US hot sauce factory must cut smell: court

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A US judge has ordered a factory that produces the popular Sriracha chilli sauce to stop emitting annoying odours in a ruling that has left some nearby residents worried about a possible loss of jobs at the site.

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Judge Robert H. O’Brien on Tuesday ruled in favour of the city of Irwindale, where Sriracha recently relocated, saying sauce maker Huy Fong Foods must stop any operations that could be causing the odours and make unspecified changes to mitigate them.

The company had no immediate comment, but a few neighbours interviewed on Wednesday dismissed the complaints and worried that jobs might be lost if the plant is forced to close.

“I don’t want it shut down because I think a lot of people will lose their jobs,” said Marta Torres, 47.

“In two years it has never smelled as much as now, but I think it’s OK.”

Torres said the smell wafts into her home late in the day in an area where many of her neighbours like to cook with spices.

“It’s something you can deal with,” she said.

“It doesn’t bother us.”

O’Brien’s preliminary injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit filed October 21 by Irwindale, a small industrial city east of Los Angeles and home to nearly 1500 people.

It wasn’t immediately known if the food company plans to appeal.

The company has said there is no reason to close the plant now because harvest season and the subsequent grinding of red-hot jalapeno peppers – the key ingredient of the sauce – have passed.

As a result, the injunction might not have an immediate impact on the company’s production or the country’s hot sauce supply as Huy Fong continues its year-round mixing and bottling.

The judge acknowledged there was a lack of credible evidence linking complaints of breathing trouble and watery eyes to the factory.

But he said for residents the odour that could be reasonably inferred to be emanating from the facility is “extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance”.

Some residents said living with the smell is bearable.

Randall Acosta, 45, who lives in an apartment complex across the street from the factory, said the scent can be strong sometimes but it makes him hungry.

“Why are people complaining about the chilli smell when this is an industrial area?” he asked.

“There’s burning rubber down the street. There are other dangers in this city.”

The case could still go to trial, but Irwindale officials would like to see a settlement outside court and do not want to shut down Sriracha altogether, City Attorney Fred Galante told the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re going to try to keep having a conversation with Huy Fong,” he said, and find a collaborative way to address the odour problem.

Comment: Big money made on social apps as gambling and gaming collide

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By César Albarrán Torres, University of Sydney

The ban on social media gambling was legislated in 2001, through the Interactive Gambling Act and reaffirmed through a departmental reviewed released in 2013.

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The act made it illegal for Australian companies to offer real-money online wagering.

But new poker and slot apps available on mobile devices are not considered gambling because they don’t allow players to directly wager or win real cash.

Known collectively as “social casino games”, they simulate real life wagering and keep users playing, sharing, and using real money to purchase in-game currency, extra credits, expansions and gifts.

Much like other social games including Candy Crush, Words with Friends or Angry Birds, these games increase their reach via the user’s own social networks, as they constantly ask the player to invite their contacts to play.

When signing in, players are asked to accept Terms and Conditions that allow for this form of promotion. The sign-in page of the slots app House of Fun, for example, says: “This app may post on your behalf, including your high scores, games you played and more”.

Even though there is no conclusive evidence that social casino apps lead to gambling addiction, they do aid in the cultural normalisation of gambling.

DoubleDown Casino, Slotomania, Zynga Poker, Betting Billionaire and MyVegas are but a few of a myriad of gambling-like apps on Facebook that are becoming increasingly popular. Slotomania was the most downloaded app on the iTunes Store in 2012.

And industry reports reveal that the worldwide social gambling market far exceeds real money online gambling with 170 million users per month versus 50 million users per month.

But there is still a mammoth discrepancy in terms of revenue: social gambling generates $2 billion per month, while online gambling produces $36 billion.

Perth’s newest casino

 

Chumba World was developed in Australia, and uses a sweepstakes model to circumvent US regulations on online gambling. Virtual Gaming Worlds

 

Although in the strictest sense it is not yet possible to gamble through these apps, some developers are finding ways to monetise gambling-like play. Virtual Gaming Worlds, a start-up based in Perth that operates the largely popular Facebook app Chumba Casino, bases its business model on sweepstakes.

This strategy profits from a loophole in Facebook’s policies, as some jurisdictions, such as the United States, don’t consider sweepstakes to be gambling. This loophole could be an entry into the Australian market if regulations loosen up.

And there seems to be a move towards real-life benefits derived from wins in virtual gambling. This pushes the limits of gaming further into the realm of real money wagering.

The Facebook slot app myVegas, developed by PlayStudios for the MGM Grand – one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas – allows players to cash-in their winnings in selected establishments for prizes that range from free meals to tickets for shows or swimming with dolphins.

Some of the slots available in myVegas are extensions of the casino’s branding strategies, with titles such as New York New York, Excalibur and Mirage. These use cartoonish designs that echo popular social gaming titles like Farmville and constantly invite you to add your Facebook friends to the player roster.

Other gambling-themed apps present inspirational narratives of personal achievement while interacting with the real world. Betting Billionaire promises a “chance to live the millionaire lifestyle you always dreamed of and try to become a Billionaire”.

Players achieves this by using “your knowledge of sporting events to bet big on Football, Tennis, Horse Racing, Basketball and more” and competing “against your friends to see who knows their stuff”. In the gameplay you can “Spend your winnings on the latest bling from cool cars to luxury homes”.

Like Chumba Casino, Betting Billionaire could very well benefit from the loopholes in Facebook’s policies concerning sweepstakes and profit from a large pool of would-be-gamblers.

The popularity of these apps has cultural and ethical implications in a country like Australia with a high incidence of problem gambling. And these are evident in the merging of the gambling and gaming industries.

The consolidation of the social casino industry has involved key industry players such as slot machine manufacturer IGT, which bought Double Down Interactive; WMS, which launched Lucky Cruise Social Casino, a social casino that operates on Facebook; and pokie machine giant Aristocrat, which acquired Product Madness, a top five operator of slot games on Facebook, with more than 500,000 daily active users.

Social responsibility: coming soon

The perceived risks of social casino games have raised concerns about public welfare.

Just a few days ago the South Australian premier Jay Weatherill called for new regulations on social casino products, seeking the cooperation of Apple to make it illegal to supply social gambling apps to minors. Other politicians, including senator Nick Xenophon, share the notion that social casino apps are breeding new problem gamblers.

Will Facebook become a theme park of risk? Given recent developments it is certainly a real possibility.

César Albarrán Torres does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Forge shares fall after debt rescue

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Shares in engineer and constructor Forge Group have plunged by more than 80 per cent as it revealed it had to be rescued from disaster by creditors ANZ Bank.

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Shareholders jumped at the chance to dump the stock on Thursday after the company came out of a four week trading halt.

Perth based Forge Group was facing a cashflow crisis as it sought to repay debt and provide $45 million needed before the end of December to finish building two poorly performing power stations.

ANZ agreed to increase a debt facility with Forge from $11 million to $60 million, as well as waive covenants and nearly $10 million in repayments for the next nine months.

However the bank now has warrant options over 13 per cent of Forge’s issued shares, which if exercised could dilute other shares and profits.

Forge’s shares lost $3.495, or 83.6 per cent, to 68.5 cents, having earlier fallen to 28.5 cents.

The plunge wiped more than $300 million off its market value, to $59 million.

Forge gave no indication of its problems on August 29 when it forecast continued success in the 2013/14 financial year after a $63 million net profit in 2012/13.

However on Thursday it said it expected to post an earnings loss of $85 million to $90 million in 2013/14, following a $127 million profit writedown.

Poorly performing gas turbine power stations at Mt Isa in Queensland and Rio Tinto’s West Angelas power station in Western Australia are the source of the writedowns.

Forge chairman David Craig said the scale of underperformance of the two power stations had only come to light in a short space of time, which was unacceptable to the board.

Chief executive David Simpson described the outcome as regrettable and extremely disappointing, citing poor project management among a range of cost blow-out problems.

Leadership changes have been made at both power stations, with Mr Simpson to have direct oversight of both projects until their expected completion next year.

CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said Forge’s problems with debt were reflective of challenges being faced by the wider mining services sector.

Slowdowns in mining activity would also affect gas demand and therefore revenue from Forge Group’s power stations, he said.

However Mr Simpson pointed to the company’s contracted order book of more than $1.8 billion as reason to remain confident on its future prospects.

Job ad numbers improving says SEEK

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Jobs website SEEK says it has experienced a slight increase in advertisements in the past few months, which could see it deliver a stronger than expected earnings result this financial year.

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SEEK had been experiencing a flat to gentle decline in the number of job ads posted on its websites each month leading up to the end of June 2013.

But chief executive Andrew Bassat said the company had recorded an improvement in recent months.

“Based on the first four months of the financial year, we are observing improving trends with flat to gentle increases in ad volumes on a month-on-month basis,” he said.

That’s good news for job seekers, with the unemployment rate currently sitting at 5.7 per cent and many economists expecting it to push above six per cent next year.

Mr Bassat said a continued improvement in job ads could lead the company to upgrade its earnings forecast for the 2013/14 financial year.

The company had previously forecast growth on its 2012/13 revenue, earnings and underlying profit, which was $141 million.

SEEK shares gained 73 cents, or 5.9 per cent, to $13.13.

Meanwhile, SEEK also announced plans to float its international student recruitment business IDP Education in 2014.

The recruitment business is 50 per cent owned by SEEK, with the rest of the ownership spread across 38 Australian universities.

IDP chief executive Andrew Thompson said an initial public offering (IPO) would set the business up for future growth.

“The IPO will provide a more flexible capital structure for future growth and provide IDP shareholders an opportunity to realise a portion of their investment in the company.”

Rivers asked women’s label to buy it out

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The boss of the family owned Rivers clothing brand called Australia’s biggest women’s fashion retailer asking to be bought out.

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The 28-year-old Rivers shoe and apparel brand has been sold for $5 million to Specialty Fashion Group, which has the Katies label in its portfolio.

Specialty’s chief executive Gary Perlstein said Rivers’ sole director Philip Goodman’s advisers called his company offering to sell the business.

“It’s one of those rare and fortunate circumstances where there was a motivated seller,” he told AAP.

“We got a phone call and as a result we were able to achieve what we think is a very good value acquisition price.”

Mr Perlstein said Rivers was not sold cheaply because of debt problems.

“In a transaction … you negotiate hard, you extract the value you believe is appropriate,” he said.

Specialty Fashion Group says it plans to expand the number of Rivers Australian stores from 160 to 220.

The news saw Specialty shares gain four cents, or 5.1 per cent, to 83 cents.

Specialty will invest $4 million into the Rivers business by the 2014/15 financial year to improve its performance.

Rivers is not expected to make a contribution to Specialty’s earnings until that time.

Specialty has a customer database of seven million while Rivers has an estimated base of several hundred thousand.

The fashion group says it will achieve significant costs savings of $10 million on an annualised basis by fiscal 2015, which Mr Perlstein said would occur in the logistics area.

“That’s by leveraging volume around the country,” he said.

Rivers revenue for fiscal 2014 is estimated at $180 million.

Earlier this year, Rivers signed an accord after it was revealed to have used Bangladeshi sweat shop labour to make garments in unsafe and intimidating conditions.

Specialty Fashion Group had also signed an accord on labour standards in Bangladesh, which ensures internal audits are conducted.

“That will give us the comfort that we need that we apply to our business,” Mr Perlstein said.

Comment: Pope Francis prioritises the poor, channels Marx in new ‘manifesto’

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By Andrew Self, La Trobe University

Pope Francis has openly attacked capitalism in his recently released Apostolic exhortation, which for all intents and purposes is the Pope’s “manifesto”.

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While Francis has called for the radical decentralisation of the Vatican, and decided that gay people are not agents of Satan, it is his outcry against savage capitalism that creates the biggest interest. Much of it could have come from the hand of Karl Marx himself, minus the critique of ideology.

Since his election to the Catholic Church’s highest position in March, Francis has set an example for a more modest lifestyle, living in the Vatican guesthouse and suspending a bishop who spent millions on his luxurious residence. He also chose to be called Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived a life of poverty. So, is the hierarchy of the Catholic Church finally living up to the teachings of Jesus?

Calling for a more equal society, chapter two of Francis’ exhortation attacks the nature of modern capitalism, stating in no uncertain terms that:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

It is only one section of the 84-page document, but it sets out the challenges of today’s world which includes headings such as “No to an economy of exclusion”, “No to the new idolatry of money”, “No to a financial system which rules rather than serves” and “No to the inequality which spawns violence”.

Francis has clearly been shifting the direction of the Catholic Church from the previous conservative slant of Pope Benedict. Not since the papacy of Paul VI in the 1960s has a pope openly declared the need to rebel against unjust capitalism.

Under Francis, European Church attendance is ever so slowly on the rise for the first time in decades. Two-thirds of Catholics seem to view Francis’ overall focus on human harmony as a positive thing.

Francis is a Jesuit and comes from Latin America, which was the home of the radical “Liberation Theology” movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which was feared by the conservative members of the Catholic Church. This tradition is a reading of the scripture that looks at sin in social problems, not individual ones.

Those adhering to this form of theology fight for an action against oppression, and as God identifies with the oppressed, this is where action by the church should be taken. Naturally, many deride this strain of Christian thought as “Marxist”.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, although Francis had opposed liberation theology in Argentina, this seems to have to do more with keeping Jesuits from becoming politically active or working directly in community groups – which would be a departure from the more traditional role of the order – than it does with rejecting an interpretation of Catholicism that places an emphasis on the poor.

It is a welcome change as capitalism stumbles from crisis to crisis. And with global inequality on the rise, it is significant that not only popular movements worldwide are realising and rebelling against this, but that the head of one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful institutions is also doing so.

Francis writes that:

Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.

He openly attacks the defenders of the free market, saying:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

And Francis goes on with a statement which would not be out of place in a Communist pamphlet:

This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system.

 

 Wikimedia Commons

 The theories of Karl Marx are clearly present in Pope Francis’ recent exhortation.

Just like Marx wrote over 100 years ago, Francis understands capitalism’s manner of turning everything into a commodity, even humans.

Naturally, Francis has attracted the ire of conservatives, who see the Catholic Church’s role in line with traditionalism, and as an institution to hold off moral relativism and the growing secularisation of Western society.

In an Australian context, Francis’ manifesto could easily be aimed at Jesuit-educated Tony Abbott and conservative cardinal George Pell, particularly when he writes that:

…some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

It is of course true that the Catholic Church has huge, undisclosed wealth that is closely tied with the global usury system of unethical loans that Jesus condemned.

But it has only been eight months since Francis stepped into his role, and in this short time he has possibly done more for updating Catholic theology than any pope has done in the 20th century. He is not the first pope to attack the capitalist system and may be closer to Hungarian economic philosopher Karl Polanyi than Karl Marx.

Nevertheless, Francis’ arguments are more specific, opening naming “trickle-down economics” while practicing what he preaches and living a relatively humble lifestyle.

Francis is saying what many have said before, and will continue to say – that inequality is worsening, with the blame laid firmly at the feet of capitalism. But certainly, it holds more weight coming from such an influential man than it would coming from Russell Brand.

Andrew Self does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Another new bid in dairy takeover battle

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Murray Goulburn has lifted its offer for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter to $533 million to stay in the three way race for the historic dairy company.

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The latest Murray Goulburn offer – $9.50 for each Warrnambool share – further escalates its battle with Canadian dairy giant Saputo and Bega Cheese.

Murray Goulburn said its latest offer delivered demonstrably superior value to the competing proposals.

“Murray Goulburn remains firmly committed to acquiring WCB,” managing director Gary Helou said.

“A combined Murray Goulburn and WCB will create one of the largest Australian owned food and beverage businesses and a globally competitive dairy foods company 100 per cent controlled by dairy farmers.”

Murray Goulburn also wishes to explore the potential of Warrnambool paying special dividends under its revised offer, so that some Warrnambool shareholders may get franking credit benefits.

Murray Goulburn’s $9.50 cash offer is higher than the latest offer from Saputo, but is conditional upon Murray Goulburn attaining more than 50 per cent of Warrnambool’s shares and obtaining regulatory approval.

Saputo’s latest offer consists of an unconditional $9.00, plus an extra 20 cents if Saputo gains more than 50 per cent of Warrnambool’s shares.

Warrnambool’s board had supported the Saputo offer in the absence of a higher bid.

It will soon meet to review the new offer, and has advised shareholders not to act.

Rivkin Securities director Shannon Rivkin said the conditions attached to the Murray Goulburn may mean it falls short of what it needs to pay to have the Warrnambool board abandon support for Saputo’s “far more certain” offer.

“Still … it could simply mean that Saputo ups its bid to $9.50 to make the decision for shareholders easier,” Mr Rivkin said.

Some critics of the Murray Goulburn bid have questioned whether the company behind the Devondale brand would be able to pay off the debt arising from an acquisition of Warrnambool.

They say Murray Goulburn may not be able to lift milk prices paid to dairy farmers if debt payments are high.

Murray Goulburn’s prior offer was $9.00, which had already been revised from $7.50.

Bega Cheese has made a final offer of 1.5 Bega shares and $2 cash, worth $8.975 based on the closing price of Bega shares on Wednesday.

When Bega started the takeover battle for Warrnambool in September, the target’s shares were worth $4.51.

Warrnambool shares gained seven cents on Thursday to $9.32.

Bega shares gained nine cents to $4.74.

Suns’ Brown in clash with AFL teammate

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Gold Coast veteran Campbell Brown is being investigated over a clash which left AFL teammate Steven May with a suspected fractured jaw.

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The Suns said in a statement that no other player was involved in the incident, which occurred in Los Angeles earlier this week, and they are still investigating.

Brown, a 2008 Hawthorn premiership player, has been with the Suns since their inaugural 2011 season.

The Suns said the incident took place after the completion of a club training camp in Arizona.

“The incident left May with a suspected fractured jaw, which is expected to require surgery,” the Suns said in the statement.

“No other players were involved.

“The club is in the process of establishing exactly what happened and all other relevant facts, and is discussing the matter with the two players concerned who have since returned to the Gold Coast ahead of their teammates.

“The Gold Coast Suns are considering appropriate actions and will not make further comment at this stage in relation to the incident.”

It’s not the first time Brown has been in trouble for misbehaving during an off-season overseas trip.

The Suns stripped him of their deputy vice-captaincy after the 2011 season, as punishment for an incident in Thailand that post-season.

On that occasion, Brown and three other Suns were arrested, after an argument with another tourist escalated into a physical fight, although they were released without charge.

Brown was the only Suns player punished by the club at that time, because of his leadership position.

He’s also frequently found trouble on the field.

The 30-year-old has missed 28 AFL games through suspension throughout his career, including the first six and the last three rounds of this season.

And he has a ban still hanging over his head for the first round of next season.

Brown has played a total of 205 AFL games – 159 for the Hawks and 46 for Gold Coast.

Imran Khan party ‘outs US spy’ in Pakistan

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Rising anger over deadly drone attacks has spurred a Pakistani political party to reveal the secret identity of what it said was the top US spy in the country.

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It demanded he be tried for murder, another blow to already jagged relations between the two countries.

A pair of US missile strikes in recent weeks – including one that killed the Pakistani Taliban’s leader as the government prepared to invite him to hold peace talks – has increased simmering tensions after years of public fury over the covert attacks.

It was the second time in recent years that Pakistanis opposed to drone strikes targeting militants have claimed to have revealed the identity of the top CIA spy in the country.

In a letter to Pakistani police, Shireen Mazari, the information secretary of political party Tehreek-e-Insaf, called for the CIA station chief in Islamabad as well as CIA Director John Brennan to be tried for murder and “waging war against Pakistan” in connection with a November 21 drone strike on an Islamic seminary in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The political party is led by cricket star Imran Khan and controls the government in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

It is one of the main critics of the US drone program and has pushed Pakistan’s federal government, which is controlled by a rival party, to take extreme measures like cutting off the NATO troop supply line to Afghanistan until the US stops the attacks.

Mazari said in a news conference that the strike in the province’s Hangu district killed four Pakistanis and two Afghans, and also wounded children.

In her letter, Mazari claimed that the CIA station chief did not enjoy diplomatic immunity and should be prevented from leaving the country.

She said interrogating him could produce the names of the pilots who fly the drones.

Anila Khawaja, a spokeswoman for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, declined to say how the party learned the station chief’s name.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the Islamabad station chief’s name and declined further comment.

The Associated Press is not publishing the name disclosed by Mazari because it could not verify its authenticity.

The job of the CIA station chief in Islamabad is generally a one-year assignment.

It involves running the Predator drone program targeting militants and serving as a US liaison to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, where the station chief’s identity is known by top officials.

In December 2010, the CIA pulled its top spy out of Pakistan after a lawsuit accused him of killing civilians in drone strikes.

The Pakistani lawsuit listed a name lawyers said was the station chief, but the AP learned at the time it was not correct.

Nevertheless, the CIA pulled the station chief out of the country after militants threatened to kill him.

It’s rare for a CIA station chief to have their cover blown.

In 1999, an Israeli newspaper revealed the identity of the station chief in Tel Aviv.

In 2001, an Argentine newspaper printed a picture of the Buenos Aires station chief and details about him.

In both instances, the station chiefs were recalled to the US.

Trott is no-go zone, Broad tells Australia

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England have challenged Australia to keep the Jonathan Trott issue to one side and avoid any on-field banter on the topic in next week’s Adelaide Test.

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The tourists’ No.3 batsman has returned home with a stress-related illness following England’s defeat in the first Test in Brisbane.

England paceman Stuart Broad says he’s unsure if the Aussies will refrain from bringing up Trott’s name in the heat of battle, as demanded by England coach Andy Flower.

“I can’t say how they’ll react but as international cricketers and professional sportsmen they will understand the pressures that everyone is under and it can happen to anyone,” Broad told British newspapers.

“The Australian players will respect the decision of Trotty’s to go home and there is no doubt there is a lot of respect between the two sides.

“I can’t see any advantage Australia would gain from that.”

Flower and Broad have criticised Australia batsman David Warner for telling a news conference during the Gabba Test that Trott’s effort with the bat was weak.

Broad says the tourists are heartbroken over Trott’s departure.

“We’re on the end of a phone when he needs us,” Broad said.

Another England top-order batsman, Marcus Trescothick, pulled out of the 2006/07 Ashes tour with a stress-related illness before the first Test.

“I don’t think Tres going home was directly linked to England losing five-nil,” Broad said.

“Within the changing room there is no looking back at 2006 but we will certainly draw on our experience from 2010/11 and 2009 and 2013 where we played some excellent cricket against Australia.”

Broad defended Australia’s captain who was fined 20 per cent of his match fee for telling tailender Jimmy Anderson to get ready for a “f**king broken arm”.

“Michael Clarke was disciplined by the ICC because it was picked up by the stump mic,” Broad said.

“I don’t think it went overboard.”

But in a crack at Warner, Broad said England’s players don’t comment on opponents as they don’t know what’s going on in their personal lives.

Broad pointed out Warner’s century came after Australia established a 159-run lead on the first dig.

“He scored a very good hundred when he could play with no pressure on him. It is up to us to get runs on the board and apply some pressure to all their top order,” Broad said.