlotte, like the Florida weather, manages to get everyone hot and steamy, pushing Jack to the limits of desire. And when the dysfunctional team aren’t on the case – which seems to be much of the time – they’re found at the Jansen family home where long-suffering servant Anita (Macy Gray), manages their self-indulgent antics with spectacular finesse.

The film premiered at Cannes nearly a year ago and has had a troubled time getting around the big screen. Easily misunderstood, it’s best viewed as high-grunge parody, a rambling and visceral examination of small-town racism, corruption, sex and inbreeding. If it’s a logical police procedural you’re after, you’ve come to the wrong swamp.

The cast are uniformly superb, with Kidman doing her best work since Gus van Sant directed her in To Die For and Cusack scarily puffed up and slimey like one of the ‘gators his family kill for a living. Efron and Gray play out one of the most touching non-romances ever seen on screen and McConaughey oozes self-satisfied control. The film’s aesthetic is blown out inelegance, colours faded as if by the Florida sun; the editing is sometimes as random as the obsessive characters who wander through this world.

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