HE’S a strange figure, Rod Stewart: wildly successful but, despite having been in the Faces and the Jeff Beck Group, never quite cool. He doesn’t feel central to the world of rock and pop – or at least never has in my lifetime – but he has sold a staggering number of records.
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Did you know that in its first 24 hours MTV played 16 of his videos? Or that he held the Guinness world record for the biggest audience – 3.5 million on Copacabana Beach? It’s all here in his book Rod: The Autobiography.

On paper he’s the perfect rock star. His enthusiasms are fast cars, ridiculous clothes, oafish practical jokes, sex with models, private jets, drugs and alcohol, football.

Counting against him, perhaps, is that he’s sensible with his money, seems to be completely demon-free, gargled and snorted without ever succumbing to addiction, and has remained on good terms with his exes and various children by same. Also, he’s not afraid to admit that his great recreational passion is building model railways.

All this is amiably and self-knowingly told. The best rock star memoirs steer clear of nonsense about personal journeys, formulaic expressions of regret over drug use and sexual high jinks, or emetic tributes to the love that saved their lives. This book does clatter off to a good start. It also has a comprehensive index: ”Lumley, Joanna 177-9”; ”nuclear weapons 28, 29”; ”oral sex: Rod advised against 58; untrue stories of 232” and so on.

I don’t know whether Stewart wrote all of Rod himself but the writing is a cut above workmanlike, the tone pitched right and the jokes good. Each chapter is given a whimsical 18th-century-style subheading, beginning with: ”In which our hero is born, just over six years of global conflict ending shortly thereafter …”

Sprinkled hither and yon are digressions on various pet subjects. The first one is on the subject of his hair, and it’s splendid. He’s had the same hairstyle for 45 years (”It’s what I have in common with the Queen”). He paints a delightful portrait of the early days: he and Ron Wood spending hours tenderly arranging each other’s locks; or standing on the platform at a London tube station desperately trying to protect his bouffant from the pressure wave of the arriving train.

The heart of the book is in the opening 100 or so pages: the fierce excitement of young manhood and the crossing-over from fandom to performance; the exhilaration of American folk, blues and soul; the buzz of that germinal Stones/Who/Yardbirds/Faces/Jeff Beck Group scene. All are well caught. He writes articulately about music: where a drummer sits on the beat, or what makes a song bombproof. It’s the work of someone who really knows his craft, and loves it.

There’s plenty of sex. Blonde on blonde! At one point he swanks about cheating on one Playboy model with another Playboy model; at another, about sneaking out for a first date with Kelly Emberg while still married to his first wife, then leaving that date (smitten, he tells us) to climb into bed with his mistress.

What is his secret? ”Hello darlin’ – what you got in that handbag?” is the chat-up line he swears by, apparently. During his relationship with Britt Ekland he sent her the following telegram in response to her request for a love letter: ”Tired of pulling me plonker. Please come home.”

Romantic though such details are, you find yourself souring a little at quite how badly he behaved: ending long-term relationships by publicly and humiliatingly flaunting his infidelity. ”Less than gentlemanly,” he’ll concede in hindsight, or – of cheating on his heavily pregnant wife Emberg with ”another model” – ”This, clearly, was the behaviour of an arsehole.”

Still, he’s also kind of pleased with himself.

Rachel Hunter broke his heart. She was 21 when they met. They spent eight years together and she was the only woman to date he didn’t betray: ”I’ve put my last banana in the fruit bowl,” he assured reporters. Sadly, that fruit bowl went off in search of fresher bananas. Now, he assures us, he has found the love of his life in his third wife Penny Lancaster. We must wish him well.

Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart is published by Random House.

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ALL foster and out-of-home care arrangements for abused children will be required to meet national standards set by the Federal Government under a proposal to be formally agreed on by state and territory governments today.
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The Federal Government will also investigate the appointment of a national children's commissioner to increase protection for children who have to be looked after outside their own homes.

The Minister for Families and Community Services, Jenny Macklin, said the high number of children being abused had forced the Federal Government to intervene.

“The incidence of child abuse has reached shocking levels – 55,000 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in Australia,” Ms Macklin said.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said the number of substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect had more than doubled, from 24,732 in 1999-2000 to 55,120 in 2007-08.

On Tuesday Ms Macklin launched a report from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth which found that existing child protection systems were failing to protect children.

The report said state-run child protection authorities were overwhelmed with investigating record numbers of child abuse reports and were often unable to focus their efforts on prevention.

Today's meeting will also discuss how the states will manage billions of dollars distributed by the Federal Government stimulus package, as well as a jobs and training package to focus on young people.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said it was the Government's intention to pursue a long-term economic reform agenda as well as immediate responses to the jobs and training imperative brought about by the global recession.

The states and territories would remain responsible for child protection despite the Federal Government taking a keener interest, Ms Macklin said.

The new standards are expected to be in place in a year.

It means all facilities used to care for abused and neglected children, such as foster homes and emergency accommodation, will have to comply with nationally consistent standards. These standards will be developed by child protection experts in the coming months.

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A “RECLAIMING 1ST” campaign launched by the NSW Business Chamber would focus on transport, infrastructure and planning needs and was about restoring NSW to its former place at the head of the federation, its convener said yesterday.
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The Sydney Chamber of Commerce's executive director, Patricia Forsythe, said a blueprint for the state would be created out of four symposiums and would then be presented to the Government and Opposition before the next election.

The forums, which begin on May 20 and will feature experts from several areas, were necessary to address a “lack of rigour in public policy” in NSW in recent times, Ms Forsythe said.

Ideas to improve transport were likely, as were proposals to amalgamate local councils and reform government.

Ms Forsythe made her comments after businessman Peter Holmes a Court launched the “NSW: Reclaiming 1st” campaign yesterday.

The first ideas have already come from the campaign. A former head of the Roads and Traffic Authority, Paul Forward, suggested the introduction of congestion charging in the CBD, a more equitable tolling system on motorways and higher peak hour tolls in an attempt to ease Sydney's chronic urban congestion problems.

Mr Forward has suggested a form of “availability charging” should be applied to new motorway projects to encourage private sector investment.

He is encouraging the Government to take up a concept embraced by the Victorian Government with its Peninsula Link road, where a toll is not charged. Instead the Government pays a quarterly fee to a private operator running a motorway which rewards it for having built the road and for keeping all lanes running.

Both the Government and Opposition were lukewarm yesterday to further moves on congestion charging or time-of-day tolling in the present economic climate.

The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said “the efforts of the NSW Business Chamber and others to try and get this incompetent State Government to snap out of its inertia and start to fix the state will be welcomed by everyone”.

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PASSENGERS at Sydney Airport have been pulled out of queues by quarantine officials and directed to wear face masks – despite arriving from countries unaffected by swine influenza, and in contrast to the federal response overseen by the Department of Health.
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The move suggests ruptures are beginning to show in the co-ordination of Australia's response to swine influenza, with agencies involved in screening incoming aircraft beginning to operate independently of each other – putting at risk the public's ability to gauge the seriousness of a potential outbreak and requests for preventative measures.

“It seemed as though it was a little bit ad hoc,” said John Collyer, who was asked to wear a mask after flying back from the Philippines yesterday.

“They asked me to step out of the queue, then they took me to one side and asked me some questions.

“I did feel embarrassed, especially when I was walking out. When the girl asked me was I unwell, it seemed to be a bit like [the television show] Border Security – they get a guy and then they all tend to swarm.”

Mr Collyer said he was passed between four quarantine officers and told to wait for a swab from a nurse, then told there was not a problem and ordered to wear a face mask instead.

“I said, 'Look, it's just a flu',” he said. “They said, 'No, no. You have to do this.' I was a bit put out.”

The head of the School of Population Health and Clinical Practice at the University of Adelaide, Konrad Jamrozik, said it would be unfortunate if a poorly co-ordinated response clouded the public's ability to judge the seriousness of potential outbreaks.

Poor co-ordination “is a particularly unfortunate factor”, Professor Jamrozik said.

“If you overcall it slightly but you have a co-ordinated response, that's probably less disruptive and more inspiring of confidence in the community … It's a very difficult time.”

Normie Nankervis was also told to wear a face mask after coughing in a queue at Sydney Airport yesterday. “It's a dry cough, but not flu,” she said. “They noticed.”

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service did not comment on the management of the influenza.

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DEFINITIVE results from the first round of swine flu tests in NSW could still be days away, as laboratories race to develop tests that will reliably pick up the new hybrid strain while excluding unrelated flu viruses.
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Dominic Dwyer, a medical virologist at Westmead Hospital, said off-the-shelf tests were not yet available for the new virus, which comprises elements of flu strains found in pigs and birds as well as humans.

His laboratory – one of four World Health Organisation flu labs in Australia and 110 worldwide – therefore had to decide for itself which key sequences within the virus's genetic signature to concentrate on. It then had to commission specially-designed reagents – chemicals which amplify those sequences within the DNA of the virus, allowing them to be analysed.

“We're developing the tests. Once we get the tests we'll be able to do [testing] ourselves, or provide the material for other hospitals,” Professor Dwyer said.

It was imperative to analyse early cases accurately, he said. “The first few positive samples are the ones you have to be absolutely sure about. All the [health policy] decision-making depends on that. Our job is to be ultra-careful with the first few tests.”

The samples – from swabs taken from the nose or throat of potentially infected people – would also be sent to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenzae in Melbourne for further testing.

The US National Centre for Biotechnology Information has already published on its website partial genetic profiles of 17 samples tested positive for the swine flu. But matching those genetic segments to dozens of specimens taken from Australians was not straightforward, Professor Dwyer said.

“We're testing lots of samples. We've got people testing round the clock on suspected cases [but] I think it's going to be a few more days before we have access to swine flu results.”

Professor Dwyer said similarities between swine flu and other flu viruses affecting humans meant it was important to develop a test that would not confuse them.

They also had to ensure their tests specified the target sequences broadly enough that they would continue to capture genuine swine flu cases despite inevitable “genetic drift” in the fast-mutating virus.

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