Schulz faces battle to topple Merkel

Martin Schulz likes to see himself as a fighter.

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“I’m a footballer,” the centre-left German Social Democrats’ (SPD) leader is fond of saying. If he’s not saying that, he’s usually demonstrating his boxing skills at campaign stops.

But the 61-year-old Schulz will need to put up the fight of his life if he is to have any chance of toppling Germany’s conservative chancellor, Angela Merkel, who enjoys a commanding lead in opinion polls ahead of the September 24 election.

“You never give up and never give up in the fight for the things you believe in,” EU Council President Donald Tusk once told Schulz.

A former footballer, town mayor, reformed alcoholic and bookshop owner, Schulz is something of a newcomer on the national German political stage.

Married with two children, he spent 22 years in the European Parliament, including five years as president of the Strasbourg-based assembly and mastering every major European language.

Surprisingly, in a nation which has the highest number of tertiary students in Europe, Schulz never completed high school.

After a year of unemployment, he became a bookshop owner in the town where he was born, Wuerselen, in North Rhine Westphalia, the nation’s biggest state and a traditional SPD stronghold.

Indeed, politics was always part of life for the man often dubbed as Mister Europe.

Schulz’s father was a police officer and a rock solid SPD supporter. His mother was active in Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

By 19, he had become an active SPD member before entering regional politics, eventually rising through the ranks of local government to become Wuerselen’s mayor at age 31 – North Rhine Westphalia’s youngest ever mayor at the time.

A strong public speaker, Schulz’s aim is to inject more emotion into political life.

“Anyone in politics who is not able to arouse emotions is in the wrong place,” Schulz once said.

In January, Schulz rose to his party’s highest office as SPD chief and its chancellor candidate for the September 24 election.

As a new face on a stage of old actors, his nomination initially prompted a surge in SPD support in opinion polls.

It was a measure of the SPD’s hopes that Schulz might end Merkel’s 12-year rule that he was voted party chief in March with 100 per cent backing.

But, by then, the “Schulz train,” as the media dubbed the SPD leader’s bid for chancellor, seemed to be already running out of steam, with support for the party slumping.

At about 24 per cent, SPD support now stands below the 25.5 per cent it achieved in the last election, in 2013.

But Schulz is used to tough fights. At age 24, he was battling alcoholism after an injury brought to an end the dreams of a football career.

“I drank everything I could get,” Schulz said in an interview. The SPD chief has not drunk alcohol for about 37 years.

A staunch European, he has regularly defended the European Union over the years as being the best defence against the ghosts that haunted the region during the 20th century – racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. More recently, he joined the fight against populism in Europe.

Far-right party shakes up German politics

The first far-right party set to enter Germany’s parliament for more than a half a century says it will press for Chancellor Angela Merkel to be “severely punished” for opening the door to refugees and migrants.

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The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has also called for Germany’s immigration minister to be “disposed of” in Turkey where her parents come from, could become the third largest party with up to 12 per cent of the vote on September 24, polls show.

That is far less than similar movements in other European countries – in France far-right leader Marine Le Pen won 34 per cent of the vote in May and in the Netherlands far-rightist Geert Wilders scored 13 per cent in a March election.

But the prospect of a party that the foreign minister has compared with the Nazis entering the heart of German democracy is unnerving the other parties. They all refuse to work with the AfD and no one wants to sit next to them in parliament.

Leading AfD candidate Alexander Gauland denies they are Nazis, saying others only use the term because of the party’s popularity. It has won support with calls for Germany to shut its borders immediately, introduce a minimum quota for deportations and stop refugees bringing their families here.

“We’re gradually becoming foreigners in our own country,” Gauland told an election rally in the Polish border city of Frankfurt an der Oder.

A song with the lyrics “we’ll bring happiness back to your homeland” blared out of a blue campaign bus and the 76-year-old lawyer said Germany belonged to the Germans, Islam had no place here and the migrant influx would make everyone worse off.

Gauland provoked outrage for saying at another event that Germans should no longer be reproached with the Nazi past and they should take pride in what their soldiers achieved during the World Wars.

The AfD could end up as the biggest opposition force in the national assembly if there is a re-run of the current coalition of Merkel’s conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD) – one of the most likely scenarios.

That would mean it would chair the powerful budget committee and open the general debate during budget consultations, giving prominence to its alternatives to government policies.

Georg Pazderski, a member of the AfD’s executive board, told Reuters his party would use parliamentary speeches to draw attention to the cost of the migrant crisis, troubles in the euro zone – which the AfD wants Germany to leave – and problems related to the European Union.

Gauland said the AfD would call for a committee to investigate the chancellor after entering parliament: “We want Ms Merkel’s policy of bringing 1 million people into this country to be investigated and we want her to be severely punished for that.”

Unlike previous right-wing movements in Germany the AfD – founded in 2013 by an anti-euro group of academics – has become socially acceptable so radicalised people from the middle class feel able to vote for it alongside classic radical right-wing voters, said Manfred Guellner, head of Forsa polling institute.

“You don’t vote for skinheads but you can vote for professors in suits,” said Guellner, referring to the likes of Gauland, who tends to wear tweed jackets.

Lloyd stars in Tigers VFL grand final loss

Richmond’s Sam Lloyd pushed his claims for an AFL grand final berth with a best-on-ground performance in the Tigers’ heartbreaking VFL grand final loss to Port Melbourne.

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Ben Lennon missed a set shot from just outside the 50m arc after the siren to hand Port a stunning 11.8 (74) to 10.10 (70) win in front of a crowd of 17,159 fans at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Lloyd was awarded the Norm Goss Medal for his 35-possession performance, with Anthony Miles, Corey Ellis and Shaun Hampson also influential.

“I was surprised when my name got called out … I’d trade it in any day for a premiership medallion,” Lloyd said.

Playing predominantly as a midfielder, the 27-year-old also had 10 clearances, laid nine tackles and kicked a goal in a game the Tigers led by 13 points before a stunning resurgence by the Boroughs in the dying minutes.

Lloyd has made eight AFL appearances this season, with the last coming in round 16 which was also his 50th career match at senior level.

“I’m going to prepare like I’m a chance, you never know what could happen,” he said of the prospect of earning a senior recall.

“I feel like I’ve put my hand up.

“I’ve been pushing to get into the midfield at AFL level for a couple of years now.

“My fitness level has really improved over the last couple of years … and if I get the opportunity I’m sure I could do something.”

Richmond senior coach Damien Hardwick was on hand to watch the match, as was skipper Trent Cotchin, who will find out on Monday if he will face a ban for his high hit on Greater Western Sydney’s Dylan Shiel.

Hampson, Ellis and Shai Bolton were the emergencies for the preliminary final.

Hampson had 40 hitouts and took seven marks and Ellis had 23 possessions and laid seven tackles in the grand final loss.

Bolton started brightly with two first-quarter goals but faded in the second half.

“Shai has got a lot of excitement about him hasn’t he?” said Tigers VFL coach Craig McRae.

“He showed what he’s capable of when he got us off to a great start, but part of his challenge at AFL level is to be consistent with that effort.

“He’s an 18-year-old kid and he’s on the rise.”

Reece Conca (21 disposals), Jayden Short (20), Connor Menadue (20 touches and two goals) and Ben Griffiths (three goals) were also prominent.

Big four banks scrap ATM withdrawal fee

Australia’s biggest banks will stop charging customers of other banks a $2 fee to withdraw cash from their ATMs, attracting both praise and renewed calls for a royal commission into banking.

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The Commonwealth Bank was the first to abolish the fee early on Sunday, citing ongoing consumer unhappiness with it as the reason for the decision. ANZ, Westpac and NAB followed suit on Sunday afternoon.

Treasurer Scott Morrison praised the banks and said the government was putting pressure on them to put their customers first.

“Australians are sick and tired of all of these fees that mount up,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“So when banks respond in this way, I am happy to give them a pat on the back when they do the right thing.”

Reserve Bank of Australia data shows Australians made more than 250 million ATM withdrawals from banks other than their own last year.

Group Executive of Retail Banking Services at the Commonwealth Bank Matt Comyn said the decision was designed to increase convenience and help consumers save.

“We think this change will benefit many Australians and hopefully demonstrate our willingness to listen and act on customer feedback,” he said in a statement.

ANZ Group Executive Fred Ohlsson said the fee would be dropped on its more than 2300 machines from early October.

Westpac Group Executive, Consumer, George Frazis said the decision would apply to its Westpac, St George, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA customers and particularly benefit rural and regional consumers.

“We want all Australians, whether they are Westpac Group customers or not, to benefit from one of Australia’s largest ATM networks,” he said.

NAB Chief Customer Officer of Consumer Banking and Wealth Andrew Hagger said all Australians, regardless of their bank, could use their ATMs and not be charged a cash withdrawal fee.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the decision was no reason to ease off a royal commission into banking.

“Imagine how we could get better banking for all Australians if we had a banking royal commission,” he said.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the threat of an impending royal commission, coupled with mounting public pressure over multiple scandals, prompted CommBank to act.

He said a royal commission or a parliamentary commission of inquiry would put more pressure on the banks to lift their game.

The Australian Bankers’ Association welcomed the ATM fee scrap, saying it would make banking more affordable and improve services for customers.

The fee will still apply to customers using overseas bank cards.