WA nickel mine closes, jobs to go

The Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Western Australia will be closed from next month, threatening hundreds of jobs.

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Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals has announced it will suspend operations at the mine in the state’s south-east that is losing money, which it blames on a persistently low nickel price.

The population of Ravensthorpe, located about 530km from Perth, is fewer than 700 with an overall shire population of 1340, and the mine is crucial to its existence.

The town was also hit by devastating floods earlier this year that forced the closure of the nearby Fitzgerald National Park, meaning the loss of tourist dollars.

Shire president Keith Dunlop said First Quantum Minerals’ decision was disappointing but not a total surprise, with the mine having been consistently downsized in recent years.

“We don’t know a lot about the future for the workers yet unfortunately,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“There’s a lot of contractors that will be impacted as well, there’s trucking companies, the Port of Esperance and those sorts of people will also be impacted.

“Locally, the schools will be impacted, local business will be impacted.”

The mine was built by BHP Billiton, which suspended operations in 2009 during the global financial crisis less than 12 months after it opened the $2.31 billion project, costing 1800 jobs.

It was then sold to First Quantum Minerals and reopened in 2011.

Current staff levels involved 250 employees and 200 contractors.

“This decision is disappointing to us. Ravensthorpe is an excellent operation with an outstanding workforce and supportive community, but the continuing depressed nickel market conditions over some years leaves us no option,” chief executive and chairman Philip Pascall said.

“Over the next few weeks we will work closely with our employees and key contractors to mitigate the impact and manage carefully the staged shutdown of operations.

“We will be offering assistance to employees in seeking further employment opportunities.”

The project mines nickel laterite, which is costly to produce and requires decent prices.

Operations are being suspended, not permanently shut, giving some hope of a restart if the price rebounds.

WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston said Premier Mark McGowan had spoken to the company to offer assistance to keep the mine open and save the jobs, but nothing could be done.

PM rules out further action on same-sex marriage if High Court strikes down postal vote

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has begun work on the $122 million voluntary poll, with ballot papers due to be posted by September 12, completed by November 7 and a result to be announced on November 15.

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A private member’s bill would then go to parliament by the end of the year.

Marriage equality activists are launching a High Court bid to head off the ballot, saying it breaches the constitution, and funding the vote exceeds the government’s power.

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Asked what would happen if the court struck down the ballot, Mr Turnbull told reporters: “Our policy is very clear. We will not facilitate the introduction of a private member’s bill on this matter unless the Australian people have given their support through a ‘yes’ vote through this national vote.”

Labor has begun encouraging voters to check their enrolment and get behind the ‘yes’ campaign, but shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus voiced fears the ballot would not have the same legal protections as an election.

Mr Dreyfus said campaign material would not have to be authorised – so voters could not tell who has sent it to them – and there was nothing to stop a person from filling in someone else’s ballot paper.

0:00 ‘It’s not a unifying moment’: Senator Wong slams Cormann on plebiscite vote Share ‘It’s not a unifying moment’: Senator Wong slams Cormann on plebiscite vote

There was also no way to question voting irregularities or dispute the result through the Court of Disputed Returns.

“It’s more proof that a postal survey is an expensive, inaccurate and divisive waste of time,” Mr Dreyfus said.

Some marriage equality advocates are weighing up a boycott of the ballot.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby wants the plan abandoned, saying he was happy to wait to wed his partner of 50 years instead of having the public postal vote.

“I feel as a citizen I’m being treated in a second-class way,” he said of the ballot.

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Nationals MP Andrew Broad, who has threatened to quit the government if the coalition changes its plebiscite policy, is pleased Australians can have their say.

Asked about a possible boycott, the MP told reporters: “There were people who chose not to vote for Donald Trump because they walked away from it, and they got Donald Trump didn’t they?”

Labor frontbencher Penny Wong, who made an emotion-charged plea during a speech in parliament on Wednesday for ‘no’ campaigners to leave children out of the debate, is hoping good-hearted Australians prevail.

Treasurer Scott Morrison defended the $122 million price tag of the postal ballot, insisting “keeping promises is money well spent”.

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Customs officer among eight charged over alleged international tobacco ring

The serving officer was arrested alongside a female former Customs and Border Protection Service officer.

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In a statement released by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), NSW Police, Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the NSW Crime Commission, they said the border force official had been charged with multiple offences, including allegedly using his position to assist with avoiding law enforcement detection, while the female officer has also been charged with similar offences relating to her alleged conduct during the investigation.

The arrests follow dawn raids on Tuesday when more than 570 AFP officers swooped on homes and businesses across Sydney.

“Unfortunately, during this operation, we have uncovered some allegations of corrupt activity, which this syndicate exploited to try and get their drugs into the country,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said on Thursday.

“We will be alleging that these persons utilised their knowledge and expertise to assist the Jomaa organised crime family bring border-controlled drugs into Australia.”

0:00 This besmirches 5500 officers who do a great job: Dutton Share This besmirches 5500 officers who do a great job: Dutton

The pair are two of a group of eight people arrested in Sydney and one in Dubai over their involvement in an alleged conspiracy to illegally import drugs and tobacco into Australia.

As part of Operation Astatine, a New South Wales criminal network who led drug trafficking and tobacco smuggling operations was targeted. It is alleged the network conspired to import 200 kilograms of MDMA (ecstasy) via sea cargo, smuggle 50 million cigarettes into the country, and initiate money laundering in Australia and overseas.

On Tuesday, 17 people were arrested across three countries, including two brothers of Kings Cross nightlife figure John Ibrahim, preventing about two tonnes of illicit drugs reaching Australia.

As 13 search warrants were carried out in Sydney on Tuesday, around 80 kilograms of cocaine was seized in Rosebery, and a total of $740,000 cash was found across four properties in Edmonson Park, St Peters, Hurstville and Arncliffe. An additional $2 million was uncovered by police and intelligence agencies.

0:00 Multi-agency operation destroys another global criminal syndicate Share Multi-agency operation destroys another global criminal syndicate

Detective Superintendent Stephen Dametto from the AFP revealed that a high degree of sophistication and collaboration was necessary to uncover the dealings.

“This operation is a warning to organised crime targeting Australia that hiding on the other side of the world won’t save you. Once you are in our sights, we will focus our efforts on causing you and your predatory criminal activities as much damage as possible,” he said.

“The AFP’s international network has enabled investigators to work closely with our partners in the United Arab Emirates (and other countries) to destroy this syndicate – without their help, we would not have been able to achieve the results we have to arrest the top players in this syndicate.”

Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said the allegations against the serving ABF officer were serious and defended the reputation of the agency.

“I want to apologise to all of the Australian Border Force officers for the alleged conduct of this officer,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“This besmirches 5,500 officers who do a great job.

“It just takes one bad apple.”

Mr Dutton then pointed to endemic corruption in Australia’s ports “since settlement”, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.

“Our job is to weed it out,” he added.

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Bennett declares Bird will be a Bronco

There is “no doubt” Cronulla’s NSW State of Origin star Jack Bird will play for Brisbane in the NRL next year, Wayne Bennett says.

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However, the Broncos coach admits he is uncertain about his side’s form ahead of Friday night’s blockbuster against the defending premiers at Suncorp Stadium.

Bird rivalled Cronulla’s 300-game milestone man Paul Gallen in the headlines in the lead-up after reports claimed the Blues utility wanted to backflip on a lucrative four-year Broncos deal from 2018.

Ahead of his 600th game as Broncos coach, Bennett said he felt obligated to “step in” and slam the weekend report that suggested Bird would renege on his reported $3.5 million Brisbane contract.

“I did step in. But we have had no doubt at this club (that Bird is coming to the Broncos),” he said.

“It’s just rumour and innuendo.

“Jack Bird is coming to the Broncos — full stop.”

Sharks centre Bird will miss the match with his future club after being sidelined with a shoulder injury.

While Bennett was adamant Bird would soon be a Broncos player, he was still scratching his head over Brisbane’s current form.

That despite leapfrogging Cronulla for third on the ladder after last round’s record 54-0 win over Gold Coast.

Bennett’s call to start Sam Thaiday at hooker before introducing Ben Hunt to dummy half after 20 minutes worked wonders against the Titans.

Hunt ran amok when he came off the bench, scoring three tries and setting up another two.

But Bennett said he was worried how they would back up against Cronulla in their top four clash.

“My concern at the moment is backing up what we did last week, it’s always an issue up against a quality side (like Cronulla),” he said.

“… it is a big game tomorrow.”

Cronulla have won their past three games at Suncorp Stadium.

Bennett expected the Sharks to lift in Gallen’s milestone game.

“He’s made plenty of enemies and friends along the way, that’s what a good forward is all about,” he said.

Bennett didn’t want to talk up his own milestone, claiming he wasn’t even aware of it until a player brought it up at training.

“It’s not about me,” he said.

STATS THAT MATTER

* Brisbane will look to defeat Cronulla twice in a season for the first time since 2011.

* Wayne Bennett brings up game No.600 as Broncos coach with a 63.9 per cent winning record, claiming 19 of his past 24 matches against Cronulla.

* Paul Gallen will become just the second player to play all of their 300 games for Cronulla, behind Andrew Ettingshausen (328).

NRL Titans’ Kane Elgey playing with injury

Struggling in an out-of-sorts Gold Coast side, Kane Elgey has revealed his sternum is yet to heal and he requires pain-killing injections before each NRL game.

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Already on the comeback trail from a knee reconstruction, the five-eighth has been unable to make an impact since returning in the past two weeks.

The Tugun junior failed to break the line in either game and missed six tackles against Brisbane last weekend, struggling alongside halfback Ashley Taylor in the 54-0 drubbing.

A knee to the chest in a match in early June left Elgey with the injury, likened to one sustained in a car crash, that he is yet to recover from.

“I still get jabs before game, I’d say it’s still 70 per cent,” he said.

Playing in 15 of the Titans’ 20 games, Elgey has just one try assist this season.

The Titans have scored four points in their past two games with Elgey at pivot, the 23-year-old admitting this week that he’d be nervous for his future if not contracted for another season at Robina.

“It’s one of the toughest years for me personally and I’m disappointed in myself, ” Elgey said.

“But I’m only young and I’m here next year and I’ll try my hardest.”

Titans coach Neil Henry has anointed the Gold Coast junior as a long-term No. 6, but the side has been at its best this season with Tyrone Roberts at the helm.

The Titans had the best close-range attack in the competition before last weekend’s hammering, needing on average eight tackles inside the opposition’s 20 metre zone to score a try.

Last week, the Titans were unable to cross the line despite having 45 tackles inside the Brisbane 20m.

Henry will persist with Elgey against St George Illawarra on Saturday and he could even partner Roberts in the halves if Taylor fails to recover from a knee injury that kept him from training on Wednesday.

The Titans are gunning to secure Taylor on a long-term deal, but Roberts is off-contract this season and may look elsewhere given the Titans’ commitment to Elgey.

Trump’s childhood home listed on Airbnb at $725 a night

The $2 million, mock Tudor-style family home in Queens, where the New York tycoon turned Republican commander-in-chief lived for the first four years of his life, sleeps up to 20 people in five bedrooms.

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Equipped with internet and cable TV, the listing says it is verified and calls itself “the perfect accommodation for a New York vacation”.

“We decided to put it on Airbnb to share the house with the world,” said Michael Davis, the real-estate developer who bought the home last year, sold it for profit and now leases it back at $US4,000 a month.

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“There’s been a lot of activity,” Davis said, with the first guests expected to stay this weekend.

The listing shows several dates blocked off in August but currently there are no reviews.

It claims little has changed since the Trumps’ time, boasting an original kitchen and “opulent furnishings”.

“We tried to have presidential furniture,” explained Davis. “It’s decorated very, very nicely and it has all of the amenities that you would need.”

Built by father Fred in 1940 in the upmarket enclave of Jamaica Estates, the president lived in the home until the family moved into a colonnaded mansion that Trump senior built nearby in 1951.

The two-story home embellished with red brick sold at auction in January for 54 per cent more than the $1.39 million the investor paid for last year. The $US2.14 million deal closed in March.

There’s been a lot of activity in the hosue where the President lived the first four years of his life, says real-estate developer Michael Davis.AAP

Listing pictures show photographs of the president and quotations sprinkled around the property. Trump’s best-selling business tome ‘The Art of the Deal’ is in the house library, the only book in the house.

It remains unclear what the president would make of the venture.

“I think he likes a good deal,” said Davis. “His brand creates value and we were certainly the beneficiaries of that.”

Asked about the house when he appeared on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’ during the election campaign, Trump said it was “sad” the building was on sale and said he wanted to buy it.

This Airbnb listing authors say they have no relationship with the White House, Trump or his Manhattan-based Trump Organisation.

Sticky wary of under-fire Warriors in NRL

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart believes the public lashing of the Warriors is the ultimate provocation ahead of their NRL clash in Auckland.

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The equation remains simple for the Raiders. A loss in Sunday’s match is almost certain to end their finals’ hopes.

Canberra bring winning form to the match, unlike their opponents who have lost five on the trot.

The Warriors’ 26-10 loss to last-placed Newcastle – prompted harsh criticism from coach Stephen Kearney who questioned their effort.

“Individually, they’ve been told that some of them aren’t trying,” Stuart said.

“There’s no greater way to be motivated if you’re that way inclined.”

Stuart will urge his players to bring the same fight which had helped them in last week’s defeat of Cronulla.

“If we don’t meet aggression with aggression, we’ll get beaten,” Stuart said.

“I’m going to ask the boys to aim up and prepare to play the type of Warriors team who are going to come out and play their best game of football.”

Dominating through the middle against the Sharks allowed star hooker Josh Hodgson to take charge of the game.

“If their big blokes in the middle can take some control, then he’ll get control. That’s an important factor for our big blokes to understand,” Stuart said.

Sitting two games outside the top eight, it’s been a tumultuous season for a team initially touted as a premiership threat.

But off-field stability continued on Thursday with skipper Jarrod Croker re-signing until the end of 2020.

Croker is the latest key player the Raiders have locked in beyond next year, joining Joey Leilua, Jordan Rapana and Jack Wighton who all recommitted earlier in the season.

Stuart is also signed until the end of 2020.

“We’ve had a lot of tough losses and we could have easily fallen away but with the culture and the club we have here, we’ve stuck it out,” Croker said.

The 26-year-old goal-kicking centre is already Canberra’s leading point scorer and is equal-second on the club’s list of try-scorers.

“To be able to lead this club it’s one thing, but to lead them to a premiership is at the top of my list,” Croker said.

“We’ve got the squad here to push for that.”

Flanagan fires up before Broncos NRL clash

Furious Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has taken aim at Wayne Bennett and slammed suggestions the NRL premiers are trying to talk Jack Bird out of defecting to Brisbane.

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In a spicy precursor to Friday night’s high-stakes top-four clash with the Broncos, Flanagan said the Sharks had no plans to stand in Bird’s way and rubbished reports the club had been bullying the NSW State of Origin star since his lucrative signing in May.

“The Sharks have been at him ever since he signed with the Broncos,” Bird’s father Mick was quoted on Thursday by News Corp Australia.

“They haven’t left him alone and myself and Jack have had a gutful.”

Flanagan, though, denied the sharks had tried to “coerce” Bird into reneging on his four-year deal.

“Let’s all be really clear that Jack is going to Brisbane. There’s no talk about backflips; there’s no one in this organisation, that’s either me or the CEO, that he’s spoken to. None of that’s happened,” Flanagan said.

“It’s terrible. He’s shattered today, Jack … shattered about all this stuff that he’s supposed to be saying or supposed to be doing.

“None of it’s true.”

Not only offended by the reports “from north of the border”, Flanagan was also bemused at Bennett’s claim that Bird would thrive under the Broncos’ less-structured attack.

“I couldn’t give a damn what Wayne says. He can do what he likes. It doesn’t interest me,” he said.

“All the rubbish that he’s going to enjoy it more up there, all that stuff, I just don’t get it.

“Like, well done to the Broncos. They’ve signed a quality player and we’ll be looking after him, treating his injuries and sending him up there as a grand final-winning player.

“We’ll have great memories of Jack at our club. He’s a special player and he’ll hold a special part in this club’s history.

“But he’ll be there next year. We had our chance to keep him and he decided to go and we’ll live with that.”

Flanagan’s tirade came after Bennett earlier on Thursday said he felt compelled to “step in” and assure fans Bird would be a Brisbane player in 2018.

“Jack Bird is coming to the Broncos – full stop,” Bennett said.

End of debate, if not the two coaches’ seemingly needless war of words.

Fossils reveal new gliding mammal species

In dense Chinese forests populated by dinosaurs 160 million years ago, two furry critters resembling flying squirrels glided from tree to tree, showing that even in such a perilous neighbourhood early mammals had succeeded in going airborne.

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Scientists on Wednesday announced the discovery of fossils of two Jurassic Period gliding mammals so well preserved and complete they show the wing-like skin membranes the creatures employed while gliding effortlessly between trees.

The species, Maiopatagium furculiferum from Liaoning Province and Vilevolodon diplomylos unearthed about 65km away in Hebei Province, come from an extinct early mammalian side branch.

These two and another apparent glider from about the same time that was described in 2006 were the vanguard of the mammalian air force.

It was not until more than 100 million years later that bats, which use powered flight like birds, and more gliding mammals appeared, following the dinosaurs’ demise.

Mammals first appeared about 210 million years ago.

These fossils underscore that early mammals were not merely cowering at the feet of dinosaurs but boasted a range of body plans and lifestyles.

“Despite living in dinosaur-dominated ecosystems, early mammals diversified into many ecological niches,” said University of Chicago paleontologist Zhe-Xi Luo, who led the research published in the journal Nature.

The new species were unrelated to today’s four groups of gliding mammals: flying squirrels in North America and Asia, Africa’s scaly-tailed gliders, Australia’s marsupial sugar gliders and Southeast Asia’s colugos.

Maiopatagium was about 23cm long, similar in size to flying squirrels. Vilevolodon was a bit smaller.

Maiopatagium’s teeth resemble those of fruit bats, suggesting it ate soft plant parts, while Vilevolodon’s teeth were more like those of squirrels and good for eating seeds.

They lived at a time when small feathered dinosaurs such as Anchiornis were also experimenting with flying, on the evolutionary road leading to birds.

Greens warn Labor over competition law

The Greens have warned Labor not to get in bed with big business when competition laws come before the Senate.

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Labor had a win in the Senate on Thursday, with the removal of barriers to small businesses taking court action against anti-competitive behaviour from big business.

The private bill would allow Federal Court judges to waive small business liability to pay the huge legal fees of big business if it challenges anti-competitive behaviour in court.

The bill will need to be passed by the lower house in order to become law, which is unlikely given the government holds the majority in that chamber.

The Greens supported the legislation but warned Labor not to use it as an excuse to oppose competition laws due to be debated in the upper house next week.

The so-called “effects test” bill strengthens rules that prevent companies with substantial market power engaging in conduct that harms competition.

Labor has already vowed to oppose the bill.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson suggested Labor was opposing the changes to protect its funding from big business.

He warned the opposition would be “jumping into bed with big business” if it opposed the legislation.

“I hope that the ALP aren’t going to use this as an excuse to get out of supporting a change to section 46,” he said.

It was no good helping small businesses take their cases to court without fixing laws that make it nearly impossible for them to win, he said.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said Thursday’s legislation would empower small business, urging the government to support it.

“We know that all too often, small businesses don’t take on the big end of town, despite the fact they may actually have a strong case,” she told parliament.

“They can’t afford the risks of the costs of going to court.”

It’s been welcomed by the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, who said access to justice was an important issue for small businesses.

“This has the added benefit of filtering cases that might potentially be considered vexatious or unlikely to succeed, saving time and money for all involved,” she said.

Small Business Minister Michael McCormack accused Labor of crying “crocodile tears”, insisting it should support the effects test changes if it is genuinely interested in levelling the playing field.