Caltex to plug hole left by Woolies: Segal

Fuel refiner and retailer Caltex Australia says recent acquisitions of petrol stations in Melbourne and New Zealand will help fill the earnings gap left by the end of its fuel alliance with Woolworths.

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Caltex’s takeover bid for Woolworths petrol stations failed after oil and gas multinational BP struck a $1.79 billion deal with the supermarket giant in December.

The fuel alliance that has been running for 13 years is expected to end early next year, when BP plans to complete an acquisition that is still subject to regulatory approval.

In the meantime, Caltex will continue to supply fuel to the 525 Woolworths-operated service stations.

Caltex chief executive Julian Segal said the company, which controls 1,442 service stations across Australia, will have no problems plugging the $52 million to $142 million earnings gap that the Woolworths alliance is expected to leave.

He said the group’s soon-to-be completed acquisitions of Victorian service station network Milemakers and Kiwi sites Gull New Zealand will help plug some of that shortfall.

“I feel confident that by the end of 2017 we will be making up for the shortfall,” Mr Segal said.

He said Caltex decided against buying Woolworths’ fuel business because it was not “going to deliver” due to declining supermarket redemption volumes, restrictive commercial terms to continue fuel discounts and the fact the sites were leased rather than owned by Woolworths.

Caltex’s net profit rose 17 per cent to $610 million in the year to December 31, with its retail business partly offsetting lower refinery margins from its Lytton plant in Brisbane.

Its more closely watched replacement cost operating profit (RCOP), which strips out the impact of crude oil price fluctuations, dropped 17 per cent to $524 million, with revenue down 10 per cent at $17.9 billion.

The group’s RCOP was modestly better than its guidance of $500 million to $520 million.

Caltex has also sought to reassure the market on its franchise model following recent allegations that some franchisees were severely underpaying staff.

The company said the findings of its review of its franchise model showed that it allows franchisees to “make a profit, draw a wage, and pay employees in accordance with lawful wage rates”.

“Wage underpayment or mistreatment of staff is unacceptable to Caltex, and we will continue to remove franchisees who do the wrong thing,” Mr Segal said.

Caltex launched earlier this month its pilot service station and convenience store rebadged The Foodary, which offers fresh food on the go, offers barista-made coffee, and includes laundry and parcel pick-up services.

It has also formed partnerships with Boost Juice, Sumo Salad and Guzman Y Gomez that have outlets inside the store in Sydney’s inner west suburb of Concord.

Shares in Caltex were up 33 cents, or 1.11 per cent, to $29.98 at 1418 AEDT.

CALTEX FULL-YEAR RESULTS:

* Net profit up 17pct to $610m

* Revenue down 10pct to $17.9b

* Fully franked final dividend down 18 cents to 52 cents

PM defends One Nation WA preference deal

Malcolm Turnbull has reassured an international audience a preference deal with One Nation doesn’t mean the Liberal Party supports the minor party’s policies.

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The prime minister’s comments came as a new poll showed 38 per cent of voters disapproved of the Liberal deal with One Nation in the West Australian upper house, including one in four Liberal supporters.

The agreement reached for the March 11 WA state election received 29 per cent approval from voters.

In exchange, One Nation will distribute how-to-vote cards for lower house seats advising its supporters to put the Liberals up high.

The prime minister, who was on the campaign trail in Perth on Monday, insisted Australia’s compulsory preferential voting systems meant deals had to be negotiated.

“Just because preferences are directed to a party doesn’t mean that you support them – quite the contrary,” Mr Turnbull told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday.

How parties allocate preferences on the how-to-vote card was a political calculation.

“But it’s always designed to maximise our vote, just as other people’s how-to-vote cards are too,” he said.

Senior federal ministers have argued the One Nation of today is a more sophisticated party than when Senator Hanson emerged on the political scene two decades ago.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese says the preference deal is unprincipled and risks damage to Australia’s overseas reputation, as it did when Pauline Hanson warned about being “swamped by Asians” in the 1990s.

The government has been heavily relying on One Nation’s senators to pass its legislation.

Betting markets give Mark McGowan’s Labor team a 70 per cent chance of unseating Colin Barnett’s conservative government in WA.

The latest Essential poll gives federal Labor a 52-48 per cent two-party preferred lead over the coalition, with One Nation holding 10 per cent of the primary vote.

It comes amid a renewed debate triggered by the government over renewable energy and the place of coal-fired power.

Mr Turnbull met with his energy committee of cabinet in Sydney on Tuesday and was briefed on a new South Australian pumped hydro project backed by electricity giant Energy Australia.

The prime minister is also considering asking the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in “clean coal” power using carbon capture and storage technology, but will require a change in the corporation’s legislation to do so.

However, voters are likely to take a dim view, with 45 per cent telling Essential researchers they opposed new coal-fired power, with 31 per cent in favour.

Almost two-thirds of voters said renewable energy was a “solution” to Australia’s energy needs, not a threat, and 71 per cent said the government is not doing enough to provide “clean and reliable” power.

WA Labor leader Mark McGowan said the Liberal-One Nation preference deal was a “test for the whole country”.

“If it works for the Liberal Party I suppose it will be template that they follow elsewhere around Australia, so West Australians have to decide whether or not that is the future they want,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“We haven’t done any deals with One Nation and we won’t.”

Exports to be significant growth prop:RBA

The Reserve Bank believes increased exports of iron ore will make a significant contribution to economic growth, as the price hit a two-and-a-half-year high.

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It also potentially adds billions of dollars to the budget bottom line through increased tax revenue.

The iron ore price has risen above $US92 a tonne, well above what Treasury had been predicting at the time of the mid-year budget review in December.

But Malcolm Turnbull isn’t prepared to say whether this is sustainable.

“I didn’t make habit of predicting commodity prices when I was actually in business let alone as prime minister,” the prime minister told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday.

“But obviously the rise is welcome, we are big exporter.”

Treasury had assumed the iron ore price would drop from an average $US68 through the March and June quarters of 2017 to $US55 in the September quarter.

The Reserve Bank, in the minutes of its February 7 board meeting, reiterated it does not expect the economic weakness seen during the September quarter last year will be repeated when the national accounts for the December quarter are released on March 1.

It would mean a recession has again been avoided, an event Australia has not suffered for more than a quarter of a century.

The 0.5 per cent growth contraction in the September quarter was the result of some temporary factors, including coal supply disruptions and bad weather.

A large trade surplus, aided by resource exports, was subsequently recorded in the following three months.

“Australia’s low-cost producers of iron ore were expected to increase output further and the ramp-up in liquefied natural gas production was expected to make a significant contribution to output growth,” the central bank said.

The drag from falling mining investment was also expected to diminish.

However, it warned subdued growth in household income was likely to constrain consumption growth.

December quarter wages figures are released on Wednesday, which economists expect will continue to show annual growth sub-two per cent and the lowest in at least two decades.

Consumer confidence, a pointer to future spending plans, also declined for a third straight week.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan confidence index dropped by a further 2.3 per cent in the past week to its lowest level since December.

Notably, views about household’s finances tumbled 7.5 per cent to a two-and-a-half-year low, which ANZ’s head of Australian economics David Plank said was a concern as this sub-index is closely correlated with consumer spending.

“Signs of renewed weakness in full-time employment may have weighed on consumers views’ of their personal finances,” he said.

Cool cat likes being netball underdog

Sam Wallace, the cool cat of the new Super Netball competition, is intent on disproving the unwanted underdog tag of her NSW Swifts team.

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Trinidadian shooter Wallace made an instant impact in the first round of the new competition, nailing 34 of her 37 attempts.

Swifts, who lost six players to the three new clubs, were widely tipped to struggle, but suffered a tight five-goal defeat at the hands of intrastate rival Giants Netball.

“We are going to build together as a team and I love when people tend to think that we are the underdogs,” Wallace told AAP.

“We are going to prove them wrong, just like Saturday we proved them wrong.”

Asked for her reaction to being labelled a cool cat by Swifts coach Rob Wright, Wallace said: “I’m just me.

“My teammates feed off my energy so, if I’m quiet, they tend to be like ‘Sam, what’s wrong?’.

“And I’ll be like ‘nothing – I’m just in my zone.”

She quickly established a strong combination with England international Helen Housby.

“We are going to get better – it’s coming along,” Wallace said.

“She hasn’t been here due to the Quad Series; she’s been back home to play.

“We’ve just got to keep building that connection. It worked so smooth last Saturday.”

Although a newcomer to club competition in Australia, Wallace had already established world-class credentials.

She scored 280 goals at 86 per cent for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2015 World Cup.

She won the Sky Sports British Superleague player of the season award in 2016 after making 438 of her 491 shots – a success rate of 89 per cent.

Trinidad and Tobago are ranked ninth in the world, but the sport struggles for recognition.

This is despite the fact they are the only team outside Australia and New Zealand to have won a World Cup, back in 1979, when they finished equal first with those two nations.

“They don’t focus on netball,” Wallace said.

“We feel so unappreciated – they focus on track and field, cricket and football.”

Wallace’s deeds overseas inspire the youngsters back home who do take an interest in the game.

“All of them look up to me; all of them share my Facebook,” Wallace said.

“They are always texting ‘good luck, Sam’, ‘hard luck, Sam’.

“It’s a big honour to be the first Trinidadian to be playing in this league.”

First famine declared in six years, in South Sudan

It is the first famine announced in any part of the world in six years.

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The South Sudanese government and three United Nations agencies have declared nearly 100,000 people are facing starvation in two counties of the country.

One million more are on the brink of famine.

The chairman of South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics, Isaiah Chol Aruai, explains the situation.

“The convergence of evidence shows that the long-term effects of the conflict, coupled with high food prices, economic crisis, low agricultural production and depleted livelihood options, are all contributing to the deterioration of the food security situation, resulting in 4.9 million people – which is about 42 per cent of the population – estimated to be severely food insecure.”

He says nearly half of the population will be affected by midyear.

“This is projected to increase to 5.5 million people, roughly 47 per cent of the national population, at the height of the 2017 lean season in July. The magnitude of these food insecure populations is unprecedented across all periods.”

The executive director of the aid group UNICEF UK, Mike Penrose, says the declaration of a famine is more distressing than what most people could imagine.

“Famines are extremely rare. There’s been less than a handful over the last 60 years that have actually been declared, mostly in East Africa. And a famine is when 30 per cent of the population is suffering from acute malnutrition, where 20 per cent has really strained food supplies and where more than two per 10,000 per day of the population are dying. So a famine is only declared when it’s become so bad that people are actually dying from hunger.”

World Food Program spokeswoman Challiss McDonough says the counties of Leer and Mayendit are devastated by famine.

“Everybody knows that, if we say there’s a famine, it’s because there really is the most serious kind of humanitarian crisis that we can imagine, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing in those two areas of South Sudan right now. So, it’s not a word that we use lightly, and it’s one that I had hoped that I wasn’t going to have to use to describe the situation in South Sudan, but, unfortunately, we’ve reached the position where that’s actually what’s happening, and so we have to call it what it is, and that’s a famine.”

A debilitating civil war that ignited in South Sudan in 2013 and a subsequent economic collapse have been blamed for the disaster.

United Nations humanitarian coordinator Eugene Owuso says that has posed many challenges for aid workers.

“The food insecurity crisis today is largely because of the conflict, is largely because of insecurity, is largely because of the access challenges that humanitarians have periodically had. It’s also because of attacks on humanitarian workers and also the looting of humanitarian assets.”

The civil war has increasingly split South Sudan along ethnic lines, leading the United Nations to warn of a potential genocide.

Ms McDonough has pleaded for greater access to the affected areas to provide food to starving people.

“People don’t have to die of hunger. We can help them. In this case, specifically, humanitarian agencies have been struggling to access those two parts of South Sudan for years in order to be able to get, to reliably get, food and other kinds of humanitarian assistance to people. And if we had access to those areas, we could have kept this from happening.”

UNICEF says it believes Somalia and war-torn Yemen are also on the brink of famine.

 

Workers ran as Vic plane crashed, exploded

Frantic workers ran for their lives as a plane crashed into a Melbourne shopping centre and exploded in a ball of flames.

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As workers were preparing to open the Essendon DFO on Tuesday morning, a twin-engine charter plane took off from Essendon airport, quickly lost altitude and slammed into the discount shopping centre, killing the five people onboard.

Staff from the Spotlight store, which took the brunt of the explosion, were in tears and visibly shaken as they spoke to police outside the centre.

There was a gaping hole in the side of the store and water was cascading onto the floor, a witness told AAP.

A group of ten workers was standing outside the centre in their work aprons, holding their faces in their hands as paramedics assessed them.

The entire centre was evacuated, with workers milling around with dazed looks on their faces.

They were among dozens who witnessed the crash or its fiery aftermath.

A woman who worked at Freedom Furniture was crouched down crying on a footbridge opposite the centre as she tried to call people who may have been inside.

A worker from furniture store Nick Scali was starting the day with a quiet coffee outside when the shuddering plane flew above her head.

“If it had been a metre lower I wouldn’t be here to be honest,” Grace Martin, 28, told reporters.

“It flew over the top of me and it was shaking on the way down and a metre from the top of the roof.

“That’s when I ran away and heard the big crash and saw all the flames.”

Another witness, Carmel Brown, watched in horror as a massive fireball exploded into the sky.

“There was a big crash and then a big red fireball, like a mushroom,” she said.

While the five people on the aircraft were killed , miraculously people inside the shopping centre escaped injury.

The DFO centre isn’t likely to reopen until Wednesday.

Ceasefire in Ukraine holding up in early stages

In recent weeks, the area around the government-held town of Avdiyivka has witnessed some of the heaviest artillery fire of the past two years.

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It has refocused international attention on a simmering conflict that has strained relations between Russia and the West.

Violence has since lessened, but the close proximity of the opposing sides and the continued use of heavy weapons has raised deep concern.

It prompted the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to call for renewed efforts to implement the terms of the much-violated Minsk peace agreement of 2015.

Just hours into the ceasefire, Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyankyk acknowledged the other side was complying.

“In general, as of this hour, a substantial decrease of military activities is being observed in an anti-terrorist operation zone. As of noon, we’ve reported 15 incidents of shelling by the enemy, though heavy weaponry has not yet been used by the enemy.”

Senior separatist official Eduard Basurin has confirmed shelling from the Ukrainian side stopped at midnight on Sunday, local time.

“So far, the Ukrainian side fulfills the obligations it had undertaken. We do not register any violations at the moment. We can say that, as of midnight, there has been practically no shelling. The ones I’ve mentioned before happened before midnight. As for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, the withdrawal will take place after 24 hours of ceasefire, and the main condition – it should proceed in parallel – if we withdraw, the Ukrainian side withdraws simultaneously as well.”

After nearly three years of fighting in eastern Ukraine, many civilians are keen to return home.

Although government forces and separatist rebels in Ukraine have agreed on another attempt at a truce, the end of the conflict remains uncertain.

The fighting has displaced nearly two million people within the country’s borders and sent another million fleeing to Russia.

The United Nations says one million children urgently need humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine, a number that has doubled from a year ago.

Valentina Chehova and her daughter are internally displaced people from Avdiyivka, where more than 16,000 residents have fled over the past three years.

She says it is the second time she and her daughter have been displaced.

“The recent shelling lasted for several days. Then it got easier. But then it started again at night, and the children were terrified. So it took me only an hour to pack everything, and we left.”

Valentina Ovcharko is also from the town and now lives at a centre for internally displaced people.

She says life has become unstable.

“I’m here because I’m saving my grandchildren. We’ve been wandering around the country for the last year and half. Life, from my point of view, wasn’t so bad. We used to buy appliances. We used to do renovations. We were making plans, but what can we count on now?”

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to temporarily recognise documents issued by the separatist regions has faced sharp criticism.

Mr Putin announced he would recognise passports and other documents issued by both the Donetsk People’s Republic and the neighbouring self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.

Ukraine has criticised the move, calling it a violation of the two-year-old peace deal.

The French and German governments also say it is contrary to the Minsk accord.

 

Fraud dad jailed, mum gets home detention after concocting fake death threats

A married Adelaide couple who faked death threats to score paid time off work have been handed custodial sentences, but the woman has been allowed to serve her time from home for the good of their children.

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Simon Peisley and Tabitha Lean worked at South Australia’s Aboriginal health service when they sent dozens of threats to their office, home and their children’s school.

They faked about 80 threats that included letters, parcels, phone calls and vandalising their own home with tomato sauce.

Some of the parcels contained pieces of their children’s clothes stained with fake blood and were sent to their school.

The couple netted time off work and a family holiday to the Gold Coast because most of the threats related to their work, and they attempted to secure a compensation claim.

Peisley, 41, and Lean, 39, were found guilty in the District Court in November of more than 45 counts of deception over the two-year scam.

They have now been sentenced to non-parole periods of three years, but Lean was offered home detention while Peisley will serve his time behind bars.

Judge Barry Beazley said the pair’s “outrageous” and prolonged fraud was too serious to suspend the sentences but the state’s new home detention laws gave him another option for Lean.

“Parliament House has enabled you to serve the sentence on home detention,” he said to the mother on Tuesday.

“I am satisfied that it is not only in your best interests but also that of your children.”

The couple have three children, aged seven, 12 and 17 and the court heard they felt in fear of their own safety and that of their parents during the death threat ordeal.

The judge didn’t understand what drove the couple to undertake their campaign of deception given they were both in respected and well-paying jobs, particularly Lean who was a director of her department.

“You had a great deal going for you,” he said.

“Generally those who commit offences of this nature do so for financial gain.

“This is not immediately apparent in this case.”

As well as receiving time off and paid accommodation and medical bills, the couple also made a worker’s compensation claim.

The state government had agreed to pay a $580,000 settlement before Lean and Peisley were caught when police became suspicious and devised a plot of their own.

They were arrested after police covertly broke into their flat and marked envelopes and paper with “invisible ink”.

The next threat the couple handed over to police was tested with a UV light to reveal the markings the officers had made.

“The evidence at trial was overwhelming and the jury’s verdicts were inevitable,” Judge Beazley said.

During sentencing submissions, Peisley offered to take the fall and serve jail time in the hope this would keep his wife out of prison.

The father was sentenced to six years and six months in prison with a non-parole period of three years.

Lean was sentenced to six years and eight months of home detention with a non-parole period of three years, along with strict conditions including that she wear an electronic monitoring device.

At least 11 US Jewish centers get bomb threats

The latest phoned-in threats, at 11 separate sites, bring to 69 the total number of such incidents — at 54 Jewish community centers in 27 US states and one Canadian province — according to the JCC Association of North America.

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It cautioned, however, that all bomb threats made Monday, as well as on three others dates — January 9, 18 and 31 — turned out to be hoaxes, and all targeted community centers have resumed normal operations.

The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are said to be investigating the incidents.

Meanwhile, local media reported that more than 100 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri.

Related

“Over the past weekend, unknown persons knocked over multiple monument headstones within the cemetery,” University City police said in a statement.

Police staff declined to confirm the number of damaged headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery as they review video surveillance on the property and nearby businesses for the ongoing investigation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremism, said in a recent report that the number of hate groups is rising and now at near-historic highs, linking it to the surge in “right-wing populism” during a bitterly fought presidential election that “electrified the radical right” and ultimately elected Trump.

RelatedWhite House condemnation 

The Trump administration denounced the latest incidents.

“Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom,” a senior administration official said.

“The president has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.”

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism who has played a prominent role in his young administration along with her husband Jared Kushner, was quick to denounce the bomb threats on the Jewish community centers.

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC,” she wrote on Twitter.

The JCC Association of North America, vowed that it “will not be cowed by threats intended to disrupt people’s lives or the vital role Jewish community centers play as gathering places, schools, camps and fitness and recreation centers.”

“While we are relieved that all such threats have proven to be hoaxes and that not a single person was harmed, we are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” said the group’s director of strategic performance David Posner.

Related reading

Protests in and out of parliament over Trump visit to Britain

British Prime Minister Theresa May invited United States president Donald Trump to parliament when she met him in Washington last month, just a week after he took office.

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State visits are marked by much pageantry, traditionally including a carriage ride for the visiting head of state to Buckingham Palace to stay as a guest of the Queen.

But an online petition calling for Mr Trump to be allowed into Britain but not for a state visit has attracted almost 2 million signatures.

The huge number of signatures has prompted what is being touted as a symbolic debate in parliament.

While there would be no vote, and parliament has no power to stop the state visit, it was a chance for politicians to air their views on the US president.

Conservative Member of Parliament Mark Pritchard defended the state visit.

“The relationship, the special relationship, between the United Kingdom and the United States of America goes beyond any individual that might happen to occupy the White House at any particular time.”

Theresa May’s government wants to reaffirm that so-called special relationship with the United States and secure a trade deal as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

But one female Member of Parliament questioned that support in parliament, suggesting Mr Trump’s comments about women do not make him a suitable guest of the Queen.

“Does he agree that to use the expression ‘Grab them by the pussy’ describes a sexual assault and, therefore, suggests that he shouldn’t be afforded a visit to our Queen?”

As parliament debated the state visit, protesters gathered in the thousands outside.

(Leader:) “Say, ‘Hey!'”

(Crowd:) “Hey!”

(Leader:) “Say, ‘Ho!'”

(Crowd:) “Ho!”

(All:) “Trump and Brexit got to go … Say, ‘Hey! Ho!’ Trump and Brexit got to go.”

Many held placards, bearing slogans such as “Love America, Hate Trump,” “Resist the fake president” and “Theresa the Appeaser.”

The Stop Trump Coalition, a collective of protest groups in Britain uniting against the possible visit, organised the demonstration.

It is yet another backlash Theresa May has to manage as she goes about trying to reunite the country divided over Brexit.

Opposition economic spokesman John McDonnell addressed the protesters, telling them Donald Trump does not deserve the honour of a state visit.

“We are calling upon the Government to withdraw the offer and make it absolutely clear. There is no way this honour should be made to someone who’s abused women, who’s abused members of the Muslim faith, who’s abused migrants …”

Ms May’s office has said the state visit will go ahead but has not provided any details on what month Mr Trump will be invited nor the itinerary.

Meanwhile, the protests did not stop just in Britain.

Back in the United States, anti-Trump rallies have been held around the country to mark the public holiday known as President’s Day.

Protesters took to the streets in about 28 cities to express displeasure with Mr Trump’s policies and pronouncements.

But Mr Trump went about his daily business, naming Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his next National Security Adviser.

The widely respected military strategist told Mr Trump it is a privilege to serve the nation.

(McMaster:) “I’m grateful to you for that opportunity, and I look forward to joining the National Security team and doing everything I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people. Thank you very much, Sir.”

(Trump:) “You’re going to do a great job.”

The announcement comes just days after General Michael Flynn resigned over questions about his ties to Russia.