SPORTING DECLARATION: Own goals cruel Jets

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A banner at Friday night’s game against Brisbane. Picture: Dean OslandTHE Newcastle Jets have become a circus, and their fans, unsurprisingly, are over it.

In the four years and four months since Nathan Tinkler assumed ownership of Newcastle’s A-League franchise, highlights have been few and far between, and the past few weeks have been nothing short of an embarrassment, on and off the pitch.

Like Football Federation Australia officials, Jets fans are entitled to have formed the view that Tinkler has outstayed his welcome.

Friday’s announcement that some Jets creditors had been paid, having waited impatiently for long-overdue liabilities to be settled, was hardly a cause for celebration.

Rather, it was a case of too little, too late. Even if the one-time billionaire was to start paying his bills in a timely fashion, thereby avoiding the type of publicity for which he has become notorious, what evidence is there that he has the faintest idea how to turn the Jets around after five seasons of mediocrity?

His track record speaks for itself.

He may as well have burned the hundreds of millions of dollars he pumped into his Patinack Farm horse-racing failure.

The Knights were in disarray when he was ousted in June and face a long process, under NRL management, of rebuilding and restoring credibility.

The Jets appear even more of a basket case.

While an FFA coup to remove Tinkler would meet with widespread approval in Newcastle – the city he recently declared has ‘‘done nothing but shit on me’’ – what happens next?

Who would step in to assume control?

Reading between the lines, it seems Scottish Premier League club Dundee United’s owner, Stephen Thompson, is ready and willing to step into the breach if offered the opportunity.

Thompson’s financial credentials and footballing background paint him as an attractive option. Yet anyone who assumes the Scotsman will be Newcastle’s round-ball saviour would appear to have a short memory.

Haven’t we been down this road several times before?

Just wind back the clock to October 2010, when Tinkler was handed Newcastle’s A-League licence. At the time, the overwhelming reaction was relief and gratitude, especially when within a matter of weeks it was announced that the Jets would be hosting a match against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

Initially, at least, Tinkler was regarded as a godsend.

Ten years earlier, Con Constantine was similarly well received when he bailed out the Newcastle Breakers after the demise of David Hall.

And so on, and so on.

The recurring theme has been that an owner falls on hard times, an alternative emerges to bankroll the club, and the logical assumption is that nobody would volunteer for such a role unless they were sufficiently cashed-up.

But just as Tinkler was something of a mystery man when he took over the Jets, what do we really know of Thompson?

And if Thompson – or any other owner for that matter – was handed control of the club, what measures are in place to guarantee history does not repeat itself?

Thompson may be a successful businessman with football in his blood. But his knowledge of the Australian game, and the Newcastle commercial market, would seem limited. And no matter how good his intentions, it is hard to imagine his No.1 priority will not always be Dundee United.

Sourcing franchise owners has been problematic for FFA since the A-League’s inception.

Most clubs have changed hands at some point. A-League outfits in Auckland, Townsville and Gold Coast have been wound up, perhaps never to return.

High-profile but controversial owners like Tinkler and Clive Palmer have caused a procession of dramas that brought FFA’s due-diligence process into question.

And when a club becomes so dysfunctional that an ownership change is required, FFA is forced to intervene and rebuild everything from scratch.

So what is the solution?

I would suggest some form of start-up deposit, in the form of a bank guarantee, would be useful in ensuring owners conduct their business appropriately.

If and when they decide to move on, if the club is in healthy shape, the deposit is refunded. If not, it is used to pay whatever debts have been incurred, rather than leaving behind a financial mess. Whether that would be enforceable is another matter altogether.

One thing I feel confident in saying is that the Jets need not always be a money pit, whoever owns them. Given the FFA’s annual grant covers the cost of the salary cap, it should not necessarily be an expensive exercise to run a club.

As the Jets showed during their halcyon seasons between 2006 and 2008, when they are challenging for the title everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

Put a successful team on the park and the club’s 9000-plus members will grow. A full Hunter Stadium can again be a regular sight.

The Asian Cup was a reminder of football’s potential in Our Town.

Build it and they will come, in other words. But somehow, given the bridges he has burned, I can’t see that vision becoming a reality until Tinkler’s tumultuous tenure becomes a fading memory.

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OPINION: City’s future depends on rail returning

NEWCASTLE city has enjoyed four smoothly working transport interchanges: Hamilton, Wickham, Civic and Newcastle, the final destination.

It has a ferry link, a tourist ‘‘tram’’ and a bus station gracefully unobtrusive among giant pines. Newcastle Station has no steps. Its many top destinations are tightly set around it, minutes away on foot, and easy with a bike, surfboard, walker or prams and small kids.

At business peak hours, the four stations distribute passengers, saving the terminus from congestion. This level of provision and efficiency is rare worldwide.

But Newcastle also connects bush to beach, inland to ocean. It is where the regions meet their regional city, and the only beaches they can reach without driving.

But some want Newcastle station to appear useless. They said the railway was in the way of something, and the city would be more vital without it.

Left off their maps were: four beaches minutes from the Newcastle Station, famous YHA, extensive harbourside gardens, rock pools, the baths, fishing spots, grass amphitheatre, Nobbys and Fort Scratchley. Newcastle East blows every tourist’s mind.

We reminded the government how Newcastle Station is packed at surf festivals, fun runs, celebrations and events. Up to its full capacity (169,000 seats arriving per week) is used over days of crowd activity on the foreshores. We were ignored.

So was the obvious principle that big development needs mass transport, or it fails in a mess of congestion on this tiny peninsula.

Government is ditching the best tourist future in NSW, employing city and country people, young and old.

Deloitte Access Economics says tourism will take over from coal. Best model example, Newcastle.

The Hunter rail line is heavily used. On the Scone branch, trains are full at mid-journey. We have maximum usage of present passenger capacity now, let alone when populations grow. Rail capacity at Newcastle gives the city a future.

Some were fooled into worshipping light rail. But the shortest tramline anywhere, with negative cost benefit, is pathetic beside the trains’ 169,000-seat capacity entering Newcastle each week with nothing to spend.

Young people I have met were devastated that their carefree easy movement was to be strangled.

The traffic has increased in town, country people have only a tiny window of time before two or three hours’ travel back again.

Maitland boys say they will be stopped from unsupervised beach visits without the station only four minutes’ walk from the beach.

Less able people will never reach that shoreline again, unable to make a mode change. For the inlanders, the only regional city and beach is Newcastle. Chaos, grief, anxiety and depression pervade Hamilton now. Newcastle’s four tracks don’t fit into two at Hamilton.

We have three rocks of hope: the parliamentary inquiry, the court challenge and the claim by Aboriginal elders.

Newcastle’s future depends on rail returning. But so does the shared economy between regions and city.

So does the health of regional people – with the worst heart disease in the state – whose exercise at the beach costs the government nothing.

So does the mental health of coal miners who need beach days for recovery, safely off-road. So do the lives of youngsters driving because boards and bikes don’t fit on buses. Enough have died on our highways. Certainly at stake is the reputation of governments, which only pretend to care.

They are in danger now.

Bev Atkinson holds a Bachelor of Architecture and lives in Scone

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OPINION: Future-proofed education

GOING AHEAD: Funding has been approved for the NeW Space precinct.IN two years, NeW Space will open its doors to students: the first generation of University of Newcastle students to benefit from our ‘‘next-generation’’ facility, which was approved this week by the NSW government.

As the new dean of the Newcastle Business School, which will be at the heart of the NeW Space precinct, this is an exciting time to join the university.

At the business school, our students join us from more than 100countries and from all walks of life, and will go on to careers that are just as diverse in business, industry, government and not-for-profit sectors.

In a highly competitive global job market, a modern business school education should not only reflect this diversity but also ensure our graduates have the skills they need to be active, thoughtful and productive members of our workforce.

This is the driving force behind the innovations in teaching and learning at NeW Space. While we certainly hope the striking angles, bold design and cutting-edge technology will inspire talented people to experience the transformation that higher education can deliver, underpinning this physical change is a fundamental change to what and how we teach our students.

Our students will justifiably expect a future-proofed qualification from a world-class university that not only anticipates but helps them to shape the business trends of the coming decades.

We have already introduced blended learning, which mixes the ease of online content delivery with the in-depth learning experience of face-to-face engagement with lecturers and peers.

Building skills in entrepreneurship – both traditional and social – and harnessing the energy of co-operative organisations is also a central platform, as is leveraging the tangible creative zeal across Newcastle to help students shape their own careers in areas that may not yet exist.

Our students will also need to understand and navigate the complex ethical questions that shape modern business decisions and corporate governance.

Students increasingly see themselves as creators, not consumers, particularly in relation to their future careers. Whatever their own vision for their career – entrepreneur, chief executive, financial leader, risk specialist, community leader, social innovator, or a combination of these and others – their education will need to equip them to be flexible and adapt to change.

Our specialist management disciplines and professional programs will focus on entrepreneurship as well as on unique features of the region’s business landscape such as co-operative management. We will teach students how to understand, analyse and manage risk and harness the energy of co-operation and community in the real world of business. These issues are at the core of contemporary business practice and will be a central feature of our curriculum, underpinned by engagement from regional business to build our students’ capacity to think creatively and succeed in the ‘‘real world’’.

Business success relies on a portfolio of skills and at NeW Space, our students will have the opportunity to master them, including the practicalities of decision making across sectors. Technology-enabled ‘‘decision-making labs’’ will teach students about business, community and household decisions, as well as their risk and impact, so our graduates will be equipped to make a difference in the workplace from day one.

When completed, NeW Space will be located on one of the most prominent streets in the city, at the heart of our growing education precinct and close to the city’s central business hub. It will be a global beacon for Newcastle, attracting ever more world-class academics to our business school, generating cutting-edge teaching and research, and a resource for our community, hosting public lectures, community events, business forums and networking meetings.

But most importantly, it will help build what every economically sustainable, world-class city needs: a population with a diversity of high-quality, practical and innovative skills. It is vital that we do. As the Hunter’s economy transitions, our graduates will be the building blocks of a vibrant, sustainable regional economy and a resilient community ready to take its place on the world stage.

Professor Morris Altman is Dean and Head of School, Newcastle Business School

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EDITORIAL: Liberals facing a spill

Abbott stands his ground ahead of spill: poll

THE phones will be running hot in Liberal-land. Now that a motion has been foreshadowed to hold a spill of the federal leader and deputy leader positions on Tuesday, numbers are everything.

Assuming the vote is actually put, any challenger will need 52 votes from among the 102 Liberal senators and parliamentary party members.

Politics being what it is, the next few days will be characterised by bluff, bluster, concealed intentions, a calling in of past favours and the wholesale creation of a whole litter of new ones.

But will any quantity of promises be enough to induce a majority of Liberal backbenchers to fall in, once again, behind Tony Abbott?

And if they do, how long will the party be able to hold its nerve?

One school of thought maintains that many Liberal MPs have completely lost confidence in Mr Abbott and his close cabinet colleagues.

Those same MPs watched in glee as his belligerence in opposition battered a fragile ALP, and they swept to power in the wake of his adamant promises to do things better than Labor had.

But since then, things have not run smoothly. Insisting that his government’s wide margin of victory provided a mandate for a string of broken promises, Mr Abbott embarked on what many perceived as an ideologically driven bid to remake Australian society along lines prescribed, seemingly, by big business.

Not even his most influential and vocal boosters have been able to sell his attempted reforms to the public. Instead, Mr Abbott’s stocks have sunk from an already low base to levels that even his party finds alarming.

It would appear that many voters have been irrevocably turned off by the Prime Minister and his penchant for suddenly announcing ‘‘bold’’ but ill-considered policy tilts.

Restoring trust would require a sustained period of self-discipline that few probably regard Mr Abbott as being capable of. A bigger problem is that voters now believe they know exactly what an Abbott-led government stands for, and they very clearly don’t like it.

The shock Queensland election result has been read by many as a voter judgment on the hard-right policies and programs that are now synonymous with the Abbott brand.

The Liberals sense they can save their government from being a one-term wonder, but they know they don’t have much time.

The question they will answer on Tuesday is whether they believe they can leave their leadership team as it is, and somehow persuade voters to put aside their suspicion and distrust in time to make the next election winnable again.

Or whether they think a full reboot, with a new leader and new approach, offers the best chance of survival.

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GREG RAY: Selling a mullock heap

SAY I was some rich bloke and I owned two really important pieces of land, one close to your home and another one closer to the home of some good pals of mine.

And say that for as long as anybody could remember I’d been renting the land near you to some characters who just wanted somewhere to park piles of coal, in between digging it out of the ground and selling it. I’d been getting good rent, plus a fat fee from my tenants, linked to the size of their dirt piles near your house.

The other block of ground I owned was bigger, closer to where some of my posh mates lived, and I pulled a fair bit of rent from it too.

For years you’d been whingeing to me about how the bit of land near you ought to be used for other stuff, not just a big coal-dump. Why didn’t I build some new warehouses there, or other stuff that might really add some value to your neighbourhood?

If I used this bit of land of mine more intelligently, I could make a big difference to your quality of life, you said.

But my coal-digger tenants didn’t want me listening to you. They didn’t want anything getting in the way of more and bigger coal piles, and they told me you were just an uppity git from bogan stock and not worth a pinch of you-know-what.

Say I pretty much agreed with them, not that I’d ever tell you that.

Anyway, say one day I got sick of owning these bits of land and wanted to flog them off.

You were cheering, because you thought maybe somebody with half a brain might buy the bit near you and use it for something other than a mullock heap, transforming your neighbourhood from a grimy dustbowl into something a bit more, you know, up-market.

I was happy to let you believe that, but being a cunning dog I was shafting you in secret.

My other block of land, the one not anywhere near where you live, was on the market and I was hoping to get really big bucks for it. But some of the would-be buyers were umming and ahhing and kicking the tyres and asking how could they be sure that one of their competitors wouldn’t buy my grotty old mullock heap, put some shiny warehouses on it and interfere with the profits they hoped to earn from owning my hoity-toity block of land.

No problem, I told them. Let’s get some lawyers to put a secret clause in the contract for both my blocks of land stipulating that if anybody buys the mullock-heap and tries to build a shiny warehouse they will have to pay compensation to the owner of the hoity-toity block for daring to compete.

Wow, can you even do that, they asked me. Money runs this show, I told them. You just watch me.

So that’s exactly what I did.

Now, let’s imagine I’m actually not just some random rich guy after all, but a state government.

And let’s imagine the two bits of ground are not just any old blocks of dirt, but are really the ports of Sydney and Newcastle. Can you guess which one is the mullock heap?

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that a government that purports to represent the entire state of NSW and which also claims to believe in free markets and competition, would pull such a dirty stunt that is so clearly and deliberately designed to hold one city back and prevent its economic advancement?

If this wasn’t NSW it might be hard to believe, but if you study the history of this sorry state you will see the commercial interests of Sydney have always been promoted over those of Newcastle.

As if Sydney even needs help. In this case the suppression of Newcastle’s interests was almost incidental, in that the main aim was to get the highest price for the Port of Sydney by guaranteeing Newcastle would never be allowed to compete in the container trade.

If anything, that’s even more insulting. Like, give me some extra dollars and I’ll cripple that mangy dog so it never bites you.

No wonder the government feels obliged to give Newcastle a small fraction of the sale proceeds from the long-term lease over the city’s own port. Kind of a guilty afterthought, maybe? Still, they didn’t have to …

But don’t you worry about the government. It won’t be out of pocket. Newcastle will repay this little ‘‘favour’’ a hundred times over by the time the Macquarie Street mandarins have finished with us.

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