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.

Brad Scott says AFL tanking talk laughable

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott says talk that his AFL team is tanking to earn the No.

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1 draft pick is laughable and they will be doing all they can to keep their impressive record against Melbourne alive in Hobart on Saturday.

An understrength Kangaroos fell to Essendon last round for their seventh straight loss to languish in second-last spot on the ladder.

But Scott said he wouldn’t trade a winning culture for a top draft pick and pointed to the team’s solid recent record overall as proof.

“It has been dismissed because it is absolutely laughable,” Scott said.

“You could get offended because it does question your integrity to an extent, but it has just been so far removed from fact that I don’t want to engage too much in it, other than to say it is absolutely untrue.

“We want to create a winning culture and that’s always what our club’s been about and if you look back through our recent history, we’ve fought really hard.

“I know people will think the No.1 draft pick would be nice … but the difference between pick one, two, three and four – well, that’s in the eye of the beholder, anyway.”

In Scott’s eight years at the helm the Kangaroos have only missed the finals three times and, on each occasion, they won their last game of the year.

He said he had players he could send for early surgery but planned to play them until the end of the season in the hope of securing more wins.

A loss to Melbourne – a team the Kangaroos boast a 16-match winning streak against dating back to 2007 – would be their worst run of results since 1984.

Given the weakness of the Demons over much of that period Scott said he couldn’t read too much into the decade-long streak.

“When it stretches back that far it’s largely irrelevant,” he said.

“I think Melbourne have changed their coach and I don’t think there would be many players still involved.”

Greens call for MP citizenship audit

The Greens have called for all federal MPs to be subject to a citizenship audit, with Matt Canavan vowing to fight his ineligibility in court.

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The Queensland senator resigned from cabinet on Tuesday after it emerged his mother had signed him up to become an Italian citizen in 2006.

She informed him of his status as an “Italian citizen abroad” on July 18 having seen media reports about the ineligibility of Greens senator Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam which forced them to quit parliament.

Under Section 44 of the constitution a person is disqualified from being elected if at the time of their election they are a citizen of “a foreign power” or otherwise have an “allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power”.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said on Thursday he had written to the Senate President and House Speaker calling for an audit to immediately establish the eligibility of all members of parliament.

Senator Di Natale said the constitution was clear that people with dual citizenship were ineligible to stand and Senator Canavan should do the “honourable” thing and resign from parliament.

“We can’t have one set of rules for ministers within the Turnbull government and another set of rules for everybody else,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne.

Senator Canavan told reporters in Rockhampton while he felt it appropriate to resign from the ministry, legal advice led him to conclude he was not in breach of the constitution.

“I did consider not continuing on, given the circumstances of other cases, but I base my decision very much on that legal advice that we’ve been provided which provides grounds that I have not breached section 44,” he said.

“I think it’s important we let that process run now and let the court make its decision.”

Senator Canavan said he was aware his mother had applied to become an Italian citizen but he had no knowledge or suspicion of what had occurred 11 years ago until last week.

“I’ve never signed a document, given consent or have any knowledge of these matters until last week.”

Asked whether he was aware his mother had been receiving Italian election voting papers in his name for the past decade, he said he had never received any correspondence from Italian authorities.

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers said the government should reveal whether there were clouds over any other coalition MPs in terms of their dual nationality.

The federal opposition also wants Senator Canavan to reveal his documentation, however he says all relevant material will be provided to the court.

100 million-year-old dinosaur bones confirm new Australian species

Analysis of 100 million-year-old dinosaur bones from a sheep farm in central Queensland has confirmed the Australian dinosaur, Austrosaurus mckillopi, to be a distinct species.

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The new research, published in the Alcheringa journal of palaeontology, puts to bed speculation about the dinosaur’s existence.

Swinburne palaeontologist Dr Stephen Poropat said before the new research not enough was known about or had been found of Austrosaurus mckillopi, causing fellow palaeontologists to often question if the dinosaur fossil was unique and deserved a species name.

But the 2014-2015 discovery of six ribs, coupled with a reassessment of the dinosaur’s backbone found at the site in the 1930s, has given researchers fresh information, allowing them to confirm Austrosaurus mckillopi is a distinct species.

Bird’s-eye view of the reconstructed Austrosaurus mckillopi site. Dr Stephen Poropat, Swinburne University

“With Austrosaurus mckillopi, we can now say it deserves to keep its name,” Dr Poropat said.

It becomes one of just 20 Australian dinosaurs with an official name.

But for the Australian and British palaeontology team, just finding the fossil site on the Clutha sheep station north west of Richmond in Queensland was a victory.

Lost since its discovery in the 1930s and with two previous searches in the 1970s and 1990s failing to find the dinosaur fossil, it took the local knowledge of Richmond Mayor John Wharton, who grew up on Clutha station, and some country-can-do to find the lost site Dr Poropat had first heard of in 2012 as a student in Sweden.

Mr Wharton remembered the two acacia posts of the sign erected at the fossil site by palaeontologists in the 1930s from his childhood but when he returned in 2014 he couldn’t find them, Dr Poropat said.

Not to be defeated, he used a helicopter to find the posts he was sure were still there but had just fallen over.

“And that’s how we found it, it’s quite remarkable to find dinosaur fossils from the air.”

A dig crew in 2015 watch as a council worker excavates the site. Dr Stephen Poropat, Swinburne University

Dr Poropat said Austrosaurus mckillopi was a 15-metre long barrel-chested herbivore with four column-like legs.

“Think an elephant’s body in size and shape but with a small head, long neck and a long tail.”

Sauropods like Austrosaurus mckillopis lived from 200 million to 66 million years ago but the fossil discovered at Clutha sheep station discovery is the only one of its kind.

 

Roberts was a drug user: Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett has made the startling admission that James Roberts had a drug and alcohol problem and praised the Brisbane centre’s will to get his life and NRL carer back on track.

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“Jimmy The Jet” on Thursday celebrated an exciting new chapter in his life with a four-year contract extension to stay at the Broncos until 2021.

The 24-year had no lack of suitors, however made it clear he wanted to be at Red Hill for the rest of his career under the guidance of coach Bennett and CEO Paul White.

Having been sacked earlier in his career by South Sydney and Penrith, Roberts was in danger of squandering his talents because of off-field issues.

A stint in a Thailand rehabilitation facility and the birth of his son Kirk resulted in him maturing as a man and a player.

His new-found peace of mind has been a major factor for Roberts, considered one of the fastest players in the NRL, rediscovering his best form in 2017.

Roberts has come so far from his trouble-plagued past that the club had refused to have behavioural clauses inserted into his contract.

“When he came here last year, you can hardly say he was part of the team,” Bennett said.

“But he is, an important part of the team, and an equal – they all respect him.”

“It’s not all about James anymore.

“It’s about the team and he interacts with them and he’s valued by them.

“His off-field behaviour, he’s made some commitments there and it’s not easy. He’s given up alcohol, given up drugs. He’s been in that situation for six or seven months and that’s been a game-changer for him.

“That’s why he’s got a four-year contract.”

Roberts, who this year was spoken about as a possible NSW State of Origin debutant, said he wanted to stay with Brisbane for the rest of his playing career.

He was reportedly chased by five rival clubs but decided to stay after getting his life back on track.

“I’ve always been able to play footy, but getting my life right off the field has been the main factor and I think they’ve done a wonderful job,” Roberts said.

Warriors undaunted by uphill finals climb

The maths are looking increasingly grim for the Warriors – but a flicker of NRL finals hope continues to burn.

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With six round-robin matches remaining, Stephen Kearney’s troops need at least five wins to hit the traditional 28-point finals barrier – yet, beyond Friday’s clash with the high-flying Sharks, that challenge doesn’t seem insurmountable.

Matches against fellow battlers Newcastle, Canberra and South Sydney will follow, before a major test at home in the form of sixth-placed Manly.

A tussle with the lowly Tigers will then close out the season.

For Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, there’s no reason why his 12th-placed side can’t sneak into the top eight – or even cause an upset this weekend over the fourth-placed Sharks, who have lost three of their past six games.

All the right signs had been there in the Warriors’ 24-12 loss to North Queensland last weekend, particularly up front.

Typically flaky for much of the 2017 campaign, the Warriors’ forwards showed genuine steel against the Cowboys, making more running metres than their opponents and neutralising the likes of Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess.

“The Sharks, they’re another similar team to the Cowboys – a big forward pack,” Tuivasa-Sheck said, referring to the rampaging Andrew Fifita.

“If we can continue to have our middles play that physical game up front, and a few of us fix our execution plays – that’s where we lost in the last game – against the Sharks, we can fix it up and come away with the points.

“A lot of the errors from the Cowboys game were players just not clear on what plays we’re on, where we’re supposed to be.”

With Shaun Johnson still nursing a knee injury, Mason Lino retains his grip on the Warriors’ No.7 jumper ahead of fellow young gun Ata Hingano.

More damaging for Kearney’s side, however, is the loss of prop James Gavet to an arm injury – placing the onus on Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman to front.

Kearney was confident the pair would do the business.

“The focus this week is on making sure, up against another good team, that we make them earn every metre they can,” Kearney said.

“All week it’s been about making sure it’s an 80-minute performance, and not having those periods where we drop off. It’s a wonderful challenge against the defending premiers and what they bring.”

STATS THAT MATTER:

– Cronulla has won seven of their past nine NRL matches against the Warriors – however, each of the previous four has been decided by four points or less.

– Despite sitting 12th on the NRL ladder, the Warriors have lost just twice at Mount Smart Stadium in 2017, to Melbourne and Penrith.

– The Sharks have lost away from home just once in 2017.