Whitehaven lifts output despite low prices

Whitehaven Coal is betting on rising Asian demand for higher quality coal as it ramps up production despite weaker prices.

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The east coast miner achieved another quarter of record production in the three months to March and has reaffirmed its full year guidance, helped by improving output at its new Maules Creek mine in NSW.

“This has been a workman-like quarter for us and one that puts us firmly on track to meeting guidance for the full year,” managing director Paul Flynn said.

Whitehaven shares jumped on the news, up 10.5 per cent at 74 cents at 1300 AEST.

Increasing production comes despite an extended slump in global prices – due to weakening demand in China and a supply glut – that is taking a toll on leading coal producers.

Peabody, the world’s biggest private sector coal producer, has filed for US bankruptcy protection as plunging prices have left it unable to service debt of $10.1 billion, much of it incurred for an expansion into Australia.

Whitehaven has tried to offset price falls by increasing exports to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India, where it receives a premium for its higher quality coal.

“Every single one of our customers is growing and we have been seeing strong interest from new buyers in Asia,” Mr Flynn said.

The miner plans to complete a further ramp up in production at Maules Creek to 10.5 million tonnes per annum by January 2017.

Whitehaven produced 2 million tonnes of coal at Maules Creek during the March quarter, with the mine currently producing at an annual rate of 8.5 million tonnes.

Its average realised price for thermal coal, its main export, was $US51.56 per tonne in the March quarter, down from $US54.61 a tonne in the previous three months.

The average price for its metallurgical coal, used by the steel industry, was $US61.77 per tonne, down from $US65 per tonne in the preceding quarter.

Thermal coal, used to generate electricity, accounts for 85 per cent of Whitehaven’s total sales, although it hopes to bring this proportion down to two thirds over the next few years.

The company said it has trimmed costs further on the back of higher production, and now expects full year cash costs at $57 a tonne.

US confirms Zika as cause of birth defects

US health officials have concluded that infection with the Zika virus in pregnant women is a cause of the birth defect microcephaly and other severe brain abnormalities in babies.

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“It is now clear, the CDC has concluded, that the Zika virus does cause microcephaly,” Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “There isn’t any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly.”

US and world health officials have been saying for some time that mounting scientific evidence points to the mosquito-born virus as the likely cause of the alarming rise in microcephaly in Zika-hit areas of Brazil. It had not been declared as the definitive cause until now.

Never before in history has a bite from a mosquito been seen as the cause of birth defects, Frieden said.

The announcement comes at a critical time for the Obama Administration, which has been trying to get Congress to come up with funding to fight the Zika virus, which is already affecting Puerto Rico and is expected to hit parts of the United States with the coming of mosquito-friendly warmer weather.

The administration has requested about $1.9 billion for Zika prevention and fighting efforts, but the CDC has been forced to divert funds intended for Ebola while awaiting new funding from Congress.

The removal of any lingering doubt about the cause of the birth defects may help spur more intensive efforts to develop diagnostics and vaccines specific to Zika, which is closely related to dengue and other mosquito-borne viruses.

The CDC said it believes that microcephaly, characterised by unusually small head size that can lead to developmental problems in babies, is likely part of a range of serious birth defects being caused by Zika. It also said the microcephaly cases it has reviewed in Brazil are a particularly severe form with devastating brain abnormalities.

Brazil has confirmed more than 1,100 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. It is investigating more than 3,800 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.

Among answers being sought are what percentage of babies born to Zika-infected mothers are likely to suffer birth defects, or whether infected pregnant mothers who did not have symptoms of the virus pose a danger to their babies. Researchers also want to discover the full range of brain and developmental issues that may crop up later in life for infected babies.

CDC officials said they expect to start seeing cases of microcephaly in Colombia soon, based on when reports of infections began in that South American country.

SA couple fined for selling raw milk

A South Australian couple have been fined more than $17,000 for selling raw milk through a scheme in which their customers bought shares in their cows.

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Mark and Helen Tyler pleaded guilty to selling milk that did not comply with national standards.

In the Christies Beach Magistrates Court on Thursday, Mark Tyler was fined $13,500 and his wife $4000.

The farmers first came before the courts in May 2015 when a magistrate ruled their scheme was illegal and convicted them for breaching two counts of the Food Act.

Prosecutors argued that the Tylers’ scheme still constituted the sale of unpasteurised milk.

They appealed against the verdict and won a retrial but pleaded guilty to the charges this week.

Sales of raw milk are illegal in Australia but various groups have tried to get around the regulations, including by labelling their milk not for human consumption.

In 2014, the death of a three-year-old Victorian boy was linked to raw milk that had been sold as bath milk.

Earlier in 2016, the Tylers continued to promote the sale of raw milk as offering dairy farmers an alternative to selling all their produce to big corporations.

Details of their shared cow program remain on the internet and involve 100 shares per cow, entitling each share owner to one per cent of the milk that cow produces.

A Facebook group, Raw Milk Adelaide, also continues to tout the health benefits of raw milk.

“We want to farm without government interference and to bring nourishment back to our communities,” the group says.

But food authorities say raw milk is more likely to contain higher levels of harmful bacteria, with South Australian Health Minister Jack Snelling previously describing its consumption as very dangerous.

ANZ and Allianz to be refurbished: Baird

The stadium debate is finally over.

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Sydney’s ANZ Stadium will be home to the NRL grand final over the next 20 years as part of an agreement that will see the Olympic site given the bulk of the state’s $1.6 billion investment in stadia strategy.

NSW Premier Mike Baird announced on Wednesday that Parramatta Stadium will go ahead with its knockdown and rebuild at the end of the year, while the leftover money will be spent on refurbishing Allianz Stadium.

It is a stunning backflip from Baird, who earlier this week said the government’s preference would be for a new stadium to be built on the current site at Moore Park.

Now they won’t be getting a new venue at all.

“We have said from the outset that we wanted to negotiate with clubs, with the codes and with fans. And we’ve listened to that,” Baird said.

“There’s many stakeholders that are involved in this process and listening to them, I strongly believe we’ve come to the consensus decision today, that’s going to be truly fantastic for this city.”

As part of the agreement, the NRL grand final and State of Origin games will be played in Sydney over the next two decades, as well as guaranteed Bledisloe Cup, Socceroos and Matildas showpieces events every year.

The government also committed to $40 million in an “NRL Centres of Excellence” fund for clubs in NSW.

Construction for the new Parramatta Stadium is expected to begin at the end of the year, while the refurbishment of ANZ Stadium will begin within the current term of government.

It is expected to take 3-4 years.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg was ecstatic with the outcome, despite the governing body’s initial stance on wanting a new venue at Moore Park.

“I’ve only had my feet under the desk for four weeks and I’ve made two things clear,” he said.

“The first was to make sure that the $1.6 billion was spent and allocated to rectangular sports. That’s a big tick.

“And second of all, I reached out to the Premier some weeks ago and said we’re right behind you. It’s a wonderful outcome for us and a wonderful outcome for the game.”

Docker Mayne feeling the heat in AFL

Fremantle champion Matthew Pavlich has backed Chris Mayne to break out of his form slump, saying the struggling forward deserves a chance to improve.

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Mayne established a reputation for being one of the AFL’s most-accurate goallkickers earlier in his career, booting a combined 76.19 over the 2012-13 seasons.

But his form and goalkicking accuracy have tailed off significantly since then.

The situation has reached a crisis point this season, with the 27-year-old returning a woeful 1.5 through the opening three rounds.

Some of those misses have been simple 30m set shots from in front of goal.

Calls are growing for Mayne to be dumped for Sunday’s clash with North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.

But Pavlich wants Mayne to be given a chance to work through his problems.

“As a forward, you do go through some troughs and some peaks and a variety of form in front of goal,” Pavlich said.

“He’s not having the best time of it right now, and he understands that.

“But he’s working incredibly hard to improve that on the training track.

“And away from the training track, (he’s working on) some imagery, mental visualisation and preparation.

“We get around each other when you’re not executing like you should be, and we’re trying to do that with Chris. We’ll back him in to improve.”

Fremantle’s finals’ hopes are on thin ice following their 0-3 start to the year, and they’ll face another stern test against the unbeaten Kangaroos.

Compounding Fremantle’s woes are injuries to key trio Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy and Harley Bennell.

Sandilands is expected to miss at least six weeks because of a deflated lung and broken ribs, while Bennell is set to spend 8-10 more weeks on the sidelines because of a calf issue.

Mundy (calf) is a chance to return for next week’s home clash with Carlton.

CHRIS MAYNE’S JOURNEY TO WAYWARDNESS:

* 2008: 10.8 from 17 games

* 2009: 10.4 from 5 games

* 2010: 16.9 from 14 games

* 2011: 25.23 from 22 games

* 2012: 39.7 from 23 games

* 2013: 37.12 from 24 games

* 2014: 13.11 from 23 games

* 2015: 28.17 from 22 games

* 2016: 1.5 from 3 games

Sharing economy ‘good for consumers, jobs’

As the phenomenon of the sharing economy grows it will be good for consumers and jobs, but a headache for the federal government as tax receipts are eroded.

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The sharing economy – or the more wordy online peer-to-peer platform – has made household names of Airbnb and Uber as people seek cheaper and more convenient accommodation and travel.

Research released by the Grattan Institute on Wednesday calculates ride-sharing businesses such as Uber can cut at least $500 million a year from Australians’ taxi bills, while providing flexible work for drivers.

Other activities will provide work and income for many thousands of people, while operations like Airbnb puts thousands of under-used homes to work.

“It will increase output and income because any time you make the market economy more efficient you boost output,” the institute’s Jim Minifie told AAP.

As more people find work through online service platforms it will increase taxable income, as well as government tax revenue.

Unlike the black economy, where cash-in-hand is the norm, transactions in online services are usually done electronically and where the Australian Taxation Office has a high visibility.

However, Dr Minifie does not believe increased personal tax receipts will offset a subsequent decline in GST and corporate tax revenue as the sharing economy grows.

While small operators might displace the business of traditional larger firms, they will likely fall below the GST registration threshold of $75,000 for everything other than car sharing which, like taxi drivers, pay GST on the first dollar earned.

At the moment, the ATO is treating accommodation through Airbnb as a residential rent rather than a hotel stay, which does attract GST.

However, anyone who rents out a room in their main residence would be liable for capital gains tax when they sell the property.

A growing sharing economy will also force the government and the ATO to intensify efforts in cracking down on multinationals using tax avoidance schemes with services platforms being run by large international companies.

Test points to kidney disease damage

A simple urine test can predict the onset of kidney damage among indigenous Australians, according to a new study.

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The “groundbreaking” discovery will enable earlier intervention and treatment to reduce the rate of progression of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, say the researchers.

CKD rates are three times higher in the communities than in other populations.

The research, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, found that an increased level of a marker in urine – albumin/creatinine ratio (ACR)- was a powerful predictor for the progression of CKD .

The study, led by Associate Professor Louise Maple-Brown and Dr Jaqui Hughes, from the Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies), tracked 550 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants in 20 sites across Australia for three years.

Dr Hughes told AAP that a previous phase of the study concluded that the commonly used glomerular filtration rate (GFR) blood test was accurate for indicating kidney health and detecting kidney damage.

“What is really important is that we have now been able to show in this group of people, who have different levels of kidney health and kidney risk, the magnitude of the value of the ACR test in conjunction with the blood test,” she said.

The researchers say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should undergo both tests regularly from the age of 18.

“The main difficulty (with CKD) is that people could have a grumbling kidney problem for a number of years and only really become aware of it when they are quite symptomatic,” Dr Hughes said.

“That means you have lost a number of years of opportunity to help that person to remain healthy or to intervene.”

Reynolds return a NRL headache for Cowboys

North Queensland coach Paul Green is reaching for the aspirin as he prepares a game plan to defeat South Sydney.

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The second-placed Cowboys are heavy favourites to overcome the Rabbitohs in Friday night’s NRL clash in Townsville.

But Green is taking nothing for granted, saying a Rabbitohs line-up boosted by the return of NSW State of Origin hopeful Adam Reynolds presents threats across the park.

Reynolds is back from a broken jaw and will line up against Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston in what could be effectively an Origin trial for the Souths’ halfback.

Green says his combination with five-eighth Luke Keary, as well as the inspiration of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess, ensure the Cowboys know they’re in for a tough night.

“They’ve got a number of talented players in their team and Reynolds obviously coming back this week will make a huge difference,” Green said.

“It’ll kick them around the ground. It’s another threat in attack with Keary.

“Inglis at the back’s obviously a threat – Burgess has been in good form recently.

“There’s plenty of headaches for us but I’m sure, if we turn up ready to play, we’ll be able to handle them.”

Green has talked down reports suggesting Kane Linnett could make an earlier-than-expected return from a shoulder injury after missing last weekend’s win over Penrith.

The premiership-winning centre only completed light duties during training on Thursday, meaning young gun Javid Bowen was likely to retain his place.

The Cowboys have won 12 of their past 14 matches at home but their last defeat in Townsville was a 31-18 reverse to the Bunnies in round 23 last year.

“Last year, they did a number on us up here so they know what to expect when they come here and we’re expecting a pretty tough game,” Green said.

KEY MATCH STATS:

* The Cowboys are looking to become just the second team in history to hold three teams to nil in three consecutive matches at a venue

* Johnathan Thurston is nine points shy of scoring 1000 at 1300 Smiles Stadium. Only one other player Andrew Johns has scored more than 1000 points at a single venue

* Souths fullback Greg Inglis has scored 15 tries in 17 games against the Cowboys, the most against the club by one player

(Source: Fox Sports Stats)

Dellacqua confident of Fed Cup success

Casey Dellacqua says Sam Stosur and her can take care of business for Australia should this weekend’s Fed Cup tie against the United States come down to a deciding doubles rubber.

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Dellacqua and Stosur will likely face strong new American pairing Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Coco Vandeweghe on Sunday on the temporary clay surface installed at Brisbane’s Pat Rafter Arena.

Mattek-Sands and Vandeweghe, who teamed up for the first time in America’s 4-0 Fed Cup World Group II victory over Poland in February, won the women’s doubles title at last month’s WTA event in Indian Wells.

Mattek-Sands, a two-time grand slam doubles winner and world No.3, has never lost a Fed Cup doubles match.

“Obviously, they’re a quality team, they’ve played one tournament and won a big event so – and obviously, Bethanie’s credentials on a doubles court, we all know what they are,” said Dellacqua, who is yet to return to singles play after missing the whole Australian summer due to concussion.

“But that’s not to say both myself and Sam, who’s been No.1 in the world of doubles before … I don’t care what you say – when you go No.1 in world doubles, you’re a pretty good doubles player too.

“I think we can take confidence in the fact that, in Slovakia just recently, we won the live deciding rubber. We’ve also been playing together and played some really tough matches recently.”

Stosur and Russian-born Daria Gavrilova will play in Australia’s singles rubbers but US captain Mary Joe Fernandez is keeping her cards close to her chest ahead of Friday’s draw.

The other members of the American team are Christina McHale, who will almost certainly be kept as back-up, and world No.25 Madison Keys.

Keys has never beaten Stosur while Vandeweghe has won her past three against the 2011 US Open champion, although neither has faced Gavrilova before.

Fernandez said she wouldn’t decide who would play in what until Friday morning.

“You have to look at the match-ups, the surface, physically how everybody’s doing,” she said.

“I mean the good news from my team is everybody can play singles and everybody can play doubles, so there’s a lot of options.”

The winning team will re-enter the eight-nation World Group I for 2017, with the losing nation to drop down to World Group II next year.

Friend backs Mitchell over Coote

Sydney Roosters captain Jake Friend would be surprised if Latrell Mitchell is not the club’s long-term No.

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1 amid reports the club is chasing North Queensland premiership-winner Lachlan Coote.

Coote will be forced to take a pay cut if he is to remain in Townsville beyond this season, and has already attracted interest from several Sydney clubs including the Roosters and St George Illawarra.

Blooded by coach Trent Robinson in this year’s season-opener, Mitchell is slowly warming to first grade and Friend says he’s shaping as the club’s custodian for years to come.

“I’m not sure (about the Coote rumours) but I think Latrell’s doing everything right to be here long-term,” Friend said.

Cowboys coach Paul Green has expressed his desire to hold onto Coote, but it’s a tough ask with many of his grand final side off contract at the end of 2016.

Amongst those who could be free agents at the end of the year are James Tamou, Ethan Lowe, Ben Hannant, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein and Justin O’Neill.

Robinson originally planned to blood Mitchell on the wing this year but shifted him to fullback after just one game.

And while the Roosters have struggled this season, Mitchell has started to blossom in the top grade, making five tackle busts in each of his last five outings, according to Fox Sports Stats.

In last week’s first win of the season over the Rabbitohs, Mitchell ran for 149 metres – Friend predicting the best was yet to come.

“As a team we’ve been building and those young boys like Latrell are starting to get to know the game better,” Friend said.

“He’s only going to get better in the weeks to come.

“They were all pumped to feel what it’s like to win, they hadn’t done that and they’ve been buzzing around training.”