Macmahon, AMNT in "transformational" deal

Macmahon Holdings has signed a “potentially transformational” deal with Indonesia’s PT Amman Mineral Nusa Tenggara that will boost its revenue and earnings and make the Indonesian company its biggest shareholder.

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Under the deal, Macmahon will provide earthmoving and mining services for AMNT’s Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Indonesia.

Macmahon says the contract for the life of the mine is expected to generate revenue of $US2.9 billion and materially improve earnings in the 2018 financial year.

It now expects earnings before interest and tax for the 2018 financial year of between $40 million and $50 million.

Under the deal, Macmahon also will acquire $US145.6 million of mining equipment from AMNT and pay for it by issuing about 954 million of its shares to AMNT’s subsidiary, Amman Mineral Contractors, at a price of $A0.203 per share.

That will make AMC Macmahon’s biggest shareholder, with a stake of 44.3 per cent.

The deal is subject to approval from Macmahon shareholders.

Macmahon on Monday said that all of its directors believe the deal could be transformational for the company and could position it as a leading force in mining services.

It said the deal would give it a regional profile and scale, and could lead to other work in Indonesia.

Its directors unanimously recommend that shareholders support the transaction.

“If completed, this transaction will see Macmahon’s scale significantly increase and that brings with it a number of benefits which will assist us in the execution of new and existing projects,” Macmahon chief executive Michael Finnegan said in a statement.

“It will make us a stronger and more robust business, and will provide us with a supportive and strategically aligned major shareholder which should help us to grow even further.”

Macmahon shareholders are expected to meet in July to consider the deal.

Shares in Macmahon were steady at 15.5 cents at 1129 AEST.

Freed Chibok girls to meet Nigeria’s Buhari after swap deal

The girls – who were among more than 200 kidnapped in 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, northeast Nigeria – travelled to the capital Abuja a day after their release to meet Buhari.

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“I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom,” Buhari said in a statement, pledging that the presidency would “personally supervise” authorities charged with ensuring the girls’ “health, education, security and general well-being”.

Presidential aide Bashir Ahmad tweeted a photograph of the girls, most of whom were sitting on the floor of Buhari’s official residence, as the president sat in an armchair dressed in white traditional robes.

The meeting came shortly before Buhari was whisked out of the country on Sunday evening after weeks of concern over his health, heading to London for “follow-up medical consultation”, according to his spokesman Femi Adesina.

The teenagers, who had been taken to a medical facility for checks after arriving in Abuja by military helicopter, met with the president for about 45 minutes, said an AFP reporter at the scene.

Chibok school girls recently freed from Boko Haram captivity are seen in Abuja Nigeria’s Sunday, May. 7, 2017 (AAP)AP

Adesina said they had now been “handed over to those who will supervise their rehabilitation”.

He did not comment on how many imprisoned members of Boko Haram – whose fight to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead since 2009 – had been released in the swap.

But AFP understands at least three suspected senior commanders, all of them Chadian nationals, were handed over.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed said he could not confirm claims that as many five militants were released.

‘Joyous moment’

The girls arrived from the northeastern town of Banki, on the border with Cameroon, and were met at the airport by Buhari’s chief of staff Abba Kyari.

“Welcome our girls, welcome our sisters, we are glad to have you back,” Kyari told them, describing it as “a very joyous moment”.

A military source said one of the girls was “carrying a baby with her, a boy of less than two years”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it “facilitated the safe return” of the girls as a “neutral intermediary” and tweeted photographs of girls boarding a military helicopter.

Many of the students wore colourful akara print dresses, visibly tired from their ordeal.

The presidency had announced late Saturday that months of talks with the jihadists had “yielded results” some six months after 21 other Chibok girls were freed with the help of the ICRC and the Swiss government.

Watch: ICRC discusses release of Chibok girls 

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Symbol of conflict

Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on the evening of April 14, 2014, and kidnapped 276 teenaged girls who were preparing to sit high school exams.

Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group.

Boko Haram’s Shekau claimed in a video message that they had converted to Islam.

The audacious kidnapping brought the insurgency to world attention, triggering global outrage that galvanised support from the former US first lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood stars.

The girls have become a symbol of the Nigerian conflict. Last month, parents and supporters marked the three-year anniversary of the abduction, describing the situation as an unending “nightmare”.

But they said previous releases had given them strength.

Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, said of the latest releases: “This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day.

“We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.”

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Military and civilian militia sources in Banki said the girls were brought back to the town in ICRC vehicles late on Saturday afternoon and stayed in the military barracks there overnight.

Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war, seizing thousands of women and children, and forcibly recruiting young men and boys into their ranks.

In a less publicised attack in November 2014, some 300 children were among about 500 people kidnapped from the town of Damasak, on the border with Niger, in the far north of Borno state.

Most are still missing.

Ongoing talks

The release of the 21 girls in October last year followed talks between Boko Haram and the Nigerian authorities brokered by the ICRC and the Swiss government.

Three other girls have also been found. The first had a baby and was accompanied by a man she said was her husband but the military said was a Boko Haram suspect.

Shekau has previously said the girls would be released if militant fighters held in government custody were freed.

When the 21 were freed, Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu said the government was hoping to secure the release of 83 others being held by a different Boko Haram faction.

A total of 113 Chibok girls are now missing, although Shekau claimed last August that some had been killed in military air strikes.

On Friday, Britain and the United States issued a security alert warning of a Boko Haram plot to kidnap foreigners in the Banki area, which led to the suspension of aid flights to the town on Saturday.

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Texas governor signs law banning sanctuary cities

Greg Abbott took the unusual step of signing the legislation – which threatens sheriffs with arrest if they refuse to cooperate with federal authorities – during a live Facebook video broadcast.

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“Citizens expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law, and citizens deserve law breakers to face legal consequences,” he said before signing the law.

“Texans expect us to keep them safe, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

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The law prohibits cities from declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” – an unofficial designation – requiring local officials to carry out federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.

The bill prompted protests in Texas, including a sit-in in Abbott’s office.

The police chiefs of Houston and Dallas – the state’s two largest cities – last week called the measure a “burden” on local law enforcement agencies.

Other critics say the new law may be used to discriminate against Latinos and other minorities.

“Gov. Abbott just gave Texas police a license to discriminate,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted.

President Donald Trump has blasted the sanctuary cities movement opposing his hard-line immigration policies.

His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has accused them of allowing illegal immigrants who are violent criminals to go free.

Trump has promised to expel a large part of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

However, last month a court blocked his executive order to deny cities harboring undocumented immigrants billions of dollars in federal funding.

More than 300 cities and counties have denounced the order.

Watch: Australians learn how to give sanctuary to asylum seekers 0:00 Share

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Parliament returns for budget sessions

Federal parliament returns on Tuesday for the budget and a big legislative agenda spanning company tax cuts, media reform and a long-term plan for schools.

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Treasurer Scott Morrison will deliver his second budget, armed with a new slogan: fairness, opportunity and security.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is hoping this year’s budget forms the basis of a political reset for the coalition, having scraped into office by one seat at a double-dissolution election called immediately after the 2016 budget.

The government will dump the remaining “zombie measures” from the controversial 2014 budget, while delivering an anticipated record spend on infrastructure, schools, national security and health.

Labor will deliver its budget reply on Thursday.

It will be the first parliamentary sitting since March and comes as the coalition lags Labor in opinion polls, but Mr Turnbull maintains a solid preferred prime minister lead over Labor leader Bill Shorten.

The nation’s newest senator, former Family First candidate Lucy Gichuhi, will be sworn in on Tuesday, while One Nation’s Peter Georgiou – who filled disqualified senator Rod Culleton’s West Australian seat – will deliver his first speech on Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate’s numbers will be restored to its full complement of 76 seats, meaning the government will need 10 extra votes on top of its 29 to pass legislation.

And there’s a hefty program of bills to manage through the upper house.

Mr Morrison will bring in the second tranche of his company tax cuts, delivering a break for businesses with annual turnovers of more than $50 million.

However it is likely to face a tougher time than the cuts for small business, which received the backing of the Nick Xenophon Team and One Nation.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants parliament’s approval for laws to back up his Gonski 2.0 schools funding plan, which Labor is expected to oppose and hammer in question time.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield will make a concerted push for media ownership reform, including the abolition of the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the “two out of three” rule.

Laws to protect vulnerable workers, which came out of the 7-Eleven scandal, and a bill to bring in the government’s Youth Jobs Path program for the young unemployed are also on the agenda.

Inquiry reports are due to be tabled in relation to the dairy industry, oil and gas production in the Great Australian Bight and the plan to impose GST on low value imported goods.

Head of Islamic State in Afghanistan confirmed killed

The head of Islamic State in Afghanistan, Abdul Hasib, was killed in an operation on April 27 conducted jointly by Afghan and U.

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S. Special Forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar, U.S. and Afghan officials said on Sunday.

Hasib, appointed last year after his predecessor Hafiz Saeed Khan died in a U.S. drone strike, is believed to have ordered a series of high profile attacks including one in March 8 on the main military hospital in Kabul, a statement said.

Last month, a Pentagon spokesman said Hasib had probably been killed during the raid by U.S. and Afghan special forces in Nangarhar during which two U.S. army Rangers were killed, but prior to Sunday’s announcement there had been no confirmation.

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“This successful joint operation is another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat ISIS-K in 2017,” the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson said in a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul.

The statement, following an earlier announcement by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said Hasib directed the March 8 attack on the main Kabul military hospital by a group of militants disguised as doctors. Dozens of medical staff and patients were killed in the attack.

It said he also ordered fighters to behead local elders in front of their families and kidnap women and girls to force them to marry ISIS fighters.

The local affiliate of Islamic State, sometimes known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region that includes Afghanistan, has been active since 2015, fighting both the Taliban as well as Afghan and U.S. forces.

It is believed to maintain links with the main Islamic State movement in Iraq and Syria but has considerable operational independence.

U.S. and Afghan special forces, backed by drone strikes and other air support, have waged a series of operations against IS-K since March, killing dozens of their fighters, mainly in Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan.

Defeating the group remains one of the top U.S. priorities in Afghanistan and last month the United States dropped its largest non-nuclear device on a network of caves and tunnels used by ISIS in Nangarhar, killing 94 fighters, including four commanders.

The U.S. military statement said 35 Islamic State fighters and several high ranking commanders were killed in the April 27 raid.

Hundreds of fighters had been killed or captured this year and the offensive was continuing, with over half the districts controlled by ISIS-K retaken, allowing residents in some places to return for the first time in two years.

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Revenue, not cuts key to reducing deficit

The federal government will bank on economic growth improving revenue rather than deep spending cuts to rein in the budget deficit, economists and ratings agencies say.

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The median forecast for the deficit is $28 billion in 2017/18 and a return to surplus by 2020/2021, according to an AAP survey of 10 economists.

Moody’s Investors Service associate managing director Marie Diron told AAP fiscal consolidation has been repeatedly postponed or been slower-than-expected in recent years due to constraints to cutting expenditure and raising revenue.

She says about 60 per cent of day-to-day spending growth is in areas like health, education and social security, which are hard to cut, and there’s few other areas the government can make cuts.

Ms Diron is looking for fresh proposals to balance the budget, but also assuming the timeframe for cutting the deficit will be extended past the turn of the decade.

“Typically when there are really significant measures they are announced in advance and we haven’t seen much of that,” Ms Diron said.

“So we do not expect any radical changes in either the direction of revenue or expenditure.”

National Australia Bank economists noted Treasurer Scott Morrison’s optimism about economic growth on the back of non-mining business investment and household consumption growth in a speech last week.

They said this indicated he would assume government revenues would gradually improve and avoid heavy cuts.

“Apart from the political challenge in placing the budget on a more sustainable footing, the government has also faced the economic challenge of not cutting too aggressively in the short-term and hence impacting the recovery of the economy,” the NAB economists said in a report.

The NAB economists said the government would instead continue to seek and forecast a gradual improvement in the budget situation, based on revenue improved, to maintain Australia’s triple-A credit rating.

“The latter seems likely, given the economic backdrop at this time,” they added.

The other development flagged by Mr Morrison is to frame money borrowed to fund income-generating infrastructure, such as roads and railways as “good debt”, while money borrowed to fund expenses such as health and social security as “bad debt”.

However, Ms Diron said ratings agencies already look at the operating balance and the composition of overall government debt in their assessments of Australia’s triple-A credit rating.

“What matters most is the government’s ability to honour its financial obligations,” she added.

Ban on TV gambling ads during live sport part of wide ranging media reforms

If you’re watching live sport, gambling commercials are likely a familiar sight.

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But in a move to limit youth exposure to betting culture, they soon won’t air before 8:30pm at night.

It’s move Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says is a huge win for the community.

“Parents around, all around Australia will be delighted when they know that during football matches and cricket matches, live sporting events, before 8:30 there will be no gambling ads. There are no gambling ads allowed before 8.30 generally but there’s been an exception for a long time of live sporting events. “

Former Labor Senator Stephen Conroy now heads the newly formed Responsible Wagering Australia.

He welcomes the move.

“If you ask a kid who’s going to win today you don’t want the odds quoted to you. You want ‘well I think you know Lockett’s going to kick six goals. I think that Bunny will kick five.’ Now that’s the conversation you want to see between parents and their kids around watching footie – not ‘ah, Richmond are 3-1 on to win their match today.”

But not everyone else is on board.

A-F-L and N-R-L executives have been lobbying against the ad restrictions which they say would cost the codes lucrative sponsorship deals.

Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield says the sporting codes should wear the cost for the greater good of their fans.

“They recognise there is a need for change and the sporting codes, I think they are responsible and I think that they will accept what we are putting forward.”

To sweeten the deal for broadcasters and compensate for lost advertising revenue, the government is scrapping notoriously high broadcast license fees.

Currently networks pay around $130 million for their broadcast licences.

In its place will be a spectrum fee, estimated to raise around $40 million.

The announcement, made in the same week Network Ten announced a half yearly loss in the hundreds of millions.

Harold Mitchell, chairman of Free TV, which represents free-to-air media, says all major outlets are in support of the reforms package.

“These reforms will put big sums of money into the television industry, it’s long overdue, it’s a real fillip for the industry.”

Another controversial change is lifting limits on media ownership.

Until now, one company couldn’t own a TV, radio and newspaper outlet in one market – something Mr Fifield says limited profitability of Australian media companies.

“It is a package unabashedly in support of Australian media. We want an Australian media that will survive and prosper. While we might not always like what you write, what you print, broadcast or what you stream, what you do is an important underpinning for the diversity and health of Australian democracy.”

Independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, and the Greens say they want to see tougher restrictions.

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale says it is a step in the right direction.

“These changes don’t go anywhere near far enough. What we need when it comes to gambling advertising is no more gambling ads on the telly, restrictions on sponsorships and promotions.”

The Government’s package needs parliamentary support to pass the reforms.

Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek says without much more information and detail behind the announcement, the Government should not bet on theirs.

“When it comes to media reforms and gambling reforms, there is a very good chance that once again, Malcolm Turnbull will deliver less than people expect.”

 

 

 

Fostering community spirit as Victoria’s mosques open their doors

At Dandenong Mosque in Melbourne’s south east, dozens of worshippers faced Mecca, knelt and prayed.

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But as part of Victoria’s inaugural Mosque Open Day, intrigued non-Muslims watched on.

Mohamed Mohideen from the Islamic Council of Victoria says the day provides a rare opportunity to dispel myths around issues like Sharia Law, Halal and more.

“One of the key things that people say is that we are training terrorists – we are not. Jihad in it’s real sense is not holy war Jihad is striving to achieve the best.”

Deanna McKeown had never entered an Australian Mosque, and viewed the day as an opportunity to learn.

Volunteers even helped her try-on a Hijab and explained it’s significance – which certainly wasn’t wasted on Ms McKeown.

“They are chosing to do this so I think that if it’s pure choice then it’s liberating to do what you wish to do.”

At nearby Hallam Mosque, volunteer Inaz Janif escorted several groups through a range of Islamic information booths and stalls.

She says opening the places-of-worship and offering accurate, informed cross- cultural and religious information is extremely important.

“I think it’s a good way of showing that here we are – we’re not going anywhere we’re open come and learn what we’re about .”

Ms Inaz, a local school teacher, says she’s witnessed how misunderstanding and anti-Muslim rhetoric is damaging her community

“I’ve seen with my own eyes the impact of Islamophobia on them where I’ve even seen teenagers attacked over hate and fear of Muslims.”

So highlighting similarities, not difference became a theme of the day – especially for volunteer Zarqa Nur who says she too learned plenty from her discussion with Jewish visitor Keren Harel-Gordan.

“I’ve known that Judaism it’s one of the Abrahamic faiths so I know the similarities are there but just to speak about the daily way we live it – and how similar it is, it’s really nice.”

And the sentiment was shared by Ms Harel-Gordan.

“Prayers – ok so in Islam it would be 5-times a day and Judaism 3-times a day but again it’s very similar.”

It’s intended for the Victorian Mosque Open Day to become an annual event.

 

 

 

 

Origin offloads Vic windfarm for $110m

Origin Energy has agreed to sell its under-development Stockyard Hill wind farm project in Victoria to Chinese wind power developer Goldwind for $110 million.

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The sale is part of Origin’s asset sale program announced in 2015, which has targeted raising $800 million through divestment of non-core assets by June 2017. The proceeds will be used to reduce debt, the company says.

The energy producer and retailer will, however, sign a long-term power purchase agreement with Goldwind to buy all the power from the 530 megawatts project and associated renewable energy certificates once operations start in 2019 and until 2030.

That will boost its renewables capacity further, taking new commitments to 1200 MW in the past 12 months.

Earlier in May, Origin sold its under-development 110 MW Darling Downs solar farm in Queensland to gas pipelines operator APA Group, but agreed to buy all the electricity generated by the project until 2030.

That followed an agreement in April to buy all the generated power from the 220 MW Bungala solar plant in South Australia.

When completed, the Stockyard Hill project is slated to be Australia’s largest wind farm with power generated from 149 wind turbines.

On Monday, Origin said it had signed up to buy the wind farm’s power for a market leading price of below $60/MWh.

“Today’s announcement is important as it indicates just how fast the transition is occurring in Australia’s energy market,” Origin chief executive Frank Calabria said.

“Not only is renewable energy being rolled out rapidly, the costs have fallen at a very fast rate.”

RBC Capital Markets analyst Ben Wilson backed the assessment, calling the agreed rate “surprisingly low” in the context of current wholesale pricing of more than $80/MWh for renewable contracts.

“While we broadly see downward pressure on wholesale power pricing, we think Origin should generate good margins on the Stockyard deal,” he said.

By 1214 AEST, Origin Shares were trading three per cent higher at $7.56 each in a strong Australian market.

Rates to stay on hold with RBA optimistic

The Reserve Bank of Australia thinks the economy is on track for solid growth, but the central bank’s optimism has been met with a note of caution from some economists.

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The RBA’s quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy forecasts gross domestic product (GDP) to rise between 2.75 per cent to 3.75 per cent in 2018, up from 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent previously.

“GDP is forecast to increase by 2.5-3.5 per cent over 2017, with growth expected to remain a bit above potential throughout the rest of the forecast period,” the statement said on Friday.

The Reserve Bank also indicated it had no plan to shift the cash rate from a record low of 1.5 per cent for the rest of 2017.

“The cash rate is assumed to move broadly in line with market pricing,” the RBA said in the statement on Friday.

Royal Bank of Canada chief economist Su-lin Ong said the RBA had “erred on the side of optimism” and may be forced to rethink rates sooner than expected.

She noted official figures released on Thursday indicated trade would weigh on rather than add to growth in the March quarter.

The RBA also said in its statement that household consumption spending growth likely eased in the March quarter and commodity prices have been easing recently.

Ms Ong added that Cyclone Debbie was likely to have disrupted coal export volumes in the June quarter, so there were already some clear risks to the RBA’s growth forecasts.

“The RBA may well tolerate a weaker first half and persistent sub target inflation while housing dynamics and financial stability remain top of its watch list but may find it more difficult to do so further into 2017 as these concerns begin to abate,” she said in a note.

Commonwealth Bank economists Gareth Aird and Kristina Clifton said if the RBA’s growth forecasts hold despite the hits from trade in the first half of the year, rates will be on hold into 2018.

“It sounds like a broken record now, but rate cuts are off the table unless the housing market falters or the unemployment rate materially rises,” they said in a note.

“The risk, however, lies with another cut given weak wages growth, below target core inflation and an expected further downturn in hard commodity prices.”