Woodside eyes growth, slams govt policy

Energy giant Woodside Petroleum say it is keen to develop Australian resources in the longer term but has called on the government to review its policy towards the energy sector.

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The oil and gas producer on Friday reaffirmed its target to increase production by 15 per cent by 2020, focusing on its existing operations and currently approved projects.

Chief executive Peter Coleman said the company will prioritise near-term value growth, with a focus on developing or expanding existing projects.

He identified the company’s two biggest liquefied natural gas projects in Western Australia, and the exploration work planned in Africa and Myanmar.

“You will hear us talk a lot about Wheatstone, Senegal, Myanmar and Pluto,” told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in Perth.

“That’s not to detract from the other opportunities we are pursuing, but we see these as priorities for this year.”

Woodside said last month it is likely to meet its full-year production guidance despite bad weather hurting first-quarter production and sales.

The oil and gas giant’s output dropped nearly 10 per cent in the three months to March to 21.4 million barrels of oil equivalent, but it still expects to deliver the full-year production forecast of 84 mmboe to 90 mmboe.

Mr Coleman also confirmed the company’s longer term plan to build a pipeline from the Browse gas fields off the WA coast to the Karratha gas plant in the North West Shelf.

“As operator of both Browse and the North West Shelf, Woodside is well-placed to make this happen and we are talking to joint venture participants in both assets,” he said.

The company called on Canberra to ensure a fiscal regime for development of Australian resources and to avoid any policy changes that could deter investment.

Woodside chairman Michael Chaney flagged “several issues of concern” including the government’s impending review of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax, recent changes to the 457 visa programme and delays in corporate tax cuts.

He said it will get much harder to attract highly skilled international employees to Australia if they are not confident of being able to stay beyond an initial two-year period, a result of the federal government changes to visas.

He particularly slammed the Labor and minor parties for opposing the government’s proposed cut in the corporate tax rate for all companies.

“It is very clear to anyone involved in business that having a corporate tax rate higher than that in other countries would result in Australia missing out on new investment,” Mr Chaney said, urging all political parties to ensure that the country’s international competitiveness does not suffer further.

Brisbane bid falls flat for Coates

John Coates’ lone gunslinger style is under a spotlight again after he shot from the hip about a Queensland Olympic bid.

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Australian Olympic Committee president Coates has put the nation’s next bid back on the agenda – without telling anyone he was going to do it.

“We have authorised Brisbane and six supporting cities to do a feasibility study,” he told ABC television on Thursday night.

“I have got the experience and what I want to do, whether it’s 2028 or 2032 is to champion that, both in Australia and internationally.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Friday there have not been discussions with the AOC or the federal government about a bid.

And Coates rival for the AOC presidency, Danni Roche, says his comments highlight his autocratic style.

“I would work in a more collaborative manner. And I certainly wouldn’t be making a unilateral decision about the Olympic Games,” Roche told reporters on Friday.

Coates’ remarks are traced to south-east Queensland region councils approving a feasibility study into a potential Olympic bid.

The AOC last September offered its in-principle support but won’t help fund the $2.5m study, slated for completion within 18 months.

Roche, a 1996 Olympic hockey gold medallist, said she would welcome any bid, if it had government backing.

“I would work collaboratively with the governments if that was their interest, both federal and state. And also I wouldn’t be making unilateral decisions,” she said.

No decision on a bid is required until early 2019 when the IOC requires an expression of interest for the 2028 Games.

Trump and Turnbull meet after lengthy delay

Donald Trump’s decision to remain in Washington longer than planned saw him shift the meeting with Malcolm Turnbull from a Manhattan hotel in favour of a shorter, 30-minute meeting on board the USS Intrepid on the Hudson River.

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Trump: “Oh, it’s a very big day. I appreciate you waiting.”

Turnbull: “Well, I know the feeling, we have challenges with our parliament too. We have only 29 seats in a Senate of 76 so you need a lot of work to get legislation passed.”

Trump: “That means you’re doing a good job.”

Turnbull: “When you get it passed, you are!”

Donald Trump labelled the reports of a terse phone call with Malcolm Turnbull over the refugee deal as a little bit of fake news.

Trump: “We had a good telephone call.”

Turnbull: “We had a great call!”

Trump: “You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration. I want to tell you, we had a great call. I mean, we’re not babies. But we had a great call.”

The February phone call saw Mr Trump tweet that the refugee deal was dumb but the United States eventually decided to honour the refugee agreement forged by the Obama administration.

The two leaders talked trade, national security and immigration during their truncated meeting in New York ahead of a gala dinner commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The four-day battle between the Allies and Japan was fought off Australia’s northeastern coast between the 4th and the 8th of May in 1942 and was the first air-and-sea battle in history.

The Allies managed a strategic victory which put an end to the Japanese seaborne invasion of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

It was the first time the Japanese had failed in a major wartime operation.

During the dinner, Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to those who served.

“We thank all those Australians and Americans who served and remember the more than 600 who died in the Battle of the Coral Sea. And to all those who serve in the United States and Australian Defence Forces we honour you, we thank you. You and your families, with your courage and your service, you keep us free.”

Donald Trump offered similar sentiments.

“They saw enemy planes flying toward them by the dozen. They saw the flames erupt in to the air and they saw the true cost of war in the faces of the heroes that never returned. On this special gathering, on this special night, we remember the courage of these men and every man, Australian and American who fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea.”

 

 

NSW Hunter Valley looks to US region’s transition from coal

The Newcastle and Hunter region of the New South Wales Central Coast is known for its beaches, wines and mines.

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Coal mining has a long history here – the industry in Australia began in Newcastle in the early 1800s.

But some in the region are now imagining a different future.

The environmental group Lock the Gate recently hosted Lisa Abbott, coordinator of a group working on the transition in the Appalachian region of the United States.

Centred in the state of Kentucky, it was once the country’s largest coal-producing area.

Ms Abbott, head of the Empower Kentucky Project, says coal mining is deeply ingrained in the Appalachian communities.

“Coal mining is more than just a job. It really is a part of our culture. It’s something that people have sacrificed their health (for) in many cases and have taken extraordinary risks to provide for their families.”

Once a significant employer, the coal industry in the Appalachian region now supports only a few jobs.

The community is in the midst of transitioning away from coal.

Ms Abbott, who works with the social justice organisation Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, says the Empower Kentucky Project is working to reshape the region’s economy.

“That includes supporting local agriculture, supporting the arts and tourism in the region. We believe there’s a lot of opportunity in energy efficiency and helping to retrofit homes and businesses to use less energy, which, in turn, keeps more money in the local community and creates jobs.”

In Appalachia, much of the coal has already been mined, but that is not the case in the Hunter Valley.

New data shows the global demand for New South Wales coal is continuing at near record levels.

In 2016, exports increased by 1.5 million tonnes.

The industry accounts for around 13,000 jobs in the Hunter.

But local miner Kerry Moir, who has worked in the industry for over 35 years, says the industry’s reach is far greater.

“A lot of people supply here to the coalmines, repair gear for the coalmines, do maintenance for the coalmines. So, if the coalmines go down, in the short term, I think a lot of people will be out of work in Newcastle.”

The Federal Member for the Hunter, Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, says coal mining remains crucial to the economy but a transitional fuel is needed to eventually move away from coal.

He suggests gas is the logical alternative.

“Our future is in renewables, but the transition to renewables, given the technology constraints, will be a long one, and we need a transitional fuel. Obviously, that’s gas. The Hunter is so well-placed to provide that gas generation. We have the land and the buffer zones of the existing coal-fired generators. The high-voltage transmission lines are there. We have the skilled workforce.”

But Lock the Gate Hunter coordinator Steve Phillips says he disagrees.

“Switching from one unsustainable, unreliable fossil fuel to another is not what our region wants. We want sustainable industries. The agricultural industries that have always been here can grow back. Innovative industries in engineering and social services already exist in the Hunter. We are a leader in these things. These can transition us away from coal if they’re allowed to grow. “

What the region does want is employment, and Ms Abbott says that needs to be the focus.

“Regardless of your views about coal and the coal industry, all of us need to be thinking about what’s a just transition for these workers and communities.”

 

Safe-zone plan for Syria, but rebels walk out

The talks in Astana involving armed Syrian rebel groups are part of efforts to try to end the country’s civil war that has killed more than 300,000 people since it began in 2011.

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Russia’s plan involves setting up four so-called de-escalation zones in rebel-held territory in Idlib, parts of Homs province, an opposition enclave near Damascus and Syria’s south.

Rebels and government soldiers would be stationed at checkpoints around the four zones, and foreign troops could also be used in observer roles.

Russian president Vladimir Putin says Syrian and Russian planes would end their bombing in the four districts if opposition groups stop their attacks there.

The plan would allow for aid deliveries and the return of refugees.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura says he supports the agreement.

“The most important thing is that this initiative today is actually a step in the right direction, because it’s pushing for a concrete de-escalation in addition to the ceasefire in four areas.”

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’Afari, has also spoken in favour of the plan.

“The Syrian Arab Republic supports the Russian initiative on the de-escalation zones and stresses its commitment to the cessation of hostilities agreement signed on December 30, 2016, including not shelling those areas.”

Kazakhstan foreign minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov says the zones would help improve the de-escalation process ahead of a round of talks in Astana in mid-July.

“(We have) adopted the memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, which foresees the establishment of de-escalation areas with a view to putting an end to ongoing violence, improving the humanitarian situation, creating favourable conditions to advance the process for a political solution of the Syrian conflict and an effective fight against terrorism.”

But as Russia, Turkey and Iran gathered to sign the pact, Syrian rebel delegates shouted in protest and walked out.

Syria’s armed opposition says it cannot accept establishing the safe zones, saying they threaten the country’s territorial integrity.

And Syrian opposition delegation member Osama Abu Zaid says the rebels do not recognise Iran as a peace guarantor.

“In the name of the Syrian people, one of whose members, Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, who has objected on Iran signing, is present, we refuse any role for Iran and militias affiliated with it. We refuse for (Iran) to play any role as guarantor, considering it is a nation with hostilities against the Syrian people.”

 

 

Republican healthcare bill to dismantle Obamacare progresses to Senate

After weeks of negotiations, the Republican healthcare bill passed the House of Representatives 217 to 213.

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It was just enough support to push the legislation through, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

No Democrats voted in favour.

The vote to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law is Donald Trump’s first major political win.

The bill was previously abandoned when Republicans were unable to agree on its provisions.

Mr Trump says Obamacare is now “dead”.

“This is a great plan. I actually think it will get even better. And this is make no mistake, this is a repeal and replace of Obamacare, make no mistake about it. Make no mistake.”

It is also a political victory for House Speaker Paul Ryan, demonstrating his ability to pull together a fractured Republican caucus.

“The truth is, this law has failed and it is collapsing. Premiums are skyrocketing and choices are disappearing and it is only getting worse, spiraling out of control. And that is why we have to repeal this law and put in place a real, vibrant market place, with competition and lower premiums for families.”

Around 20 million Americans gained healthcare coverage under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act.

But Republicans have long attacked it, seeing the program as government overreach and complaining that it drives up healthcare costs.

The Republican bill aims to repeal most Obamacare taxes, including a penalty for not buying health insurance.

It would slash funding for Medicaid, the program that provides insurance for the poor, and roll back much of Medicaid’s expansion.

Soon after the vote, Republicans went to the White House Rose Garden to celebrate their victory.

Mr Trump says he’s confident of the future of the bill.

“I went through two years of campaigning and I’m telling you no matter where I went, people are suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare. And I will say this that, as far as I’m concerned your premiums, they’re going to start to come down. We’re going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident.”

But Democrats have slammed the bill.

Protesters rallied in Washington DC, shouting at congress members as they left Capitol Hill.

Democrats are hoping that the vote will spark a voter backlash in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi questioned the timing of the bill.

“This is not a health bill. This is a tax bill disguised as a health bill to have one of the biggest transfers of wealth from working families to the richest people and corporations in our country. That’s why they have to do it now so they can do their tax bill.”

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is accusing Mr Trump of being out of touch with working-class Americans.

“When you throw 24 million people off of health insurance, when you raise premiums for older workers, When you defund Planned Parenthood and when you cut Medicaid by $800 billion, and then on top of all of that, you give 300 billion in tax breaks to the top two per cent. That is not standing with the working class of this country, that is going to war against the working class of this country.”

The legislation now faces new hurdles in the Senate, where the Republicans have only a 52-seat majority in the 100-seat chamber and where just a few Republican defections could sink the bill.

 

 

Vixens on verge of Super Netball finals

Melbourne Vixens are expecting a desperate Queensland Firebirds outfit with their Super Netball season on the line in a double-header at Hisense Arena on Saturday night.

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The Vixens and the Firebirds, who won the trans-Tasman title last year, will be followed on court by the Collingwood Magpies and the Sunshine Coast Lightning, in a battle of the sharpshooters in Caitlin Thwaites and Caitlin Bassett.

The Vixens are flying at the top of the ladder and can wrap up a finals’ berth with four rounds to go, while the Firebirds are sitting fifth.

“The Firebirds played well last week even though they didn’t get the win and we want to keep our top spot on the ladder,” Melbourne goal attack Tegan Philip said.

“We’ve acknowledged that Firebirds do need a win if they want to be in the finals so it will be a very important match for them.”

Philip has returned to her best, after she was sidelined in 2016 with a serious knee injury, and is set to reclaim a spot in the Diamonds line-up.

In 2014 she won the grand final player of the match award, as the Vixens claimed their last title, and featured in the Commonwealth Games gold medal team.

“I’m really happy with how things are going at Vixens as I didn’t know the form I was going to be able to come back in,” Philip said.

The 28-year-old has formed a lethal shooting combination with Malawi shooter Mwayi Kumwenda, who shot 41 goals from as many attempts in their big win over the Lightning last week.

The fourth-placed Magpies posted a two-goal win over the Firebirds last round in Launceston and are on a three-game winning streak.

With four rounds remaining, Thwaites (429) and Bassett (428) lead third-placed Sam Wallace from the Swifts by some 60 goals.

Collingwood captain Madi Robinson will be going head to head with her younger sister Kelsey Browne, who plays for the Lightning.

Focusing on native-language literacy to teach English

At a refugee Welcome Day event in Newcastle, the city’s diversity is on show.

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Generations of migrants are here to celebrate their own cultures and their neighbours’ cultures.

Music is one way to share culture.

Language is another.

But refugee advocate Sister Diana Santelban is concerned that, as younger migrants integrate into Australian culture, they often lose their mother tongues.

“We’re finding, five years after these families are getting here, the kids are not speaking those languages very well. The mothers hold the culture, and we want the mothers to hold the culture as strong as possible, and one of the ways is literacy.”

Sister Diana is the project coordinator of a refugee women’s support centre named Zara’s House.

She says most women who visit the centre are taking English language lessons but many cannot read and write in their original language.

“Most of these women are very intelligent, gifted, creative people. But they never got to go to school. And that’s the truth. So they do not have proficiency in reading and writing their mother language. When the culture is lost because the women haven’t got the ability to pass on the culture, the culture is gone.”

Sister Diana wants to run native-language lessons, believing that, if the mothers can read and write their own languages, their children are more likely to do so.

She says those who are literate within the refugee communities will become the teachers.

“We’ve got young folk here who go, ‘I can do that, I can be a teacher. You know, I used to be a teacher in Afghanistan, and, you know, I’d love to do this,’ or, ‘I used to be a teacher In Syria, mum was a teacher …’ You know? So there are people in the community who can’t wait to get involved.”

One of those is 16-year-old Syrian refugee Mawra Alkasim, who arrived in Newcastle from Damascus six months ago.

She says she believes the lessons could empower the women.

“If you are a kid, and you (say) to your mum, ‘Mum, I can’t understand this lesson in my school, can you just help me doing it, can you tell me the way I have to follow?’ … if the mum is not educated, she will be like, ‘What’s going on? I don’t know. Go to someone else.’ But if she is, her kids will be really proud of her.”

Ms Alkasim says the women should be afforded such an opportunity.

“It gives them a sense of belonging to their culture, to their language, so they just want to do it, because they didn’t have the chance to do it in their country, because of marriage or they had to work or had to have children. So they want to do it now, in Australia.”

But language and literacy researcher Dr Sally Baker, from the University of Newcastle, warns learning English and original language literacy at the same time could be troublesome.

“There isn’t a lot of research that tells us about the impacts of learning first-language literacy at the same time as learning a language and literacy such as English. So it’s difficult to say what the impact will be, and, of course, it depends on the individual and it depends on the instruction. But worst-case scenarios, it could be really confusing. It could actually impede literacy development in either language.”

Still, she acknowledges there are benefits to becoming literate in native languages.

“The literature tells us really strongly that it provides all sorts of good, positive aspects for identity, for a sense of belonging, for a sort of diaspora to the home country.”

 

Qld, fed govts divided over prawn funds

Queensland prawn farmers are breathing easier but the state and federal governments are at odds over a $20 million reimbursement package the commonwealth has provided to combat white spot disease.

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Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Friday announced the Turnbull government would deliver $20 million for eight prawn farms on the Logan River to battle the disease outbreak.

Seven farms were shut when the highly contagious virus was detected late last year, placing the industry in peril.

Mr Joyce, the agriculture minister, says the money will help cover the costs of farms being out of action for a season as part of an agreed eradication response plan.

“This additional funding of $20 million will be delivered directly to the prawn industry, with $4 million to be repaid by prawn farmers through an industry levy once affected producers are back on their feet,” he said.

The funding is in addition to $1.74 million in emergency assistance previously given by the coalition government, including $1.3 million to the Queensland government to assist with its response costs

Mr Joyce was “bitterly disappointed” the state Labor government had not contributed to the funding package.

“We were expecting them to kick the tin for a further $16 million. They’re not,” he said.

“They’ve come up with a hypothesis that this is a commonwealth biosecurity issue. There’s no proof of that whatsoever.”

But the Queensland government says the assistance package was too slow in coming.

Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said the Palaszczuk government had shouldered the financial burden of the response to white spot disease.

Mr Byrne said the state had already spent $11 million, which would rise to $17.6 million by the end of the year, as well as making $30 million available in concessional loans to prawn farmers.

“Prior to today we have done all the heavy lifting in terms of resources and finance on this outbreak,” he said.

Serena Zipf, owner-operator of the last farm to test positive early this year, welcomed the federal assistance package.

“It’s a bit of relief that one big piece of the puzzle is solved for us. At least the next 12 months financially we can keep our staff on board,” she told ABC radio.

But Ms Zipf pleaded with the two warring governments to work together “to help get our industry back on board”.

Murray River Organics shares plunge

Shares in Murray River Organics have tumbled by more than 40 per cent after the organic dried fruit producer cut its full-year profit forecast, citing “teething issues” with its expansion and harvest delays.

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The company, which listed on the ASX in December, said 2016/17 pro forma revenue will be down by $10 million, in a trading up date on Friday.

Earnings are now expected to be between $12.5 million to $13.5 million, compared to $15.9 million in its prospectus forecast, and pro-forma full-year net profit is expected to be $4.2 million to $4.9 million.

The downgrade rattled investors with shares in Murray River Organics plunging 44.5 cents, or 43.2 per cent, to 58.5 cents.

Managing director Erling Sorensen said “teething issues” with the group’s rapid expansion had blown out costs while wet weather had slowed sales.

He said half of the company’s revenue miss was due to harvest delays from an unusually cool and wet spring, coupled with heavy rain in the Sunraysia growing region, which covers parts of southwestern NSW and northwestern Victoria.

“In the Sunraysia region they encountered a very wet April,” he said.

“We had about 52 mm of rain in the latter part of the month and this compares with a long historical average of only 18.5 mm for the month of April.”

He said Murray River Organics was only 20 per cent into its harvest when the rain hit and about 14 to 20 days of clear weather was needed to complete it.

A slower-than-anticipated uptake in sales following delays to the refurbishment of the company’s processing factory – which held up the processing of dried vine fruit, was the second major factor that weighed on the group’s revenue.

However, about $8 million of that missed revenue is expected to be added to what is expected in the 2018 financial year.