Archives for December2018

Cowra Cup: Michael Travers hopes to make most of Mathew Cahill and Matthew Dale’s absence

Hoping for a bit of luck: Jockey Michael Travers. Photo: Jamila ToderasMathew Cahill or Matthew Dale is how Michael Travers remembers the Cowra Cup in recent years. But in the absence of both this year, who knows who will take out the $30,000 feature in the central west on Sunday?

“They win it every year, one or the other,” Travers joked.

And he was laughing through gritted teeth when he described his own record in the race, where the jockey is the only local flavour in 2017, as “horrible”.

But an 11th-hour decision to line up tough Gilgandra six-year-old Yes Zariz might be the tonic to turn that around on Sunday.

“To be honest, it was an afterthought,” Travers said. “He was very unlucky in the Gilgandra Cup and he just didn’t get a clear run when I needed to, even though the winner was much too good on the day.

“He gives the impression he might want a little further so we’re going to test that in the Cowra Cup. He was working to the line evenly without doing anything brilliant and now that he’s up to the mile we might as well have a crack at the Cowra Cup while he’s up and going. At his best he would be chance.”

The $26,000 Japan Cowra Cup will be the support act on a program that features local speedster Zarhron for Andrew Molloy.

Travers will partner Bathurst gelding Hair Of The Dog and conceded he will need a marked form reversal to trouble the local hope.

“I won on him a couple of times last preparation, but he’s not going as well this time and it’s going to be hard to beat Zarhron,” Travers said. “He might be too good for them.”

The Cowra Jockey Club’s feature meeting will have a sombre feel to it after the death of long-time committeeman Peter Ryan just three days after Christmas. The former president spent 40 years on the club’s committee and his funeral service will be held on Monday.

TAB meetings

Sunday – Coffs Harbour, Cowra; Monday – Wagga; Tuesday – Kempsey, Nowra; Thursday – Muswellbrook; Friday – Ballina; Saturday – Glen Innes.

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Teen prodigy Celina Yuan qualifies for Ladies European Tour at just 17

On target for big things: Eighteen-year-old golfer Celina Yuan. Photo: Nick MoirSchool’s out and one of world golf’s biggest tours is in for a teenage prodigy who has dumped her books in the hunt for birdies and a slice of history.

At 17 and approaching her Higher School Certificate year, Sydney hotshot Celina Yuan qualified in December to play on the Ladies European Tour and will focus on her golf tuition rather than her education away from the greens as one of the youngest players to earn full-time status on the women’s tour.

The former Australian girls’ amateur champion idolised Tiger Woods and has modelled her game on world No.1 Lydia Ko. She didn’t want to “screw up” after putting herself in a great position to qualify for Europe during the final stage of qualifying in Morocco just before Christmas.

“I’m not going to finish year 12 and I’m just going to concentrate on golf and I want to give it my all,” said the Australian Golf Club member Yuan, who turned 18 on Friday.

“Without practice there’s no such thing as talent.

“I guess I’m going to be pretty nervous [on the Ladies European Tour], but I want to enjoy it at the same time and play well. I’ll try to play as many tournaments as possible that I can get to.”

Yuan’s emergence is another example of the wave of teenagers and early twenty-somethings shelving schooling to make it in the women’s game, which boasts the USLPGA Tour as the platform for the world’s best.

But to qualify for Europe when she was barely allowed to drive a car on her own was a staggering achievement.

“The bottom line is she’s an unbelievable golfer and always has been,” said her coach Gary Barter, who also mentors former Australian Open champion Matt Jones and took over the tutelage of Yuan after the foundation was laid by Khan Pullen.

“She’s got the ability to win championships and what she did over [in Morocco] was quite extraordinary really, if you look at the calibre of players in that Q [qualifying] school.”

Yuan’s distance education has always complemented her golf pursuits, which she only began taking seriously after following her older brother Kevin around with a club as a five-year-old.

Kevin is one of Australia’s leading male amateurs and competed in the Australian Master of Amateurs at Royal Melbourne last week.

“It was mainly just running around hitting balls after my brother [when I started],” the softly-spoken Yuan said. “He was the more serious one at first and gradually I got more into it and wanted to be a really good golfer.

“I guess when he plays well I’m always very jealous of him and gets me motivated to play as good as him. And I enjoy seeing new people, places and golf courses.”

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Choices abound for City Football Group as Valkanis tries to make his case

It’s been a whirlwind half year for Michael Valkanis.

In May he was part of the management team which brought Adelaide United its first ever championship in their grand final triumph over Western Sydney Wanderers.

Now he is the man in the hot seat at Melbourne City, hoping to do the same thing, but this time as head coach of the league’s richest and best resourced club.

Valkanis got the first game of the rest of his life off to a satisfactory start when City beat – co-incidentally – Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 at AAMI Park on Friday night.

In the circumstances – City had not won a match for more than five weeks and their head coach, John van ‘t Schip, had departed to be with his ailing father in The Netherlands on Tuesday – the result probably mattered more than the performance.

But the outcome will have done plenty to calm nerves at City’s Bundoora base, both of the players, who were becoming increasingly frustrated by their inability to hold on to leads and drop points, and a rookie coach hoping to make a statement in his first match.

City dominated possession and should really have put away the 10-man Wanderers – who were at a numerical disadvantage for an hour after Aritz Borda’s 30th minute dismissal following a clash with City captain Bruno Fornaroli – more comfortably.

But Valkanis can at least enjoy a 100 per cent record for a few days, until he returns to his old stomping ground in South Australia for next Thursday night’s clash with Adelaide, and work more closely with the players who are now under his direction alone.

At 42 the former central defender, who played in Greece and in the NSL and earned one cap for the national team, has waited for his chance and will feel he has the experience and football knowledge to be given an opportunity.

But few, at this stage, at any rate, would expect him to make the post his own in the long term given City’s wealth and their ability to promote people from within the Manchester-based City Football Group or hire well-known names from outside.

Still, Valkanis can do no more than achieve what is asked of him. At the very least he will want to keep on winning and present his employers with a compelling reason to stick with him rather than opt for the big name coach from Europe or South America that many expect them to seek.

Can he do so?

Well, there is no doubt that City have players of the highest quality with the ability to be serious title challengers.

Were it not for their December slip ups – dropping points to Central Coast and Brisbane, only drawing when leading against Sydney and Perth Glory and losing to Melbourne Victory having gone in front – they would be far closer to runaway leaders Sydney than they are at the moment.

A coach can be a tactical genius but if he has no luck it will count for nothing.

Its too early to make any judgement about Valkanis’ tactical acumen, but he certainly enjoyed one big slice of luck in his debut game – the return of experienced Danish central defender Michael Jakobsen.

The centre half had been missing for the past few weeks and City looked far more porous without him than they had earlier in the season.

He brings experience and stability to the rearguard, particularly when deployed alongside raw centre back partner Ruon Tongyik, and it showed on Friday night against the Wanderers where City kept their first A-League clean sheet since the opening match of the season when they won 1-0 in Wellington.

Valkanis, as perhaps befits a former hard-nosed centre half, will look to make City tighter in defence.

His first tactical ploy was to ditch the three at the back structure favoured more recently by van ‘t Schip, preferring to play with a more traditional flat back four utilising the in-form Ivan Franjic on the right, Josh Rose on the left and Jakobsen and Tongyik in the centre.

The strategy gave them more solidity in the centre and against opposition who sat back like Western Sydney it gave the full backs the chance to push on into threatening positions on the flanks, backing up wide men Bruce Kamau and Nicolas Colazo or going wider and allowing the other pair to cut in to support Bruno Fornaroli and Tim Cahill.

The set up also allowed Neil Kilkenny, who is a metronomic presence in the City midfield, to play a bit further forward than in recent games where his ability to hold and recirculate the ball and play linking passes was used to good effect in this match.

If Sydney can beat second bottom Central Coast on Sunday then City will still be 13 points adrift of the leaders at the half way mark of the season. Its not impossible for them to catch Sydney – if Graham Arnold’s side had a serious form slump – but even then City under their new boss would need to keep winning.

A more realistic option might be to ensure they pip Victory and Brisbane for the coveted second spot, which would all but guarantee them an Asian Champions League berth, even if it was only a spot in the qualifying round.

Should City look to cast their net further wide and leave Valkanis in charge only on a temporary basis, then they would have an enormous amount of choice.

They could go after an established Premier League or European boss who is at the beginning or latter end of his career and offer him an interesting challenge in what might be considered an exotic and attractive location. The notion that Australia is a football backwater could be countered by the fact that anyone coming here to manage City would be working for the broader City Football Group, and have potential opportunities with them.

They could look to raid their New York City franchise, where coaches do have experience of salary-capped competitions and finals series, which most European or British coaches don’t, or they may choose to redeploy one of their Manchester based staff.

The other alternative to Valkanis would be to look local on the basis that the A-League is a rather unique beast, with its salary cap, strictures on foreign signings, mandated number of youth players that need to be carried in the squad and the sheer scale and unusual nature of playing in a country with such temperature extremes and distances between matches.

The most successful coaches in recent times have been title winners Guillermo Amor (Adelaide United), Asian Champions League winning boss Tony Popovic, (West Sydney) Kevin Muscat at Melbourne Victory, Mike Mulvey and Ange Postecoglou (who won titles with Brisbane) and Graham Arnold, successful with Central Coast.

Amor, who has strong links with several key City figures with a Barcelona background, like himself, is currently still in charge of the Reds but having a difficult time as they struggle to recapture last season’s spark.

Popovic’s Wanderers are in a transition phase and were beaten by City on Friday night. Muscat is far too associated with Victory to be a consideration, while Postecoglou is now in charge of the Socceroos, and if tempted back to club football is thought far more likely to be interested in a move to Europe or perhaps Asia.

Arnold has just signed a contract extension with Sydney, who are still unbeaten this season, while Mulvey is coaching in Thailand and has rarely been mentioned as a candidate for any A-League jobs that come up since he parted company with the Roar six months after he led them to the championship. Josep Gombau, the former Adelaide coach is another with a Barcelona background and has also been touted as a possibility, although City have said little.

It should be a fascinating few weeks at Bundora, with the first choice the CFG have to make being whether to leave Valkanis in charge for the rest of the season or parachute a permanent coach in as soon as possible.

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How Centrelink unleashed a weapon of math destruction

The most frightening thing about the Centrelink malware debacle is the verve with which the government embraced it. Photo: Erin JonassonThe most frightening thing about the Centrelink malware debacle is the verve with which the government embraced it.

Malware is software designed to do damage under the cover of providing a service.

Unveiling the automated Centrelink debt recovery system mid-year treasurer Scott Morrison and social services minister Christian Porter promised more “accurate and appropriate income testing”. They were going to work with the prime minister’s Digital Transformation Office to “cut red tape and ensure that mistakes are minimised”.

It’s theoretically possible for machines to do complex things better than humans. These days chess-playing programs do it (at least they do it to me) but those programs are exquisitely designed and have goals that are properly specified.

What Morrison and Porter promised was an automated system that would issue Centrelink debt notices “better” than human beings.

Humans did the job extremely well. A former Centrelink worker with 30 years experience says they would “look at start dates for employment that customers had declared, see if it was the same for the employer [using Tax Office records] and roughly work out if it lined up.”

“If it looked as if a person had possibly been overpaid they would write to the customer and ask them to call and tease out where the discrepancy was, and ask for proof, if it was still available, in the form of things such as payslips. If the customer didn’t have them and it looked like there was a possibility of an overpayment, they would write to the employer to ask for the information. If evidence was collected that the customer had not declared the income correctly and a debt existed, then the debt calculator would raise the debt in accordance with the legislation and the customer would be written to.”

What’s important in this description is the humans charged with applying the law didn’t issue debt notices unless they had evidence that a debt existed. To do so without evidence would be to break the law.

But a wrongly-programmed computer need have no such scruples. Even better, its decisions can be presented as objective, hard to overturn. Data scientist Cathy O’Neil outlines scores of examples in her new book Weapons of Math Destruction, from the systems used by credit rating agencies in the lead up to the global financial crisis, to systems that automatically select teachers for the sack on the basis of secret algorithms that grade performance, to systems that deny people job interviews on the basis of proxies for mental health, even though that’s illegal.

They are used because they are quick rather than accurate. As an expert told O’Neil, the primary purpose of a workplace hiring system is “not to find the best employee, but to exclude as many people as possible as cheaply as possible”.

By necessity, they do it unfairly. People who are wise to the systems will mention the right words in job applications to get to the top of the pile. As she says, they are usually not from racial and ethnic minorities. Here, it’s the persistent and well-resourced people who get the better of Centrelink. They are unlikely to be the hardest up.

Many of the automated systems are malicious, created to do harm in the guise of providing a service. The formula used by Centrelink produces consistently false estimates of debts by dividing by 26 the annual wages employers report paying in order to overestimate income received during the smaller number of fortnights claimants get benefits.

The formulas used by for-profit colleges in the US to target internet advertising zero in on single mothers of colour who are poor enough to earn the colleges’ valuable subsidies and ill-informed enough not to twig to debt. The formulas O’Neil herself worked on in financial markets presented securities as safe that weren’t.

O’Neil says that to be a “weapon of math destruction” a formula has to be used en masse (as the Centrelink formula will be), it has to be difficult to question (as the Centrelink formula will be for many people) and it has to cause damage (as the Centrelink formula is doing).

That isn’t to say that credit risk and Centrelink and other software can’t be designed to do the job better than humans. It’s a worthy aim, one Morrison and Porter apparently thought they had achieved.

The man Turnbull hired to prevent such stuff-ups describes what happened as as “cataclysmic”. Paul Shetler left the prime minister’s Digital Transformation Office in November as the Centrelink debt collection program gathered pace. 

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

Follow Peter Martin on Twitter and Facebook

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Apple boss Tim Cook reaps $198 million in 2016, thanks to share awards

Apple CEO Tim Cook made close to $200 million last year even though the iPhone maker reported its first annual sales decline since 2001. Photo: David Paul MorrisApple’s top executives saw their compensation fall last year while Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook had his biggest payout yet from his record 2011 award.

Cook’s five top lieutenants received about $US22.8 million ($31 million) each for 2016, according to a proxy statement filed on Friday. The pay packages included $US2.8 million in salary and cash bonus, and $US20 million in equity awards.

Cook’s $US8.75 million ($12 million) disclosed compensation for fiscal 2016, including a $US3 million salary and $US5.37 million cash bonus, doesn’t account for 1.26 million shares delivered from the big award he received after becoming Apple’s CEO.

They were worth about $US136 million ($186 million) when they vested — the biggest distribution Cook has received in a single year from the award. The value of the shares isn’t included in the proxy filing’s summary compensation table since it only lists new equity grants.

The windfall is a huge jump from 2015 when the CEO received $US10 million in salary and bonus, and $US64.2 million in stock from his 2011 promotion award. The bulk of the shares for fiscal 2016 weren’t tied to performance and therefore not at risk of forfeiture even as Apple reported its first annual sales decline since 2001.

Recent versions of the iPhone, Apple’s biggest revenue generator, haven’t inspired automatic upgrades the way earlier models did. Competitors in China are churning out cheaper devices while developed countries are reaching the saturation point.

The board granted Cook 1 million restricted shares set to vest in two increments over a decade when he took over the California-based company in 2011.

In 2013, the compensation committee tied one third of the shares to the company’s relative stock performance versus the S&P 500 at Cook’s own request, and scheduled the shares to pay out annually. A year later, the company made a 7-for-1 stock split.

Cook got all 280,000 performance-linked shares earmarked for 2016 since Apple’s stock return over the three years ended August 24 was in the top third among businesses in the index. He also received 980,000 shares tied to him remaining on the job.

Combined with previous payouts, Cook has collected stock worth more than $US350 million ($479 million) since he became CEO.

He’s also on track to get half of the shares tied to relative stock return and scheduled to pay out in August 2017 and 2018 based on three-year shareholder returns, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The iPhone-maker’s 2016 calendar year stock return including dividends topped 12 per cent, beating almost half of S&P 500 businesses.

Equity awards for senior vice presidents Angela Ahrendts, Eddy Cue, Luca Maestri, Dan Riccio and Bruce Sewell are also partially tied to Apple’s relative stock return over three years. The remainder typically vests within four-and-a-half years after they’re granted. The cash bonuses paid out below target as the company missed net sales and operating income goals.

Absent from Apple’s compensation disclosures is Chief Design Officer Jony Ive, called by some the company’s most important employee. Ive designed many of Apple’s most iconic products including the iMac, iPod and iPhone.

Apple representatives didn’t immediately respond to a call and an email sent outside business hours.


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