Franchisees across the scandal-ridden industry giant Retail Food Group are questioning how millions of dollars of advertising funds collected from them, across brands including Gloria Jeans, Michel’s Patisserie, Brumby’s and Donut King, are spent.
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It comes as advertising funds across the $170 billion franchise sector are under scrutiny, with evidence building that some franchisors are misusing the funds to artificially boost profits. Some industry experts estimate that more than $1 billion a year is collected from franchisees in marketing fees.

Under the Franchising Code, a franchisor must prepare an annual financial statement for each advertising fund, detailing all the fund’s receipts and expenses for the past financial year then releasing a set of audited accounts.

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is the marketing fund accounts are often scant in detail, lack transparency and are left to the franchisor’s discretion, including how much they allocate to overheads and administrative costs. This lack of rigorous external governance means they can be easily manipulated and misused – and they are.

In October the competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, sent a note to 2500 members of the Franchising Information Network, reminding them about their obligations when it comes to marketing funds. It noted that a common source of tension in franchise networks was how marketing money was spent.

It’s not hard to see why. Franchisees contribute anywhere between 2 per cent to 6.5 per cent of gross sales to a marketing fund. When franchisees are struggling financially, and see little evidence of marketing support, resentment can build.

In the case of RFG, hundreds of its franchisees have gone to the wall but still contribute to marketing. Brumby’s requires a 3 per cent contribution, while Pizza Capers’ is a hefty 6.5 per cent.

Franchisees from Michel’s, Gloria Jeans, Brumby’s and Donut King claim they submitted complaints over the years to the ACCC requesting an investigation of RFG, including its treatment of the marketing fund.

In late 2015, a group of disgruntled Brumby’s franchisees formed a group known as the High Horses and wrote to the ACCC requesting help. In one letter it said: “If you review it nearly 60 per cent of the fund has been allocated to costs to offset those of the Franchisor like admin, operating expenses, rent! Whilst acceptable under the Franchising Code does it pass the ‘pub test’!”

Some Gloria Jeans franchisees have also complained. One franchisee who studied the latest marketing fund accounts questioned why marketing wages ballooned from more than $400,000 in 2015 to $2.35 million in 2017. He said administration expenses jumped from $54,000 in 2016 to $841,000 in 2017. “How is this possible, can you please explain and – again – send all relevant copies of invoices etc.”

Earlier this year, RFG shocked the market when it was forced to restate its accounts partly due to a change in the way RFG must treat expenditure previously charged to marketing funds (but not collected).

Its annual accounts revealed it was never justified in spending money out of the Michel’s marketing funding on supply-chain efficiencies. These supply-chain expenses had been booked as a receivable and passed on as a cost to franchisees. When franchisees couldn’t pay it, RFG wrote it off. But this time round it also restated its accounts in 2015 and 2016, which raised questions as to whether these amounts should have been booked as receivables in the first place.

Fairfax has obtained copies of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 marketing fund accounts for each of the brands. It found each marketing fund treated payroll differently, despite using the same auditor. For instance in Michel’s, payroll is lumped in with packaging as part of marketing expenses, while in Gloria Jeans’, payroll is separated out and included in administration expenses. This creates a very different picture of how much is being spent on advertising. RFG failed to respond to questions about the high payroll costs, their dramatic increases, or how many people worked in marketing on each brand.

There is much wrong with the franchise system. Agreements are drafted in favour of the franchisor, who can then slowly increase the heat. Marketing funds are one of the ways they can do it – and they do.

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Australian farmers have hit out at a new 30 per cent tariff introduced by the Indian Government on imported chickpeas and lentils, describing it as a “gut-wrenching” end to the season after battles with mice, frost and severe dry conditions during the year.
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The move is a blow to Australian farmers because the crops are big earners, with the total value of all Australian chickpea exports in 2016-17 about $1.92 billion. Australian chickpea exports to India in 2016-17 were valued at more than $1.1 billion, while lentil exports were valued at almost $200 million.

Farmers also expressed frustration that the move by India went in the opposite direction to steps taken around the world to reduce trade barriers between nations.

In response to the new trade barrier, Australian farmers could have no choice but to grow less of the “premium” crops.

David Jochinke, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said a “drop in price was the primary concern”, as well as a drop in demand for the Australian products.

Asked how farmers felt about the new Indian tariff, Mr Jochinke said: “They’re absolutely gutted that this is going to be the case. They’re really hoping that the federal government can try to get a concession for Australian growers, or try to assist the Indian government to allow our imports to proceed without having the tariff.”

Mr Jochinke said Australia was a very large exporter of chickpeas and lentils, most of which went to the sub-continent.

Australia’s chickpea industry had grown strongly over the past decade, he said.

“We are asking the government to use the relationship its got with India to try to get a better deal for Australian farmers. Because in many regions (of Australia), chickpeas are the premium crops that people grow,” he said.

The crops are significant ones in Victoria, particularly in the fertile Wimmera district. In northern New South Wales, around Narrabri and Moree, chickpeas are a major crop.

“Because these are such important crops to us and so widely grown, farmers are looking for this to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Mr Jochinke said.

The tariff blow is something of a double-whammy to many growers, coming after a difficult year in which some battled severe dry conditions, frosts and mice problems. Some Victorian farmers lost so much crop to mice they had to re-sow entire paddocks, while some NSW crops were so dry they were not harvested.

For many growers, the crops are grown on a substantial scale. Mr Jochinke, who farms in the Wimmera, grew about 600 hectares of lentils and about 150 hectares of chickpeas.

“We got hit by frost as well, we lost about 70 per cent of our chickpeas to frost and about half of our lentils to frost. So we’ve been hit quite hard as far as production goes. And to have this come on top really does take the shine right off the season for them,” he said.

Derek Schoen, president of the New South Wales Farmers Association, said the Indian market was a “lucrative market” for Australian growers.

“It’s disappointing to see that India is moving to a more protectionist type policy setting. And it’s not just on pulses, it seems to be across the board that they are heading this way,” he said.

“The rest of the world seems to be moving to a more and more free trade type environment. And it’s not as though there is an enormous domestic production (in India), so it’s also going to force prices up in India as well,” he said.

Mr Schoen said the Indian market had strengthened in recent years, giving farmers more optimism to plant bigger crops.

“To sort of have the rug pulled from underneath them like this, it’s very unfortunate because people had geared up to higher production of chickpeas and lentils,” he said.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) show that chickpea exports in 2016-17 were estimated at $1.92 billion.

But the forecasts for 2017-18 – released well before the tariff decision was revealed – are for a 32 per cent decline in the value of chickpea exports, to $1.31 billion. The volume of chickpea exports to India are projected to drop 27 per cent in 2017-18.

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ABC Summer Comedy Binge


To find any new comedy on Australian free-to-air channels these days is like looking for love on Tinder. You will spot a lot of dicks before striking gold with a talking vagina in a red sequinned dress.

That sassy lady garden belongs to Nakkiah Lui’s character in Kiki and Kitty, one of seven new short-form shows commissioned for the ABC’s new comedy channel.

They are not all gold – more on that later – but what they are is original content at a time when comedy on the commercial channels seems to be an endless stream of panel, quiz and reality shows, plus the unintentional comedy that is Channel Nine’s cricket commentary team.

Whereas the Brits and the Americans are able to pump out sitcoms at a steady rate, our commercial channels seem to have lost their taste for them, instead wallowing in endless Big Bang Theory repeats and self-flagellating with Matt LeBlanc’s latest effort (Man with a Plan – just don’t).

So it’s through that darkness that most of these new short-form comedies – Aussie Rangers, #CelesteChallengeAccepted, Kiki and Kitty, Other People’s Problems, Mychonny: The Chinaboy Show and Virgin Bush, plus new episodes of Fresh Blood – should be viewed. Yes, they are not perfect but they are new – new ideas, stories and faces. And they are worth watching.

Lui’s Kiki and Kitty is the perfect example. Not all of the jokes work, but where else will you find a talking vagina (the give-her-all-the-shows-now Elaine Crombie), a passionate ice-skating instructor (Rob Carlton), and a show’s writer and star, Lui, in bondage gear? Throw in barbed jokes about race (top marks to Harriet Dyer who plays Lui’s co-worker Cherise) and you have a comedy that wouldn’t get past the front door at Nine, Ten or Seven, but is the most original show seen in a long time.

Coming in a close second is the delightfully silly Aussie Rangers. Jon Bell (best known for Black Comedy, but he also wrote the under-appreciated Gods of Wheat Street) plays Wally Wilson, the head ranger of Black Stump National Park, who is on the hunt for the rare quokkacoot. Bell manages to cram more quality gags into each episode’s roughly six-minute running time than most long-form comedies.

Of the other new shows – Mychonny: The Chinaboy Show is great and features an unknown (to me) cast, and Other People’s Problems gets by on the strength of its star Maria Angelico.

The most disappointing is #CelesteChallengeAccepted, which turns Celeste Barber’s witty and original Instagram account that parodies ridiculous photos of celebrities into a fairly dull four-minute show.

That leaves Virgin Bush as the biggest dud. The premise is simple enough – city boy goes to regional Australia, meets the locals and cracks a few gags.

Unfortunately said city boy – comedian Neel Kolhatkar – is dead on arrival. His jokes are about as original as a photocopied piece of paper and his gormless mugging to camera only deepens the irritation. In the first episode (one of of four) he heads to the shearing sheds of Carinda in far northern NSW, where he (rightly) fails to impress the hard-as-nails boss Bronco.

A cringingly awkward trip to the pub is the icing on an undercooked cake. In the interests of fairness I pressed play on the second episode but lasted only two minutes.

As I said, it’s not all gold but it is an investment in Australian comedy, something the ABC should be applauded for and something the other free-to-air channels should try sometime.

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Chris Jordan, Commissioner of Taxation at the ATO, at the 2016 Self Managed Super Funds Conference, Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Wednesday 18th February 2016. World Copyright: Daniel KaliszMore than year after a massive failure of Tax Office IT systems, a review has found the situation had a “disproportionately significant impact” on services because such a meltdown had not been planned for, while remediation efforts might not be effective.
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An independent review by consulting firm PwC, released this month, found multiple component failures on a key data storage system on December 12, 2016, had caused the significant outage and blocked applications and services being available to members of the public.

In June, a separate report found technicians failed to effectively respond to the outages for nearly four hours, adding to chaos caused by warning and back-up systems that were not fully operational. Latest public service news

The new report found initial actions taken in response to the failure were not successful because of a previously unknown issue with one of the storage network components, a lower than expected “resilience posture” and some features having not being fully implemented.

The response was further hampered by the fact some control, management and monitoring systems were inaccessible because they were dependent on the hardware which had failed.

It said a level of residual risk still exists due to the absence of definitive evidence on the conditions that led to technical failures in the first place.

“Once notified, the ATO initiated escalation and response activities to remediate the issue and restore services as quickly as possible,” the report said.

“This response was generally executed in accordance with documented recovery and crisis management procedures, and included working with its service providers who supported the SAN and service management functions.

“Determination of the root cause of these component failures is subject to specific technical analysis which is yet to be completed by the service provider.”

A failure to plan for an incident of the nature and scale experienced in the crash had not been explicitly considered by the ATO or its external service providers, resulting in insufficient readiness levels for recovery.

In a statement responding to the report, an ATO spokesman said strong progress had been made to ensure ongoing performance of IT systems.

The PwC findings and a June report into the IT elements and business impacts of a string of recent systems outages are being considered.

“The ATO is well-advanced in implementing the recommendations of both reports, including fixing irritants and enhancing systems performance, refreshing the tax and BAS agent portal to better meet the needs of the tax profession and improving our IT design and governance.

“We will continue to build on this progress in 2018 to provide a better experience for all taxpayers, tax and super professionals, and digital service providers who use our systems,” the statement said.

Labor’s shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh has called for explanations from the government, blaming 4600 job cuts for the failures.

This year’s tax period has seen 11.6 million tax returns lodged to date, up 4 per cent from the same time last year, as well as 8.7 million refunds issued, worth more than $26.3 billion.

The ATO said 81 million pieces of information have been pre-filled in tax returns, up 1 per cent from the same time in 2016.

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On Christmas night US time, Kim Kardashian West shared a series of images to her Instagram stories. The first one revealed her leg, which is healing very nicely from psoriasis.
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The next was a close-up of a small box, which was filled with Amazon gift vouchers, a Disney Mickey toy, Apple headphones, Netflix gift cards and Adidas socks. At this point, Kim, intimated that she had to pretend to be touched, apparently telling her husband, “That’s so sweet!”

“But then” she continued, “I open the next box and it is stock to Amazon, where he got the gift card, stock to Netflix, stock to Apple where he got the headphones, Adidas stock and Disney stock.” She captioned the entire thing “Best husband alert”

According to reports, the stocks looked to be worth as much as $US200,000.

Kim Kardashian West has been married to her husband, Kanye West for almost four years now, and in those four years, West has always gone all-out on gifts. Who could forget the room of flowers this year? The wall of flowers for Mother’s Day in 2014? The $6 million ring that was sadly stolen in the French burglary?

But his most recent present to his wife reveals a lot, we think, about marriage — theirs, yours, ours, and the state of the world today. It also raises some tough questions we’re not sure we are ready to hear answers to just yet.

We know it’s hard to get the woman who has everything, (including a daughter on the way) anything meaningful. Walls of flowers are one thing, but flowers, as you may or may not be aware, die.

The tone of this gift might be read as West’s understanding and appreciation of his wife as a savvy business woman, something that is undeniably true.

But, may we put to you a counter theory: we understand from basic psychology that the infatuation stage of any relationship – also referred to as ” limerence” lasts for as little as 18 months or as long as three years, although it can last decades. We know the Wests have a pure, deeply romantic relationship, but we also know they are human, well, for the benefit of this article, let’s say they are.

Is Kanye West signalling, even in a sub-conscious sense, that he has exited limerence? Stocks, while sturdy, and a huge signifier of wealth, are still the rich man’s version of a voucher.

And so, in rich people terms, Kanye West just gave his wife a Target gift card.


Gift cards and vouchers are what married people give each other when they feel secure; even cosy in a relationship. A more cynical person might call this stage “giving up”, a less cynical person might term it surrender. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a stage wherein surprises become few and far between, in favour of routine.

Vouchers are the greatest emblem of an almost sit-com version of “security” (AKA the underwear on the couch period) as they lack any sort of personal touch, or insight into your partner’s interests or passions. It is, simply put, a gift of convenience. West actually gave literal vouchers, but then it seems he thought better of it. Or did he?

Maybe this is all one big joke! Maybe. West has compared himself to Walt Disney and to Steve Jobs, so maybe these vouchers and stocks are symbolic of West’s inner life, his feelings about his own creative genius.

They might also be read as a tribute to the longevity of their marriage. Stocks are a big, long investment, after all. and this is the man who wrote the lyrics to Gold Digger – so giving money in any form to his partner is a sign of deep trust, and healing of past issues.

There is one more reading of the gift and this is the least favourable. West has spoken openly of being in serious debt. He once tweeted that he was $US53 million in debt, in fact. A month later, his wife informed the public that she had just earned $US80 million from her latest game app and was happy to transfer $US53 million into their joint account.

Is Kanye, um, poor? Is he so aware of his debt to his wife he knows that any gift he gives her is essentially spending her money? Has he been reduced, then, to gifting her stocks that he himself has held onto for his deals with Adidas, et al?

No, that is a terrible thought to have of icons such as these. They are the millennial Camelot, and for richer or poorer, we are committed.

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You better Believe it – it’s looking like superstar singer and actress Cher will headline Sydney’s 40th gay and lesbian Mardi Gras in March.
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While it is understood a contract is yet to be signed, sources close to the event have told Fairfax Mediathe 71-year-old gay icon is almost locked in to perform at the world-renowned gay pride festival.

Organisers typically seek out big overseas acts on major anniversaries – the 30th Mardi Gras was headlined by Cyndi Lauper – and this year’s will take on extra significance given the historic legalisation of same-sex marriage just weeks ago.

Cher, a leading gay icon, is known for hits such as ”Believe” and ”If I Could Turn Back Time”. Photo: Aaron Lee Fineman

The rumour mill has been in overdrive, especially after the If I Could Turn Back Time singer hinted at the deal on her official (and ever zany) Twitter account, teasingly posting: “Where am I going in March!?”

And it was helped along last week when the Australian Radio Network appeared to break an embargo by publishing an online story declaring Cher was “officially coming to town” for Mardi Gras. It was swiftly retracted but remains viewable in cached form.

Officials made it clear that while Cher was being courted as “plan A” for the after-party, dealings with megastars were always precarious and fallback options were in place.

Already, the 40th anniversary Mardi Gras parade has been swamped with interest and overbooked. Organisers copped heated criticism for rejecting the NSW Teachers Federation – a long-time participant in the parade – before bowing to pressure and granting the union a float once another group pulled out.

About 12,000 people from 200 groups are expected to march along Oxford Street on March 3, which will mark 40 years since the political protest and gay pride march began.

Organisers issued an apology to those unable to participate, citing safety and security concerns that imposed strict limits on the number of people and vehicles involved in the parade.

Brandon Bear, co-chair of Sydney Mardi Gras, said the chief barrier to expanding the size of the parade was the limited space allocated for pre-parade marshalling on College and Liverpool streets, around Hyde Park.

“If there are more people in there, it does actually become less safe, and it becomes very unpleasant,” he said.

“We’re part of Sydney, we’re not separate to it. It’s about making sure that we can be as fabulous as we can, but not ruining the space for everybody else and keeping the city operational.”

Mr Bear declined to confirm Cher’s involvement in the festival, saying only that “no announcement has been made” and “part of the excitement of the party is waiting to find out who the headliner will be”.

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SMH News. Story by, Kate McClymont and Michaela Whitbourn. Photo shows, Eddie Obeids wife, Judith Obeid leaves the Supreme Court, Sydney with one of her daughters.Photo by, Peter Rae Monday 10 April, 2017As Eddie Obeid languishes behind bars for a second Christmas and New Year, the family of the corrupt former Labor MP is being pursued in court for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash they received from the Circular Quay cafes at the centre of his trial.
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Fairfax Media can reveal the liquidator appointed to Circular Quay Restaurants, the failed front company which ran the cafes, is suing the Obeid family patriarch, his wife Judith and five of their nine children in the District Court for just over $708,000.

The figure includes $433,382 in cash payments the family members allegedly received from the businesses, plus interest and costs.

Circular Quay Restaurants, which operated three cafes on or near the bustling ferry wharves at the quay, went into liquidation in 2014 owing taxpayers almost $1 million in unpaid rent and other costs.

Obeid snr, who spent 20 years in the state’s upper house, was jailed in December 2016 for lobbying a senior NSW Maritime Authority bureaucrat in 2007 to secure favourable conditions for tenants at Circular Quay without revealing his family had a financial interest in the cafes.

In a circular to creditors dated November 28, 2017, Circular Quay Restaurants liquidator Frank Lo Pilato said he conducted public examinations of the company’s current and former directors, its professional advisers and members of the Obeid family in August 2016 and March and April this year.

“During the course of the public examinations evidence was given that cash payments totalling $433,382 were made to members of the Obeid family in the years preceding the liquidation of the company,” Mr Lo Pilato, a managing partner at RSM Australia, said.

As a result of the evidence, he launched proceedings in the District Court against the Obeid family members who received the payments. Mr Lo Pilato said he was also taking action against a former director of the company, Obeid’s brother-in-law John Abood, “for breach of his statutory duties as a director and officer of the company”.

The Obeid children named in the District Court action are Moses Obeid, his older brother Damien and younger brothers Gerard and Eddie junior, along with their sister Gemma.

Obeid snr’s criminal trial followed an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into the cafe leases, which was in turn sparked by a Walkley Award-winning Herald investigation in 2012 exposing the Obeid family’s secret interest in the cafes.

During a liquidator’s examination in April, Judith Obeid described her occupation as “home duties” and agreed she was given $1000 in cash a week from the takings of the businesses. She said she spent the money on items “for the home and for the family”.

Asked who was running the cafes, Mrs Obeid insisted she “really had no knowledge of my sons’ business whatsoever”.

“I have a large family. My dedication was to my nine married children and 33 grandchildren,” she told the Supreme Court.

“I am a hands-on mother and hands-on grandmother. I had no time whatsoever to get involved. That’s the honest truth.”

Asked if she had her own bank account, Mrs Obeid replied: “Not to my knowledge.”

During Obeid snr’s first criminal trial, Mrs Obeid’s cousin Paul Maroon volunteered damning financial records showing payments from the cafes being made to “Dad”.

Mr Maroon was asked during a liquidator’s examination if he subsequently wrote an email apologising to Eddie Obeid’s lawyers for finding the records.

“What were you apologising for in that sentence? The monumental ‘expletive’ thing you had done?” the liquidator’s lawyer, Jim Harrowell, asked Mr Maroon. Mr Maroon replied it was “over a year ago” and he could not recall.

The liquidator’s action, scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on January 15, is not the only legal headache for the Obeid clan. The family is also locked in a long-running Federal Court battle with the Australian Taxation Office over bills totalling $8.6 million, which were sent to the family in August 2013 following an audit of Obeid snr and a complex web of family trusts and companies.

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Alastair Cook wound the clock back to post a potentially career-saving century on a day Australia’s over-reliance on Steve Smith was exposed, leaving the hosts in a grim struggle in the fourth Test.
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The second day crowd of 67,882 came to the MCG expecting another ton from the Australian skipper only to see the home side crumble with the bat as England enjoyed one of its best days on what has been a miserable campaign.

Australia had been well placed to post another gargantuan first innings total but its hopes of inflicting a third straight whitewash on home soil now hang in the balance.

The visitors were 2/192 at stumps on the second day after Australia suffered a dramatic batting collapse in which it lost 7/67 to be all out for 327.

The hosts were not helped by a stomach bug to an exhausted Pat Cummins, who came off the field several times and was so tired he slept during the tea break. Down his pace due to his illness, Cummins still shouldered his share of the load as temperatures soared into the 30s.

“I was pretty proud of Pat. You go through moments when you don’t feel well in Test cricket,” Nathan Lyon said.

“The way he stuck at it and put in a massive effort was quite pleasing to see. Hats off to him for the effort he’s put in for us today.”

Things would have been worse had James Vince challenged a leg before wicket verdict with replays showing the England No.3 had feathered one onto his pad.

On a benign pitch, there is no reason why Cook and his successor Joe Root, who was unbeaten on 49, cannot bat well into the third day and leave Australia in the unfamiliar position of having to bat for survival in the second half of the match.

Opportunities have been few and far between for the Australian attack on a pitch where bowlers are relying primarily on batsman error for their wickets.

They are already ruing the life given to Cook, who was reprieved on 66 when Smith failed to hold on to a difficult chance at first slip off Mitchell Marsh

Cook capitalised on Smith’s gamble to bring himself on for the final over, peeling off the seven runs he needed to reach triple figures with two balls to spare.

England’s leading run-scorer, who posted his first ton in six matches and had gone 10 innings without passing 50, had been under fire from former greats Kevin Pietersen and Mitchell Johnson who believed he should retire.

“Testament to the bloke he is, he’s a calm character, not someone who gets fazed,” Stuart Broad said.

“He went through so much stuff about his captaincy, I’m sure a bit of stick about his batting is not going to bother him too much.

“Cooky has had periods in his career where he might not score the runs he wants then scores a big hundred. He doesn’t deal in little hundreds, he seems to go big.”

The turning point of the day came when Smith chopped on to his stumps on 76 with a 23rd Test ton within reach.

Although Australia’s top six is more stable now than a year ago, its fortunes still ride heavily on Smith’s back. Almost half the team’s runs have come while the skipper has been at the crease.

Smith was lured into a rare mistake by debutant Tom Curran, who a day earlier was cruelly denied what would have been his first Test wicket by a matter of millimetres.

The crowd was stunned when Smith chopped a short and wide ball on to his stumps on 76. He was one of three Australian batsman, along with Mitchell Marsh and Tim Paine, to lose his wicket trying to force the issue off the back foot on a pitch lacking pace.

Once Shaun Marsh departed for 61, one of four wickets to a much-improved Broad, there was little resistance from Australia’s tail.

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The England and Wales Cricket Board will complete a meticulous review of what’s required to succeed in Australia in 2021 – and the opening two days at the MCG have given insight into what’s needed.
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While there is an Ashes rematch on the swinging decks of England in 2019, the ECB will also have an eye towards its next trip here and what skill base its squad must have to be a chance of toppling a robust opponent at a time when home-ground advantage may never have been stronger.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said while the cricketing calendar was crowded, there was still opportunity to thoroughly prepare for a marquee series.

“I think it’s about understanding where the margins can be gained. Obviously, that is a complex issue with respect to our particular structure. It’s about pitches that you play on, it’s about the kind of conditions and the kinds of players that you are creating, out of your own environment,” he said on ABC radio.

“So we’ll go back and have a look at that. As I’ve said we have a thick plan in place for both white-ball and red-ball cricket, so I will go back and have a good look at it but, hopefully, come back better prepared in four years’ time.”

A prerequisite will surely be heart and resolve, something England showed in dismissing Australia for 327 on Wednesday, including claiming 7-67 from the moment Steve Smith dragged a wide delivery onto his stumps and became the maiden Test wicket of Tom Curran.

In reply, the tourists will resume day three on 2-192, with Alastair Cook unbeaten and having celebrated his 32nd Test century, and skipper Joe Root (49 not out) intent on building a big lead on a flat drop-in pitch.

Curran, after the disappointment of having David Warner dismissed off a no-ball on Boxing Day, deserved his reward but it was veteran leaders Stuart Broad and James Anderson who finally delivered in tandem.

Broad, with only five wickets through the opening three Tests, would reap four, while Anderson would finish with three and maximise reverse swing. That three Australians played on prompted the debate over whether it was more the batsman’s fault rather than canny bowling that reaped the wickets, but it did not matter.

What Broad and Anderson reinforced is how important it is that the team’s leaders show the way in a series when the spotlight is at its fiercest.

Broad said he had fallen into a “mental trap” of not wanting to concede runs in the Perth Test when he was wicketless and conceded 142 runs, but had adopted a more aggressive mindset here. He said he deserved criticism in Perth and conceded he might have been playing for his future in Melbourne.

“I have worked incredibly hard this week physically and mentally. I did some work on a few days off looking at certain things and then running hard in the nets trying to get a feeling of that rhythm back. Today, we got lucky with a couple of chop-ons and a couple of wickets Australia were probably disappointed with but we were delighted with,” Broad said.

“It’s been a pretty tough couple of weeks really but it makes playing and taking wickets very rewarding.”

Cook and Root then got in on the act with an undefeated century stand. Cook, profiting from a life on 66 when dropped by Smith at slip, broke out from his tour-long funk to deliver an innings neither he nor the 67,882 fans on hand will forget in a hurry.

This was Cook at his best, with sublime cover and straight drives and pull shots. The absence of Mitchell Starc was felt and Pat Cummins was ill, sleeping through the entire tea break, but Cook scored more on this day than he had in the previous three Tests combined. Had England’s greatest Test run-scorer found touch earlier in the series, the summer could have taken on a different complexion.

“I think every time you step on the field you are pretty much playing for your career really – that’s the pressure of international cricket,” Broad said.

“You never know how things will go – you just need to focus on making sure that your mindset is right, your work ethic is right, you are doing everything you can to be at your best.

“It shows a huge amount of character to be under that scrutiny and pressure and come out and deliver any sort of performance, let alone a hundred like Cooky has just done.”

Regardless of the result in Melbourne, there will be much for the ECB to discuss.

A lack of a pure speedster has been one reason given for the tourists’ troubles, for it’s meant they cannot consistently attack with the short ball in a bid to at least unsettle their opponents. Australia, with three pure quicks in Josh Hazlewood, Cummins and, for the opening three Tests, Starc, have been able to trouble batsmen through swing and seam when pitching up and also through intimidating short-pitched deliveries.

“Australia have been very good here. You look at most of the [Ashes] series – a lot of the home teams have won. Since ’05, we have won at home,” Broad said.

Harrison said the ceding of the Ashes urn had been “hugely disappointing”, with Root’s team unable to dominate the key moments.

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CONTINUE: The Hunter team aboard She’s The Culprit. Picture: Marina NeilShe’s The Culprit has avoided a near disaster on Wednesday to continue this year’s Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
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Co-skipper and part-owner Glen Picasso said they struck a potential boat-damaging sunfish, but managed to keep sailing towards the finish line at Tasmania’s famed Constitution Dock.

“Running hard under spinnaker,” Picasso said in a text message to the Newcastle Herald.“Hit sunfish, no damage, continue racing Culprit.”

She’s The Culprit, an Inglis/Jones 39 out of Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club and Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, had improved seven spots to 66thoverallat 10pm but droppedthree places to fifth in the PHS division two category they won in 2014.

Aroundthe same time overnight, as the battle for record-breaking line honours up the Derwent River was won by Wild Oats XI overLDV Comanche, fellow Hunter crews Dare Devil (75th) and Freyja (98th) were further behind.

Dare Devil,a Farr-Cookson 47 out of Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club withSibby Ilzhofer the owner-skipper, had gone back 26 places overall in the previous24 hour period and slightly slipped to 11thinORCi division two.

Dr Richard Lees’ Freyja, a 73-year-old Atkins-Ingrid designed wooden boat out of the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club, remained fourth in PHS division two handicap after being last out of Sydney Heads on Boxing Day.

Both Dare Devil and Freyja failed to finish the race last year.

There have beenthree retirements in 2017 with Wots Next, Rockall and Jazz Player all out of the running from the original field of 102 that started from Sydney Harbour on Tuesday.

Elsewhere and Sonic, a Newcastle Cruising YachtClubTP52 owned by Mick Martin and known as Frantic, was up to 23rdin line honours at 10pm with its South Korean crew who have chartered the boat for asecond consecutive year.

Black Jack,with Lake Macquarie’s Tom Addis as navigator, was third in line honours at the same time.

The crew of runner-up LDV Comanche, which had been overtaken by Wild Oats XI in tense closing stages after leading most of the race, featuredformer Maitland Blacks junior and 2014 Super Rugby champion Jeremy Tilse.

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