Australia enjoys a ‘dining’ boom

New figures suggest Australian exporters are enjoying the fruits of an Asian ‘dining boom’, replacing the nation’s income diet of a ‘mining boom’.

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While iron ore and coal export prices took a bit of a hit during the June quarter, beef export prices soared seven per cent and there were also healthy price gains for dairy, cereal and fish products.

“Australia’s high-quality food products are in high demand from the rising middle classes of Asia, boosting fortunes of regional Australia,” Commonwealth Securities chief economist Craig James said.

“The ‘dining boom’ is continuing to replace the ‘mining boom’.”

However, this positive news came as China imposed a temporary ban on beef imports after raising concerns about the labelling of some recent shipments from six Australian processors, putting hundreds of millions of dollars at risk.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ trade prices indexes released on Thursday showed overall the Australia’s terms of trade or national income declined during the June quarter.

Export prices dropped 5.7 per cent in the quarter – albeit still 22.5 per cent up on the year – while import prices eased only 0.1 per cent.

Economists estimate the terms of trade eased between 4.5 and six per cent in the quarter after rising by 6.6 per cent in the March quarter.

Iron ore prices tumbled 14.6 per cent and coal prices dropped by 7.7 per cent during the quarter.

The decline from a four and a half year high in the terms of trade wasn’t too surprising after Australia recorded one the biggest back-to-back gains on record over the December and March quarters.

JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman said commodity prices have been particularly choppy over the past year, but he is expecting a decent rise in the terms of trade in the September quarter given iron ore prices have been on the rise again in recent months.

Mr James agrees an income bounce is possible given the iron ore price is around nine per cent higher than the average in March, while coal prices are up 10 per cent.

However, exporters and businesses are concerned about the renewed strength of the Australian dollar after it breached 80 US cents on Wednesday for the first time in over two years.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said while there is no magic dollar value that is perfect for all Australian business, almost 90 per cent of manufacturers say they can compete in export markets if the Aussie dollar is 80 US cents or less.

“The higher dollar also adds unavoidable costs to many businesses at a time when rising energy costs are cutting deeply into margins,” Mr Willox said.

“Governments need to redouble their efforts to agree on policies that will put downward pressure on energy costs that are eye-wateringly high to help mitigate to dollar cost impact.”

Hawks hold no fears about surging Swans

Hawthorn hold no fears about taking on Sydney at the MCG on Friday night, as they are the only AFL club to take down the in-form Swans in almost three months.

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The two heavyweights started their 2018 campaigns in similarly disappointing fashion, but after six successive losses Sydney kicked on and now have a top four position in sight.

Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson says his 12th-placed team can take some confidence from their round 10 one-goal victory at the SCG.

“It gives us a little bit of confidence in that we are the only side that has beaten them in the last 10 or 11 weeks and that was on their patch as well and it’s always difficult to win up there,” Clarkson said on Thursday.

“They’re by far the best team in the competition in the last 11 weeks and they didn’t have such a great start to the year and nor did we.

“But their form over the last 10 or 11 weeks, they are three wins better off than any other side, including the team that is sitting on top in Adelaide.”

Clarkson was prepared for Sydney to target one or two of his players and said the Hawks wouldn’t let it be a distraction, using the example of Melbourne’s Tom Bugg, who king-hit Sydney’s Callum Mills.

“The off-the-ball niggling and that sort of stuff, as you can see if you don’t manage it well, like Buggy didn’t handle it too well three or four weeks ago, it can easily take your mind and focus off what you need to do,” he said.

The Hawks are coming off a big win over Fremantle although Clarkson concedes it’s “more unlikely than likely” they will be playing finals for an eighth straight season.

“We’re just taking it week by week and know that each week that we play gives us an opportunity to have a look at our players and the things that we’re trying to do to build towards when we can genuinely compete.

“We don’t think we’re there right at this point in time.”

Robot offering medical support

High-tech devices are providing doctors with critical medical information but also providing patients with much-needed companionship.

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Chelsea Hogan has had to endure far more than most six-year-olds.

The young Sydney girl was diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago and is undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and daily blood tests.

Her mother, Barbara Hogan, says the hospital has become their second home.

“Our whole world was just rocked, and it’s never been the same ever since. It’s been pretty hard. And the chemotherapy is quite harsh on the body, and sometimes the side effects of that have been extremely hard on her, so the treatment can sometimes be harder than the actual cancer itself.”

Ikki is a highly intelligent social robot that has helped take the girl’s mind off her medical challenges.

The small, robust, penguin-shaped device sings, reads and plays games with her.

It can even speak in its own language when she says hello.

Barbara Hogan says the robot is like a friend and provides companionship for her daughter.

“She seems to be quite happy to have him around, and it’s nice to have another friend on board. And I think anything that can aid her, to give her some more happiness and give her a little bit of joy along the way of this very long journey, I think it’s great to have him on board.”

At first glance, Ikki looks just like a toy, but it has features beneficial for doctors.

By holding the device up to a child’s forehead, Ikki can take his or her temperature.

If a fever is detected, an alert is sent to the parents.

Dr Michael Stevens is the senior paediatric oncologist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in western Sydney.

He has worked closely with the developers of Ikki to come up with a suitable device.

He says detecting a fever early can save a person’s life.

“The possible infection that’s causing the fever can be life-threatening in our patients because they don’t have any immunity. Their immune system has been switched off.”

Ikki is also programmed to remind the child to take medication, which Dr Stevens says can relieve the burden from parents.

“A child with leukaemia takes two medicines by mouth for 18 months at the final stage of treatment. That’s potentially curative. But it has to be given meticulously every day, and we know that a lot of our patients — we think a lot of our patients — aren’t all that compliant with their treatment.”

Clive McFarland is one of the founders of the device at ikkiworks.

He says Ikki gives doctors access to important information they would never have had before.

“You know, the medication type and the time it was taken are all logged. Same with temperature and so on. So, again, the clinical team has got information which, normally, they don’t have access to because it happens outside of the hospital environment.”

Mr McFarland says it is hoped the robot will give the children a sense of independence.

“These children, they get this diagnosis, and a lot of the empowerment that they may have had in their life is taken away from them. Just, things happen to them. And, this way, Ikki gives them back some responsibility. It’s their job to take their temperature. Also, Ikki will remind them when it’s time to take their medications.”

The Children’s Hospital hopes to begin trials for companion robots like Ikki early next year.

While it will be used to help sick children, plans are already in place to take Ikki far beyond its initial capabilities.

Dr Stevens says the device can be adapted to be used in a myriad of healthcare areas.

“All of the other illnesses of childhood — diabetes, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease — there are applications that will be able to be built into it to help all of those carers and their patients. And it’s not just children either. I think it will work pretty well for adults and even old folk.”

 

 

Power bill shock to drag retail lower: ANZ

Soaring electricity prices are becoming a drag for Australia’s weakened retail sector, with the latest round of increases likely to further crimp consumer spending, a new ANZ report says.

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The sharp increase in energy prices from July 1 will lead to the average Australian household facing a 10 per cent jump in electricity bills and a five per cent rise in gas bills, ANZ economists have estimated.

That would translate into household energy bills going up by an average of $200 annually, or about 0.3 per cent of annual income.

The bill shock will result in reduced discretionary spending by households, adding to the challenges for consumer spending and putting Australia’s economic growth outlook under a cloud, the economists say.

“Rising energy bills are a headwind to consumer spending,” ANZ senior economist Joanne Masters said in a note on Thursday.

“It is an additional cost impost for households, particularly those on low incomes, which are already facing challenges.”

Based on prices increases that came into effect from July 1, some residential electricity bills are set to rise by 20 per cent in NSW and South Australia, up to eight per cent in Queensland and 19 per cent in the ACT, while regulated prices in WA rose by around 10 per cent.

Rising energy prices will lead to higher headline inflation but will also hit consumers’ hip pockets at a time of weak wages growth, record high household debt and out-of-cycle mortgage rate hikes that have kept the country’s retail sector under pressure.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has also repeatedly expressed concerns in recent months that a combination of property-related debt and weak wage growth could cause a sharp drop in household spending.

ANZ’s economists pointed out that spending on electricity, gas and other fuels is already growing at the fastest rate of any category – up 3.5 per cent in the March quarter and up 11.2 per cent annually.

By comparison, overall nominal consumer spending rose 1.0 per cent in the same quarter and 3.6 per cent over the 12-month period.

“Given that electricity is largely a non-discretionary expense, any rise in electricity bills is likely to be matched by a reduction in discretionary spending, adding further pressure to already-struggling retailers,” Ms Masters said.

Burgess set to lead reshuffled Souths pack

Michael Maguire has confirmed Sam Burgess will lead South Sydney this weekend despite a rib injury which sparked fears his NRL season was done.

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And the coach says veteran Robbie Farah has accepted his benching for rising hooker Damien Cook against Canberra on Saturday.

The Rabbitohs held their breath when Burgess was taken from the field after a heavy tackle in last week’s loss to Cronulla, but the captain has since been cleared of broken ribs.

“He’s done some light training this week but I think most players at some stage get a bit of a rib injury and he’s no different,” Maguire told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

“Sam’s tough and like all the forwards they get back out there.”

Maguire praised Burgess’ impact on the team despite the captain leading the club in errors and penalties given.

“Sam’s effort is shown every week,” he said.

“I think sometimes that effort probably boils over into trying a few things, pushing a pass here and there and things like that, but as a leader on the park he’s brilliant.”

Maguire has made a number of changes to the 14th-placed side ahead of the Raiders clash at ANZ Stadium, shifting Cody Walker from fullback to five-eighth which pushes John Sutton into the second row.

The coach said 33-year-old Farah was understanding about his benching and the younger Cook will bring speed out of dummy-half.

“He (Farah) understands,” Maguire said.

“I’ve got a really good, open relationship with all of my players and we discuss the reasons why.

“Obviously that’s between myself and the player but he was aware of why. We’ve just got to move forward now.”

Speedy winger Alex Johnston has been put into his favourite position of fullback in the hope that Walker and halfback Adam Reynolds gel in attack.

South Sydney sit four wins outside the top-eight with six rounds to go and still have matches to come against the Eels and Storm, among others.

Maguire wouldn’t be drawn into reflecting where the season derailed and was unwilling to accept a finals flunk.