SA calls for ships work to help jobless

South Australians deserve to know if they’ll receive major shipbuilding contracts before the federal election, the state government says.

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The demand comes as new data shows SA’s jobless rate has fallen slightly but remains the highest in the nation.

The state’s unemployment rate fell to 7.2 per cent in March, down from a revised 7.6 per cent in February, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

SA Employment Minister Kyam Maher said the figures showed the federal government had to deliver SA contracts to build the nation’s future submarines, as well as a new fleet of offshore patrol vessels.

“We know that these projects will create thousands of jobs in this state, good jobs, jobs in high-tech industries, jobs in the innovation area,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“We need the federal government to back South Australia and commit to these projects before the federal election campaign starts.”

The defence white paper confirmed nine new frigates would be built in SA from 2020 but did not specify a site for the patrol vessels, sparking fears the work could go to Western Australia.

Defence and industry officials in SA fear that even with the frigates build, there may not be enough ongoing work to sustain hundreds of local shipbuilding jobs.

There are concerns the closure of Holden in 2017 and the potential collapse of Arrium’s Whyalla steelworks could combine to lift SA’s unemployment rate into double digits.

Mr Maher said thousands more South Australians were employed compared with the same time in 2015, but the state economy continued to face significant challenges.

‘No way’ Lebanon charges will be dropped

The judge presiding over a kidnapping case involving Australian woman Sally Faulkner and a 60 Minutes TV crew in Lebanon says there is “no way the charges will be dropped”.

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Judge Rami Abdullah on Wednesday stood the case at the Baabda Palace of Justice in Beirut over until Monday, with all the defendants to remain in a pre-trial detention facility until then.

“There is no way the charges will be dropped,” he told the media at the end of Wednesday’s proceedings.

“There was a violation of the Lebanese authority by all these people, it’s a crime.”

Faulkner appeared in the Beirut court on Wednesday alongside Nine Network journalist Tara Brown and her 60 Minutes crew, Benjamin Williamson, David Ballment and Stephen Rice, over a botched attempt to retrieve her two young children in the city last week.

They are facing charges of kidnapping and being members of a criminal gang, which can attract maximum sentences of up to three years and 10 years respectively.

The children, Noah, four, and Lahela, six, were returned to their father, Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamine, soon after being snatched by a child recovery team as they were walking with their paternal grandmother in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath.

It is understood the 60 Minutes team were in Lebanon to report on the recovery of the children.

Earlier on Wednesday, Faulkner’s lawyer, Ghassan Moughabghab, said if the Brisbane mother and Mr Elamine could reach an agreement, it would “help all the accused people”, including the Australian journalists.

In his comments, Judge Abdullah also suggested that could be so.

“If any agreement will happen between them … it will help the case … for all of them.”

Contrasting party policies emerge over maritime boundary with East Timor

East Timor has filed a request with the United Nations to resolve a dispute over its maritime border with Australia.

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It’s a move that has evoked quite different policy reactions.

As part of a long-running dispute, East Timor argues it is severely disadvantaged by the lack of a permanent maritime boundary between Australia and the small island nation.

It says the current resource-sharing arrangements in the Timor Sea mean it’s missing out on billions of dollars in revenue from offshore oil and gas fields.

The Australian federal government says the existing treaties, negotiated with the newly-independent East Timor in 2006, are fair and consistent with international law.

East Timor has now filed a request with the United Nations to help solve the dispute.

But Australia has withdrawn from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, meaning Australia’s government doesn’t have to abide by any decision made by the UN on the matter.

Agio Pereira is the Minister of State and East Timor’s second most important Cabinet position after the Prime Minister.

Mr Pereira says they are pursuing the UN path because it can still provide high-profile and powerful recommendations.

“The recommendations will be a guide for both countries, Australia and Timor Leste, to understand under International Law, or even from a political perspective, economic perspective, the sovereignty over the Timor Sea that Timor Leste also originally has and wants the limitation and maritime boundaries to consolidate this sovereignty.”

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The procedure, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, calls for a five-person panel of conciliators to help the two sides try to reach an amicable settlement.

The Australian government says there’s no need for such a procedure.

Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg told the ABC Australia isn’t going to enter into further discussions because he believes the government has already got the balance right.

“Japan and Korea did a similar agreement. And we think any move to go towards this compulsory arbitration or coordination actually contravenes the previous agreements that both countries voluntarily entered into.”

But Labor’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, says if the UN arbitration process ends with Australia being told to change its policy, a Labor government, if elected, would do so.

Ms Plibersek has told the ABC it would be the correct thing to do if Australia is to be consistent in its foreign policy positions.

“And at the same time as we’re saying that China and other nations that have claims in the South China Sea should submit themselves to arbitration and should abide by the outcome of that arbitration, particularly under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it’s a bit rich if we’re not prepared to do it ourselves.”

Mr Pereira says the establishment of a maritime border is essential for East Timor and that it’s important discussions continue.

“In a substantive, well-structured negotiation, Australia and Timor Leste can talk about all these issues. But refusing negotiations with Timor on the maritime boundary, the limitation and throwing out all these arguments in the public arena — it doesn’t help.”

It’s not the first time an International body has been involved in this long-running dispute between Australia and East Timor.

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In 2014, the International Court of Justice told Australia it had violated East Timor’s sovereignty by spying on government officials in the capital Dili during maritime negotiations.

Australia’s domestic spy agency, ASIO, had also seized documents from the office of an Australian-based lawyer acting for East Timor in the negotiations.

Tedesco open to winging it for Blues

James Tedesco is open to playing on the wing if it means realising his State of Origin dream – but he’d still rather do it at fullback.

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The Wests Tigers speed demon is seemingly locked in a two-way battle with incumbent Josh Dugan for the Blues No.1 jumper for the June 1 series opener – with Penrith’s Matt Moylan a possible third option.

But even if NSW coach Laurie Daley stick with the bigger frame of Dugan at at fullback, Tedesco could yet get his chance on the flanks – a scenario he’s more than welcome.

“I’m not going to say no to a rep jersey. If the opportunity’s there I’m going to take it,” he said.

“I’ve played wing before – I started a few games with the Tigers on the wing, then played City Country (last year) on the wing. I’ve got a bit of experience there.

“Obviously I’d prefer to be at the back. I’m much more comfortable there.”

Surprisingly, the 23-year-old has yet to speak to Daley since sitting down with the Blues mentor before the season – when he was told he was in contention to make his Origin debut this year.

“He just wanted me to keep up the good form, and hopefully I’m doing that,” he said.

There can be little question about the Camden junior’s form, given he leads the competition in tries and line breaks, while also coming up with several crucial plays in defence.

And while a sky blue jumper is the major goal, Tedesco is first eyeing off his an opportunity to play fullback for City in the annual clash against Country early next month.

“Last year (for City) I was stuck on the wing and Matty Moylan was at fullback. I didn’t get too many opportunities on the wing there,” he said.

“But if I do get selected at fullback, it is a step up from club footy so it is a chance to show that you can perform in those higher games.”

GUD switches off Sunbeam

GUD Holdings has sold its majority stake in the iconic Sunbeam brand and will exit the small appliance business, saying competing against global suppliers has become too hard for “a little Australian”.

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GUD will sell its 51 per cent Sunbeam stake to its US-based joint venture partner, Sunbeam Products Inc, which trades as Jarden Consumer Solutions and owns a portfolio of appliance brands with $US2 billion a year in global sales.

JCS already owns the Sunbeam brand globally except for the Australian and New Zealand markets, which until now have been owned by GUD.

GUD managing director Jonathan Ling said tough conditions in the retail sector and competition from big global suppliers of small appliances over the last few years had prompted the decision to sell Sunbeam.

“It’s just gotten to be a very tough business that is dominated now by global players, and just being a little Australian, it’s too hard to survive,” he said.

“To survive in the appliance business you have to go international, and having to create another brand name in global markets is just too hard.”

GUD sold the other 49 per cent of Sunbeam to JCS in November 2014 under a joint venture agreement.

Sunbeam products have not been manufactured in Australia for at least 10 years and are made mostly in China.

Sunbeam products will still be available in Australia.

GUD also said it is selling its 49 per cent share of Jarden Consumer Solutions (Asia) Ltd to its joint-venture partner.

GUD expects to get about $35 million from both transactions, which are expected to completed in July 2016.

It had been intended that JCS would acquire GUD’s remaining stake in Sunbeam in 2018 but the date has been brought forward.

Mr Ling said it was better for GUD shareholders to have $35 million in the bank now rather than have Sunbeam make losses for the next couple of years.

He said GUD would use the proceeds from the sale to reduce debt and invest in the group’s other businesses, which include automotive products, cleaning products, warehouse racking, locks and pumps.

GUD suffered a 90 per cent drop in half year profit to $1.7 million, following $18.5 million in impairments related mainly to its Dexion storage and shelving business.

The Sunbeam business generated an earnings loss as currency movements forced up product costs and price increases were deferred.

Shares in GUD gained 70 cents, or 9.7 per cent, to $7.92.

SWITCHING OFF – SUNBEAM DOWN UNDER

* US brand Sunbeam arrived in Australia in 1902 as a branch of the US firm Chicago Flexible Shaft Company, which made drive shafts and sheep shears.

* In 1910, Chicago Flexible Shaft introduced its first home appliance, an electric iron.

* In 1921 the Sunbeam brand was launched.

* The company name changed to Sunbeam Corporation in 1946.

* Australia started making Sunbeam appliances in 1948.

* Sunbeam in Australia remained part of the American parent company until it became Australian-owned in 1987 when it was acquired by Reil Corp.

* GUD acquired the Sunbeam Victa business in Australia in 1996.

* Manufacture of Sunbeam products in Australia ceased in 2002.

Flu vaccine now available after horror 2015 season

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008px; line-height: 1.538em;”>This story was updated on April 14 to reflect that the vaccine is now available

Australians most vulnerable to the flu will get free access to stronger vaccines in 2016 following a record number of cases in 2015.

The government’s national immunisation program, which is now available to patients, includes a vaccine that covers four flu strains instead of three, including two influenza B strains that wreaked havoc in the 2015 flu season.

It comes after a record-breaking season in 2015, which saw a sharp increase in flu notifications on the previous year and an unexpected outbreak of Type B influenza which hit children particularly hard, causing muscle aches and pains that left some unable to walk.

Compare reported flu cases by year:

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health told SBS that people should get vaccinated early.

“As influenza usually occurs from June with the peak usually falling between August and September, vaccinating from April 2016 allows people to develop immunity before transmission of influenza is at its highest,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

There have been a number of flu cases already reported this year but Aeron Hurt, acting deputy director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, said the vaccine couldn’t be made available earlier.

“The way that the vaccine manufacturing process works is that after the decision is made as to what influenza viruses go into the vaccine (September), the manufacturers require a number of months to grow those viruses up and prepare the vaccine,” he said.

“We are constrained by the manufacturing process in some ways.”

What’s ahead

While last year saw a high number of flu cases reported around Australia, Mr Hurt said that did not mean 2016 would be the same.

“Typically what we see with influenza B is that we see a season like we did last year, but we don’t see the next season as being similar,” he said.

“So if we saw a big influenza B season last year, it’s probably a good chance that we won’t be seeing much influenza B this year.”

He said it was always hard to predict what was ahead but researchers looked to the northern hemisphere to see what influenza strains had been prevalent in their winter.

Last year, a type of A influenza – H1N1 – was prominent.

Related readingAvailability

Flu vaccinations are available through health clinics and some pharmacies, and the quadrivalent vaccine is free for certain people.

Those people include: pregnant women; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged six months to under five years; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over; people aged 65 years and over; and people aged six months and over with medical conditions predisposing them to severe influenza.  

Mr Hurt said rates of flu vaccination around Australia remained low, even among these groups most at risk.

He said the vaccination was thought to be about 70 per cent effective based on studies done each year.

“Whilst we know that having the vaccine won’t categorically mean you won’t get infected, we believe that the vaccine will result in a significant number of people not being infected.”

“And also if you did happen to be infected and you were vaccinated, it’s likely that your disease would be somewhat more mild than it would if you hadn’t been vaccinated.”

– With AAP

Call to UN chief for drugs policy shift

An open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signed by more than 1000 people, including financier Warren Buffett and rock star Sting, says the war on drugs has failed.

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It calls for a shift in global drug policy from emphasising criminalisation and punishment to health and human rights.

The letter signed by former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Switzerland and others, was made public on Thursday in advance of a United Nations special session on the topic beginning April 19. It was released by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance.

Ethan Nadelmann, the DPA’s executive director, said the number of people sympathetic to progressive and alternative approaches has swelled in the nearly two decades since the UN’s last special session on international drug policies.

“People are with us, and I think that this public letter has provided a vehicle,” Nadelmann said.

The letter says that for decades, governments have focused resources on repressing drug use, resulting in the imprisonment of millions of people, mostly the poor and ethnic minorities, and mostly for non-violent offences.

The signatories of the letter instead call for an emphasis on drug use as a health policy issue with the focus on “harm reduction”, including funding addiction treatment and treatment of addicts who acquired HIV/AIDS and hepatitis through drug use.

“The drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights,” the letter says.

“It created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organisations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.”

Last month, The Global Commission on Drug Policy – whose members include former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson – said that recent discussions in Vienna on the upcoming UN session relied too heavily on an outdated law-and-order approach to drug policy.

Ilona Szabo de Carvalho, the Rio de Janeiro-based commission’s co-ordinator, said the emphasis should be on alternative approaches including decriminalisation, abolishing capital punishment for drug-related offences and a focus on treatment.

ASX steps up its CEO search

ASX Ltd has stepped up efforts to find a new chief as the share market operator posted a rise in profit underpinned by robust trading activity.

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ASX said the search for a new boss is “progressing at accelerated pace”, after Elmer Funke Kupper resigned in March after almost four-and-a-half years at the helm.

In the interim, Chairman Rick Holliday-Smith is overseeing the business, with day-to-day operations managed by two senior executives, Peter Hiom and Amanda Harkness.

Mr Funke Kupper’s departure came as Australian Federal Police revealed they were investigating his previous employer, Tabcorp, amid allegations the gaming business was involved in foreign bribery in Cambodia.

Mr Funke Kupper is a former CEO of the gambling giant, and sat on Tabcorp’s board up until March.

ASX on Thursday reported a six per cent rise in net profit to $317.4 million in the nine months to March 31, while revenue rose seven per cent to $553 million.

The company reported growth across all its major divisions: listings and issuer services, trading services, equity post-trade services, derivatives and over-the-counter markets.

Still, listings and capital raising activity was lower in the third quarter of fiscal 2016, compared to the first six months of the year.

Operating expenses rose six per cent to $127.5 million over the nine months.

Mr Holliday-Smith said the group was “well positioned for future opportunities”, while the company’s technology upgrade was progressing.

A new trading platform is on track to go live between July and November 2016 for futures, with equities to follow in 2017.

ASX shares gained $1.11, or 2.7 per cent, to $42.70, valuing the company at $8.3 billion.

Moody’s gives budget wake-up call: Bowen

Scott Morrison’s joy of an unexpected drop in the jobless rate will have been quickly dashed by a stark warning that Australia’s triple-A credit rating could be at risk after his first budget.

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One of the world’s major credit rating agencies is not happy with what it is hearing from the treasurer just weeks out from the May 3 budget.

Moody’s Investors Service notes the treasurer has excluded revenue-raising measures when talking about his budget aims, and given the government’s previous difficulties in reducing welfare benefits, it believes actual spending cuts may be modest.

“Without such measures, limited spending cuts are unlikely to meaningfully advance the government’s aim of balanced finances by the fiscal year ending June 2021 and government debt will likely continue to climb, a credit negative for Australia,” Moody’s says.

A credit downgrade would hit confidence while lifting borrowing costs abroad for the government and big business, which, in turn, would be passed on to consumers.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the agency’s comment was a wake-up call for Mr Morrison.

“Stop playing games, start governing. We’ve been saying for a long time now that tough decisions are necessary on revenue and spending,” he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

But Mr Morrison said the best way to protect the rating was to deliver a strong budget that backed growth and jobs in the economy.

“The government doesn’t believe that what has been put out today is a licence to tax Australians more,” the treasurer told reporters in his southern Sydney electorate.

But it was a reminder of the need to continue to consolidate the budget, reduce the deficit and over time that would reduce the debt.

“Our plan is to see revenue rises through growth and ensuring a better targeted tax system,” Mr Morrison said.

There was some good news on employment front with the jobless rate unexpectedly dropping to 5.7 per cent, its lowest level since the Coalition came to power in September 2013.

Economists had predicted a rise to 5.9 per cent from 5.8 per cent.

The total number of people in employment also rose by a larger-than-expected 26,100.

“So when a Coalition government is able to implement its economic agenda, you can clearly see it’s one of job growth and job creation,” Employment Minister Michaelia Cash told reporters in Perth.

Commonwealth Securities economist Savanth Sebastian said the drop in the jobless rate would provide a big boost to confidence among consumers.

“As we saw over the latter part of 2015, job security plays a big part in household consumption,” he said.

Consumer confidence has been under a cloud in recent weeks ahead of the budget and a possible election on July 2.