‘Offensive, outdated’: Christopher Pyne criticises legal denial of overseas gay marriages

David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi. Photo: Facebook Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne Photo: Andrew Meares

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The pair were on their honeymoon when David died after falling down stairs. Photo: Facebook

Not recognising overseas same-sex marriages is anachronistic and offensive, government frontbencher Christopher Pyne has said, as he denounced the recent case where a British man’s marriage wasn’t acknowledged when he died on his honeymoon in Adelaide.

South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill has apologised to British man Marco Bulmer-Rizzi, whose husband David died while the pair were on holidays and weren’t allowed to have their marriage recognised on the death certificate.

On Thursday, Mr Pyne was asked whether it was time to change laws in some state and territories that prevent same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions from being recognised.

“I haven’t studied the issue. I did see the story and I agree with Jay Weatherill that that is outdated and anachronistic and I think it’s offensive to the man involved, obviously,” the South Australian MP told ABC radio. “I agree with him on that.”

The comments from the state’s most senior Liberal will fuel momentum for changes to the law around the country, including in South Australia where Mr Weatherill is seeking reform.

Mr Weatherill also promised to issue a new death certificate once reform is achieved. Currently, David Bulmer-Rizzi’s death certificate states “never married”.

Mr Pyne supports same-sex marriage in Australia and was one of the 33 Coalition MPs who voted for a conscience vote on the issue, defeated by the 66 who opposed it.

Vocal at the time of the party room vote, Mr Pyne said that same-sex couples should be in a “position to have some legal basis for their relationship and that’s why I’ve changed my view.”

“South Africa, UK, the US, Ireland, New Zealand, most of the European countries have managed to do this without the sky falling in,” he told an audience in Canberra.

“And I think Australia will end up going in this direction.”

Mr Bulmer-Rizzi said that he and Mr Weatherill talked for 10 minutes on Wednesday.

“I thank [Mr Weatherill]. I think it’s amazing. It’s so much further than I ever thought last night when I was wondering what I could do,” he said.

“My mind is blown away that the Premier of South Australia called to apologise. It’s such an acknowledgment, coming from the top of the state.”

The couple, from Sunderland, married in London last June. While same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia, overseas same-sex marriages are recognised in some states, but not in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

“I phoned Marco and on behalf of the South Australian people and government I expressed our condolences for the loss of his husband. I also expressed my sorrow for the way in which he was treated,” Mr Weatherill said on Thursday morning.

As well as committing to reform, he said same-sex marriage legalisation at a federal level was essential.

“Ultimately this is about recognition of same-sex marriage and there are so many things that flow from that such as basic acceptance in our community and people at every level behaving towards people that are in marriages of the same sex appropriately,” he said.

“This will only be properly dealt with once we have same-sex marriage legislation at the federal level.”

He also indicated via social media that he will look into a possible retrospective amendment of David Bulmer-Rizzi’s death certificate should laws in the state change.

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Australian Open 2016: Serena Williams frustrated by Roberta Vinci questions

Less than impressed: Serena Williams. Photo: Getty Images Serena Williams cruised to a second-round win over Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh in the Australian Open on Wednesday, but was left frustrated by an Italian reporter bent on reminding her on her loss to Roberta Vinci in 2015.

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Vinci ruined William’s calendar year Grand Slam (winning all four majors) aspirations at the US open with a remarkable upset in the semi-finals in September.

The Italian reporter began his line of questioning saying, “Serena I don’t want to remind you of your nightmare, but Roberta Vinci is the only Italian still left in the draw…”

Williams answered the question but grew visibly frustrated as the questions around Vinci went on, with a USA Today report describing her as “clearly annoyed” by the end of the press conference.

His final question drew a sarcastic response from Williams.

Reporter: “If you don’t throw me an arrow with your eyes, another question on Vinci, which is — this is the last one, I promise: Verdasco last night said that he had seen his match 10 times, the one he played seven years ago against Nadal. He keeps watching it. Roberta said she saw her match with you, against you, five times. I want to know if you ever saw it again or you didn’t want to see it or you saw it?”

Williams: “Yeah, I watch it every day. Every night to get ready.”

Williams then ended the press conference after being asked about her sister Venus skipping her own press conference after her first round exit at the hands of Johanna Konta.

“I don’t know. If you want to, you can ask her. Yeah, I don’t know. I wasn’t here,” Williams said.

“In fact, I was watching Telenovela. I’m coming apart, though. Do we have any more questions?”

Williams will next face world No. 69 Daria Kasatkina after the young Russian defeated Croatian Ana Konjuh 6-4 6-3.

Sponsored: Australian Open tickets available from just $75 at Queen of Tickets

Newcastle drivers pay more for fuel, but price down overall

MIND THE GAP: Newcastle motorists paid 14 cents more at the bowser than their Sydney counterparts on Thursday, but Hunter petrol prices are falling overall.

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RELIEF at the bowsercould be at hand for Newcastle drivers, despite them having to pay14 centsmore for petrolthan motoristsinSydney.

Theaverage costof unleaded fuel in Newcastle on Thursday hovered at $1.18 a litre ascustomers in Sydneyenjoyedan averageof $1.04 and, in some areas, less than a dollar.

Novocastrians alsopaidseven cents a litre more than their counterparts in Maitland, while the United service station at North Wyong was charging $1.03 a litre.

Some Hunter service stationscharged far more, including the United at Freemans Waterhole ($1.21) and an outletinNewcastlethatreportedlygougedcustomers nearly $1.60 a litre.

The NRMA’s Peter Khoury said thatwas “insane”, but added that prices in Newcastle were falling overall.

“Newcastle stillshouldn’t be 12 to 14 cents more expensive than Sydney, and there’sa way to go in Newcastle, in Maitland and on the Central Coast,”Mr Khourysaid.

“It hasn’t fallen far enough, but the trend in Newcastle is that prices should be heading south.”

Mr Khoury said there was “no reason” for Newcastle motorists to fear petrol price spikes in the near future.

Fuel gate prices (the price service stations pay for fuel) dippedas low as $1.04in Newcastle on Thursday, onlya cent more than Sydney gate prices.

Motorists can generallyexpect to pay about seven cents per litre more than the gate price when retail margins are added at the bowser.

Newcastle sat in 14thplaceon the NRMA’s Bowser Buster cheap fuelrankings for NSW, down three spots from the previous week.

Maitland was in eighth place for cheap petrol, down from sixth, and the Central Coast was 10th.

Average fuel pricesin smaller cities andcountry townssuch as Casino,Forbes, Leetonand Bega were all lower than thosein the Hunter.

Mr Khoury said Hunter motorists would always extract maximum value from fuel providers by “shopping around”.

The shopper loyalty fuel discount schemesrun by Coles and Woolworths, he said,were a distractionfrom the retail giants’inflated pump prices.

“Try and go to the independents, because they’re the cheapest,” Mr Khourysaid.

“To pay $1.30 so you can save four cents a litre doesn’t make sense.”

Anoversupply of oilhas sent theglobal oil benchmarkto a six-year low and resultedinlower prices for Hunter motorists, even sincethepre-Christmas period when locals were being charged $1.30 a litre.

On a global scale, it hastriggered the biggestslump in the energy sectorsince the2008 global financial crisis.

The profits of major oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corpand BP Plc have beenhalved.

The currencies of crude-rich countries such as Mexico and Russia have also declined sharply.

Diabetes-related amputations on the rise in the Hunter

Life-changing: Don Harris urges other diabetics to seek early treatment after both of his legs were removed due to complications. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

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DON Harris knows a thing or two about what can happen when Type 2 diabetes isn’t treated early and correctly.

The Salamander Bay resident and Type 2 diabetichas had both of his legs removeddue to complications associated withthe chronic, progressivedisease.

Hisright legwas removed in July, 2013, and his left in January, 2015.

“The doctor said if they didn’t cut my leg off I was going to die,” Mr Harris said.

“Shedidn’t sugar coat it.”

Mr Harris, who has a family history of Type 2 diabetes,was firstdiagnosedafter a heart attack in 1996.

“They had me on medication and diet control, but the tablets weren’t doing what they were supposed to do, and it turned outI was on the wrong medication for about eight years,” he said.

Following a second heart attack in 2009, the former builder’s labourerhad six heart bypasses.

“That’s when they checked my insulin out and decided to change my medication. But it was too little, too late.”

Wearing aT-shirt that said, “Well cut off my legs and call me shorty,” Mr Harris, 60,explainedto The Heraldthat his sense of humour was one of the things thatgothim through some difficult and painful years.

Music was another.

“I was devastated,” he said.

“I was sitting in a hospital room looking out the window andlistening to music when Herbie Hancock and John Legend’s song Don’t Give Up came on. It came on at just the right time,because I was giving up.”

The Heraldrecently reported that diabetes-related amputations were on the rise in the Hunter, with two to three fingers, toes or feet, removed each week in a losing battle against Australia’s fastest-growingdisease.

According to NSW Health data,the Hunter hassome of the highest rates of diabetes-related hospitalisations in NSW.

Mr Harrishoped sharing his story would encourage others toseek advice andtreatment early.

“Like me, a lot of people can be ignorant about these things.Mine was a worse-case scenario, but if you don’t do anythingabout it, no one will. I think if I’d asked more questions earlier, I wouldstill have mylegs.”

DINING REVIEW: MEET

People chatter, loudly,as plates crashonto stained timber tables ready for serrated knives and silver forks to scratch and clang against fine white porcelain. The floor staff carry around long shafts of meat from four types of beast, which they carve up at your table. Soon, my clean white plate is stained with crimson red drops of blood from a slice of picanha, then charred brown from a chunk of peito defumado, and oily yellow from a piece of sobrecoxa. The muddy colour of the black bean feijão can’t keep the plate from staying clean for long either, even when the bright white arroz rice or the salada de batata com ovo is added to the mix.

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GATHER: MEET’s black and white dining room features splashes of colour and loads of atmosphere. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers

SIZZLE: Some of the meat selection being cooked over the flame grill.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain.MEET is the latest addition to Newcastle’s ever expanding and diverse dining scene. Inspired by the traditional Brazilian barbecue, known as churrascaria, MEET is a protein lover’s paradise, a carnival for carnivores, and a horror for herbivores… althoughthey do offer vegetarian options for the iron averse.

Inside, nearly everything is painted black, or white, which makes the brightly coloured Brazilian artwork hanging on the wall look even more brilliant than it already is. The kitchen can been seen through a black rectangle, cut out of the wall, where busy bodies scuttle back and forth amid the glow of fluorescent lights and stainless steel, and the occasional orange flare up from the churrasco BBQ. Above the kitchen cut out is a glowing white neon sign that says, MEET.

TAKE A STAB: Waitstaff carry around giant skewers of barbecued meat to the tables.

You pay a fixed price, which doesn’t include drinks, and just like the chaos of yumcha, staff roam around the room with all sorts of barbecued treats, stopping at each table to offer you a slice of something that’s just been rubbed, marinated, or smoked, and then slowly spitroasted over wood and charcoal to produceincredibly flavoursome food.

For instance, the sobrecoxa (chicken thigh) is bursting with tonnes of smoky, sweet and savoury flavours courtesy of a thousand rubbed spices, a mustard marinade and the charcoal smoke that’s all infused within white flesh. The pernil (lamb leg) is sliced off in thin rashers of savoury flavour featuring garlic and tomato, salt and pepper, while the picanha (rump cap) is a medium rare treat of simple flavours made complex by the accompanying sides (tip: sprinkle a pinch of the farofa manioc flour over all the meats).

The table is graced with a wooden chopping board loaded with fresh sides and sauces. There’s white rice (arroz), potato and egg salad (salada de batata com ovo), and smoky black beans (feijão) to accompany the plethora of protein. Plus three pots of condiments: chimichurri (herb sauce), vinagrete (Brazillian salsa), and the molho barbecue de casa (home-made barbecue sauce), which goes with everything on the plate, including the sweet stuff.

When the banana empanada (crumbed and deep fried banana) and the abacaxi grelhado (BBQ pineapple) arrive you could be forgiven for thinking that dessert is served, but that’s a whole other menu. The banana is a sweet digression from all the savoury we’ve been eating;so too is the pineapple with a dusting of cinnamon. If you want to transition back to savoury, order a serve of queijo qualho (grilled haloumi) and aipim frito (fried cassava).

It’s hard to keep up with exactly what’s on your plate, but I think that’s half the fun.Everything that comes out from the kitchen tastes wonderful, even the coração (chicken heart), so just embrace it and try as much of the food as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t get to try it all the first time around, because, speaking from experience, it won’t be long before you get the MEET sweats and you’ll want to go back again.

Tony McEnally dedicates much of his week to keeping Belmont Wetlands State Park beautiful

Tony McEnallyBelmont Wetlands State Park treasurer and volunteerWHEN Tony McEnally retired, the Redhead localfound himself hitting the beach to fish, surf or walk his dogs most days.

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He was also doing some Landcare work in the neighbourhood when the Belmont Wetlands State Park advertised for a new board.

“I thought, well, this is my back yard and I use it every day, so Imay as well get involved and be part of running the place,” he said.

“It was nice to be able to have a say in what happens, and help it improve and recover from all the bad things that have happened to it over the years, like the sand mining, and thesand extraction –there is a whole lot of our sand that now makes up Waikiki beach in Hawaii.”

He has since helped plant about 50,000 trees in the 549 hectare state park.

Mr McEnally’sretirement hobby has becomemore like a full time job, but it gave him immense satisfaction.

“It is such abeautiful, untouched space –afantastic areathat needs helpbecauseit has been brutalised with the sand mining and the sand extraction,” he said.

“But with a little bit of help, it actually cleans itself up really well. You get the chance to see something that has gone from being covered in bitou and various other nasty weedsand turns out at the end of the day to be a beautiful area with eucalyptus trees and banksias and various coastal plants.”

The Belmont Wetlands State Park Trust introduced a permit system and employed a ranger to help controlfour-wheel drives on Nine Mile Beach, between Redhead and Belmont in November.

“It’s changing the face of the place,” he said.

“I work with the ranger as a volunteer and I cover the days he’s not there. I run aroundthebeach and just make sure we don’t have too many people doing the wrong thing,because we want the place to be there for families, not for people who just want to go nuts.”

The damage caused byrecentwild weather had kept them busy.

“We lost a lot of maturetrees in the April storms,and we spent a fair amountof time cleaning that up. But we are blessed with somereally good volunteers,” he said.

“Wealways welcome more volunteers. We’re down there every Tuesday from February throughto December clearing and putting in new treesand mulching.”

Mr McEnally also helpsa Work For The Dole participant, and the Green Army –a federal government initiative thatsupportslocal environment as well asheritage conservation projects.

“They are a fantastic team ofkids, I’ve been working with them doing dune restoration,” Mr McEnally said. “They will also beplanting 3,300 plants for usin March.”

Chipping in: Redhead’s Tony McEnally and the Green Army are doing their bit to bring the Belmont Wetlands State Park back to its former glory. Picture: Marina Neil.

Wonder Woman: sneak peek at her first ever film

Gal Gadot in a still from Wonder Woman. Photo: YouTube Gal Gadot battling Nazis in a still from Wonder Woman. Photo: YouTube

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Dawn of Justice trailer sees superheroes at war with each otherWonder Woman joins fight for gay marriage thanks to Australian illustratorWonder Woman, Jessica Jones and Supergirl mark return of screen superheroine

It’s taken 75 long years to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, but the first trickle of footage from her movie debut suggests a film rich enough to forgive the mother of all delays.

Electrifying footage from the World War II-era film shows Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, beating up a bunch of Nazis with her famous shield, leading an expedition of 1940s normies in immaculate costume, and then letting her hair down by galloping about on horseback while swinging her lethal sword.

It’s not the first look at Gadot’s Wonder Woman per se, she unexpectedly appears in the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer, right when the two more established superheroes are wondering how to battle their foe. But these are the first scenes from her headline movie.

DC Films took the unusual step of releasing a promo clip for Wonder Woman anchored by its Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, talking about the character to director Kevin Smith.

From a purely action standpoint, Johns succeeds in whetting the appetite: “She’s an Amazon warrior, she’s the best fighter in the DC universe. She has strength and speed and she’s been training her whole life for war.”

“Wonder Woman is one of the greatest superheroes out there but people don’t know her origin like they know Superman’s origin or Batman’s origin and so what we want to do in the film is tell people who she is where she comes from and why she does what she does.

“She comes from a Greek mythology, she comes from this island of Amazons, it’s called Themyscira.”

Gadot, the Israeli actor/model who plays Wonder Woman (and her alter ego Diana Prince) gets to speak, briefly: “We’re gonna see her coming of age, the entire history, what’s her mission.”

Then it’s back to Johns: “These Amazons were once created to protect man’s world but they since abandoned it. And Diana is asking constantly ‘why don’t we go do what we were created to do and protect man?’ and they say ‘because they’re not worth it’.”

The original story of how Wonder Woman – who was created by polygraphy inventor William Marston in 1951 – comes into the human world is that she leads a wounded pilot back to civilisation after he crash-lands on Themyscira, and goes forth with a grand mission of bringing peace to the world.

The film’s director Patty Jenkins (who directed Charlize Theron in Monster) also gets a word in: “The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is how good and kind and loving she is, yet none of that negates any of her power.”

Some might add her lasso – which forces its captives to tell the truth – was pretty great too, although it wasn’t sighted in the first-look clip. Neither was the somewhat ridiculous invisible plane which TV Wonder Woman star, Lynda Carter flew with commendable dedication in the 1970s.

Christopher Pine (who plays Steve Trevor, the fortunate pilot) nails the reason why Wonder Woman should be a huge box office smash when it finally drops – after 14 years stop-start years of development: “Telling a story like this now is pivotal and important: the story of a very powerful woman.”

Wonder Woman is due for release in June 2017.

Spotlight: a brilliant film with such explosive subject matter it died several deaths before being made

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, “Spotlight.” Photo: Kerry Hayes Spotlight director, Tom McCarthy on set with Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Photo: Supplied

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Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) in a scene from Spotlight. Photo: Supplied

They don’t make films like Spotlight any more, so people say. Perhaps they never really did. Spotlight is about a real-life team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who worked for months to document and finally reveal the cover-up by the local Catholic church of the sexual abuse of children by priests. What Spotlight is not about: star performances (even though its ensemble cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdam); the reporters’ personal lives; plot twists or emotional peaks and troughs; reporters as heroes. There is just work: the painstaking, paper-shuffling, probing work of accumulating facts and corroborating them to the point where a newspaper – that hulking, old-fashioned, barely lamented old warhorse of the Fourth Estate – can speak authoritative truth to power. And, as signposted by its six Oscar nominations, it is absolutely gripping.

The Spotlight team’s investigation came relatively late in the saga of sex-abuse scandals within the church; the series, which would eventually top 600 articles as more people came forward with stories and more priests were exposed, won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 2003. One thing Tom McCarthy’s film makes clear, however, is that Boston is a staunchly Catholic city where the Church, schools, sport and government are clubbily intertwined.  Fifty-five per cent of their readers were practising Catholics. “The church had such power,” says Walter “Robbie” Robinson, the real head of the Spotlight unit, played by Michael Keaton in the film, “that if legislation it didn’t like was before the Massachusetts Legislature, they could get it killed.”

Not that the Globe felt compromised. Successive metro-section editors had run stories for years about accused and convicted priests in the normal run of its news coverage, earning a rebuke and an invocation of heavenly punishment from the local cardinal in the process. Even so, it took the arrival of an editor from outside Boston – Marty Barron, who came from the Miami Herald and would go on to become executive editor of the Washington Post – to lift the lid on the whole can of worms. “Don’t go after the man; go after the system,” he tells the team early in Josh Singer’s script, which has reportedly cleaved as closely as possible to the facts even down to what was said. So they do.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, Spotlight. Photo: AP

When they start, they think they have identified “as many as seven” abusive priests, who had simply been moved to other parishes when anguished parents complained. Then, in consultation with a psychologist and former priest who has made abusive priests his life’s study, they take a punt on the statistical likelihood that the numbers are much higher: maybe as many as 90 in Boston alone. By checking year-on-year church records, court reports and victims’ testimony, they find 87. By the end of their investigation, they have found 250.

Many of these priests’ victims had reported their attackers to the Church hierarchy and to the law. Some won small pay-outs in exchange for non-disclosure agreements. Apart from the cases the Globe had already reported, all were swept under the rug one way or another. Their investigations led back to the cardinal, who is shown in the film to have presided over the cover-up and resigned at the end of 2002; he is now Cardinal Priest of Santa Susanna, Rome’s American Catholic Church.

Producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust thought they had identified one of America’s great untold stories in 2008, the year they had the idea for Spotlight. They were thus confounded to find it was difficult even to find a screenwriter willing to tackle it. “People were not responding to the story the way we thought they would,” Faust said later. “They were a little bit scared.” Financing was even more problematic: McCarthy says that after he signed on to direct it in 2011 – fortunately bringing screenwriter Josh Singer with him – he saw the project die decisively three times. 

Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) in a scene from Spotlight. Photo: Supplied

Most dramatically, their major backer Dreamworks pulled out while McCarthy and Singer were working on the screenplay. “We never knew why,” says Rocklin in an on-set story from the Hollywood Reporter. “They never told us. But I can speculate. It’s a movie about paedophilia in the Catholic Church.” The Washington Post later said that Dreamworks dropped it after The Fifth Estate – about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, scripted by Singer – failed at the box office. Whatever the real reasons, the production went on hold and McCarthy took another job directing the disastrously bad Adam Sandler indie The Cobbler. This was Spotlight’s most decisive death so far.

In the end, Participant Media picked up Dreamworks’ share, but the same spirit of resistance emerged in dealings with the next tier of businesses involved in getting a film to the audience: the distributors. By that time Mark Ruffalo had signed up, but even the Hulk didn’t convince them. McCarthy says they would tell him that “even though it’s a great read, it doesn’t scream box office”.

The American release of the film in November was accordingly limited, the press coverage scant. This last point is particularly surprising for a film that actually lionises the press.

I love all the lionising, of course. To see a bustling, fully staffed newsroom on screen is actually thrilling. Recreated in a former Sears warehouse – the Sears catalogue being another victim of the online age – the Boston Globe of the turn of the millennium is furnished with cubicles coincidentally sold off by the downsizing Toronto Globe and Mail. These are our times. Back in 2001, however, the journalists spend weeks ploughing through archives in the basement while librarians bring down sheafs of files; the switchboard’s phones run hot. If they don’t make movies like this any more, they don’t make newspaper offices like this any more either. 

Spotlight director Tom McCarthy on set with Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Photo: Supplied

“I don’t think the general public really has any sense of what’s happened to the journalism industry in the last 10, 15 years,” McCarthy told the Washington Post. “People say there’s so much media out there, with the internet and new media, but I don’t think they really understand what professional journalism, institutionally supported journalism, is. And I think it’s in the great interest of many of the other big institutions to make sure that they don’t.”

Mark Ruffalo, who plays dogged, abrasive reporter Michael Rezendes, described journalists to the Hollywood Reporter as “our last defence against tyranny, our last defence against atrocity.” That may not be true very often, but McCarthy’s point is that this work, involving court hearings and doorstepping, expenses and huge swathes of time, is not the sort of work that can be done by a lone blogger.

But something similar could be said of audiences and films, few of which deal with anything difficult or dangerous or dare to step beyond the narrow expectations of soaring emotional arcs and loveable characters. This one does, which was why Michael Keaton wanted his role as soon as he read it. “I went to college in the ’70s. I went to anti-war demonstrations. We were aware of the civil rights movements,” he said at the time. “To think that someday you’d be doing what you love, and it could have an effect on society: that’s pretty great. In this movie, it’s stuff that people have been talking about a long time. But then when you see it this way, you realise that it’s shocking this hasn’t been addressed before on film. In that regard, it kind of feels bold.”

Warlords wield axes in Wills contest

Wills is a plum Labor seat once held by Bob Hawke.Labor’s internal battle for the heartland seat of Wills has tightened, with a former security adviser to the Rudd government strengthening his claim after winning over key ethnic voting blocks.

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As candidates prepared for  a town hall debate in Coburg on Wednesday night, the field of realistic contenders had narrowed, with one formal withdrawal and at least one other candidate accepting defeat.

A plum Labor seat once held by Bob Hawke, Wills is a key test of the party’s internal democracy and gender policy under Bill Shorten.

It comes at a difficult time, with Malcolm Turnbull continuing to ride high in the polls, and the Victorian party in turmoil over over branch-stacking.

Bill Shorten is believed to be comfortable with two candidates – his own staffer Anna Maria Arabia, and Peter Khalil, a Victorian multicultural commissioner and former security adviser.

Mr Khalil, of Egyptian background, also has the support of Right-faction heavyweight and neighbouring Batman MP, David Feeney.

An important development in the preselection is that local Kurdish and Lebanese groups are close to a deal to back Mr Khalil, a non-local but a candidate with an understanding of Middle Eastern issues and the plight of the Kurds.

Mr Khalil has firmed as a favourite along with Ms Arabia and Mehmet Tillem, a former senator, local numbers man and adviser in the Andrews government.

Increasingly, the contest appears to be down to these three – out of a field of seven – with Mr Shorten and Mr Feeney determined to block Turkish-born Mr Tillem. He is viewed by many as archetypal Labor warlord and, therefore, the wrong type of candidate for such a high profile seat.

But Mr Tillem has the full backing of the defence shadow minister, and formidable factional hard man, Stephen Conroy.

Although not well known in the party, Ms Arabia ticks many boxes important to Labor’s push for wider community relevance, including her gender, age (”40ish”), her Italian background and her qualifications as a scientist (therefore not a union leader or lawyer). Nor is she known as a factional player, having also worked for Mr Shorten’s leadership rival in 2013, NSW Left-faction leader Anthony Albanese.

Preselection is a two-stage process, the first stage a ballot of local members, the second a vote by a central panel elected by state conference and unions.

An important factor – especially for Ms Arabia and Mr Khalil – will be the choice of candidate by the shrinking but still powerful Australian Workers Union, Mr Shorten’s former union. AWU support will be especially important at the second, central vote.

Campaigning hard is funds manager and former Yarra councillor Josh Funder. But without a strong local vote or factional and union base, he will struggle.

Melanie Raymond, a candidate earlier backed by the Feeney camp, has withdrawn from the Wills race, which was triggered by the resignation of long-time maverick member, Kelvin Thomson.

The Age understands that candidate Lambros Tapinos – a Moreland councillor also linked to the Feeney group – has all but given up hope of winning after losing the support he expected from the Kurdish and Lebanese groups.

Under a stability deal between the party’s two dominant factions, the right wing ShortCons (named after Shorten and Conroy) and the left group led by veteran party boss Kim Carr, Wills is a Right-faction seat

If the Labor right delivers a crony numbers man as the candidate for Wills, it will be gift to the Greens who increasingly view the seat as winnable.

Preselection battle grows for Hughes as media war, split threatened

Craig Kelly may run as an independent if he loses. Sources are hopeful that Alan Jones will begin commenting on the preselection challenge next week. Photo: Jessica Hromas

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The threatened fallout from a potential preselection challenge in Sydney’s south-west is growing, with the first indications that sitting Liberal MP Craig Kelly may start a media war and run as an independent if he loses.

Fairfax Media revealed earlier this month that Mr Kelly would face a challenge from the party’s Left for the seat of Hughes.

Mr Kelly has publicly stated he will contest any challenge.

But a source close to the MP has foreshadowed a potentially radical response if he lost a preselection ballot.

“Craig’s an ex-front row forward; he may appear like a jovial bloke but he’s literally kicked heads in the past,” the source said. “The question [for challengers] is what will he do if [ousted].

“He’ll be out for revenge and there’s a lot of support for him in the electorate.”

Kent Johns, a powerbroker from the party’s left wing, is considered the most likely challenger and also recused himself from a recent state executive vote laying down preselection timetables, seemingly confirming his intentions.

The party is also alive with rumours that Mr Kelly and other conservatives are preparing to make an appeal to conservative heavyweights in the media to drum up support.

Sources on the right say are hopeful that talkback radio king Alan Jones will begin commenting on the preselection challenge next week.

Mr Kelly, who has been outspoken in his scepticism on issues such as climate change, has made at least eight appearances on Mr Jones’ top-rating program in the past two years.

Only adding to the sense of chaos is a looming court date for Mr Johns, who will be asked to testify as a witness in a court case next month while preselections are occurring.

The case relates to the long and tortured battle for control of the party’s Moorebank branch, which recently spilled over into an alleged threat of violence. (The branch could yet play a key role in determining the outcome of a preselection.)

A member of the branch was heard to say: “I’ll kill you” in a remark believed to be directed towards Mr Johns’ political ally Melanie Gibbons MP. Ms Gibbons has applied for an AVO, which the branch member is contesting.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said MPs who split from their parties tend to do “very poorly” in urban areas.

“You’re going back 20 years to Perth to find the last [successful examples of a disendorsed Liberal MP challenging],” he said. “Most federal MPs simply don’t have that big a profile.”

In 2004, sitting MP Peter King ran as an independent against Malcolm Turnbull after being deposed in a pre-selection challenge for the seat of Wentworth.

Mr King polled about 18 per cent of the vote and drove a slight swing against Mr Turnbull.

Other seats understood to be in the sights of challengers from the party’s left and centre-right wings include Berowra (Philip Ruddock), Hume (Angus Taylor), Bennelong (John Alexander) and Senate spots occupied currently by Bill Heffernan and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

The number of challenges eventually mounted hangs to a large degree on whether Prime Minister Turnbull exercises his authority to back sitting MPs.

The Prime Minister is currently overseas, but his representative on the NSW state executive, Paul Fletcher this week said MPs were not entitled to jobs for life and that preselections were a time-honoured part of the party’s democratic processes

“That’s how the system works, it’s how the system should work,” he said. “It’s the democratic process that every parliamentarian in the Liberal Party is exposed to.”

Mr Turnbull is understood to have not yet intervened  to lend Mr Kelly support or discourage challengers in the seat of Hughes.

Nominations have one month to run.