Fight looms for Browse supply base plan

A conservation group has vowed to fight in the courts any attempts to industrialise Western Australia’s Kimberley region, including the premier’s plans to establish a gas sector supply base at James Price Point.

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Woodside announced on Tuesday it would seek approval from its Browse project joint venture partners for a floating development, a day after the state environmental approval for the now-abandoned onshore proposal was deemed invalid.

And later on Tuesday, Liberal leader Colin Barnett told a parliamentary committee he “wouldn’t anticipate major opposition from the Broome community” for a supply base at James Price Point.

But Peter Robertson of The Wilderness Society, which challenged the now discredited environmental approval, said Mr Barnett would have a battle on his hands.

“We will fight it all the way,” Mr Robertson told AAP.

While a supply base would have a lesser impact than a multi-user gas processing hub, it would still be “completely unacceptable” in an ecologically sensitive area.

The Premier is confident that much of the documentation from the original Browse environmental approval application will still stand, requiring a reasonably easy resubmission for the supply base plan.

He has suggested it wouldn’t take as long a second time around, also indicating an appeal against the Supreme Court decision was unlikely.

Mr Robertson says the state government risked the application being knocked back, throwing good taxpayer money after bad.

Alternatively, it would have to start from scratch, a suggestion Mr Barnett has already rejected.

Mr Robertson said the Premier had an unhealthy obsession with the Browse project and was trying to save face.

“It really is quite difficult the situation he’s got himself in.”

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Most troops home from Afghanistan by year’s end

The majority of Australian troops stationed in Afghanistan will be home by Christmas.

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Australia still has some 1600 troops in Afghanistan, most in Oruzgan province.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith says at least 1000 will return to Australia by the end of this year and the multinational base at Tarin Kot will close.

 

Amanda Cavill reports.

 

Australian forces operate from two camps within Tarin Kot, Camp Russell and Camp Holland.

Mr Smith says planning has now started to transfer all of Camp Russell and part of Camp Holland to the Afghan government by the end of 2013.

 

He says the decision by the International Security Assistance Force to draw down and close the multinational base was made after consultation with Australia and Afghan authorities.

From 2014, Australia will train, advise and assist the Afghan national security forces.

 

Mr Smith says defence personnel will continue to provide embedded headquarter’s staff, advisers at the Corps level and trainers at the Officer Academy in Kabul.

 

He says Australia remains prepared to make a special forces contribution into the future.

 

“After transition at the end of December 2014 we remain ready, willing and able to engage in training, particularly officer training, and we have also indicated that we would hold out the prospect of a special forces contribution under an appropriate mandate either for counter terrorism activities or for training. When the closure of multinational base Tarin Kot occurs in Oruzgan that will see an effective draw down and return to Australia of some one thousand troops.”

 

Defence Force chief General David Hurley says there are still decisions pending on the further use of special forces in Afghanistan.

 

He says in the meantime Australian troops will continue to train and advise Afghan army forces.

 

“Later this year we’ll commence with the United Kingdom with the training and education of the academy and that will run through 2014. We’ll continue with our embedded staff. There’s still the decision to be made about continued employment of the special forces element in Afghanistan pending the final determination of the nature of the mission and the troops that will be required in the mission post 2014. So those decisions lay ahead.”

 

General Hurley says the special operations task group will continue to conduct partnered combat operations to disrupt the insurgency.

 

Australian troops have been involved in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

 

Mr Smith says the troops have been there far too long.

 

“The easiest thing in the world to get in, hardest thing in the world to get out. We strongly supported, a strong cross parliament, bi-partisan support of the intervention in Afghanistan. So strong bi-partisan support to go in. A UN mandate to continue. the loss of five or six years as a result of the Iraq distraction which wasn’t subject to the UN mandate and then the easiest thing in the world to get in, hardest thing in the world to get out.”

 

Thirty-nine Australian soldiers have died in the conflict in Afghanistan.

 

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Asylum seeker seeks to join PNG legal case

A lone asylum seeker looking to join a constitutional challenge against his detention on Manus Island will have to wait until September for a decision from the Papua New Guinea courts.

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Rawed Reza, an Afghan asylum seeker who has been housed on Manus Island since January 4, wants to join the challenge mounted by PNG opposition leader Belden Namah to Australia’s tough new border policy.

Mr Namah’s lawyer, Loani Henao, on Tuesday applied to Justice Stephen Kassman to add Mr Reza to the list of applicants, and pushed to visit Mr Reza at the detention centre.

“We are seeking orders from the court to have access to the assessment centre at Lombrum Naval Base on Manus, to obtain instructions from Rawed Reza, one of the persons who is seeking settlement in Australia,” Mr Henao told the court.

Later, he told reporters Mr Reza was sent to Christmas Island in November last year.

“He’s been in Manus since January 4,” Mr Henao said.

“His wife and five-month-old son were killed in Afghanistan in December 2011.”

PNG has agreed to temporarily detain all asylum seekers who try to arrive in Australia by boat.

This is the second challenge against the centre brought by Mr Henao and Mr Namah – their first was dismissed two months ago after it was found the correct legal procedure wasn’t used.

At the time, the court ordered Mr Henao be allowed to go to the centre. However, Mr Henao said he was prevented by government officials from doing so.

When asked if email was the only way he had communicated with Mr Reza, Mr Henao replied, “That’s why we want to go and see him.”

The government was also ordered to present its response to the question of whether Mr Namah has the standing to bring the challenge.

Meanwhile the Australian government says it will continue to transfer detainees to Manus Island despite a similar challenge in the Australian courts.

PNG’s department of immigration has said it is considering fitting resettled asylum seekers into available jobs in the public and private sectors.

More details of how a potential resettlement scheme will work are expected at the end of the month.

There are currently 223 asylum seekers being housed on Manus Island.

The court will resume on September 10.

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Rio relies on iron ore for good numbers

Rio Tinto is expected to post a half-year profit of over $US4 billion this week, with strong iron ore sales to overcome predicted losses in other commodities.

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Analysts are predicting a massive $US4.5 billion ($A5.07 billion) in earnings from iron ore in the six months to June 30, which will be bigger than its overall profit for the same period.

Losses in its coal and aluminium segments are set to push overall underlying profit down 18 per cent from a year ago to $US4.2 billion ($A4.74 billion), according to a consensus analysts’ view.

Rio also faces an unknown amount of one-off writedowns that will reduce its bottom line.

Chief executive Sam Walsh took over from Tom Albanese in February, on the same day Rio announced $US14 billion in writedowns on its aluminium and African coal assets, which caused a $US3 billion annual loss.

The market is not expecting writedowns to be as large this time, but the company must still account for adverse events such as a collapsed wall that damaged a US copper mine, a higher tax rate, and the loss of a legal dispute with Gina Rinehart over royalties.

Fortunately for Rio, the iron ore spot price was better than expected during the first half of 2013, averaging above $US133 a tonne.

Rio also shipped a record 119 million tonnes of iron ore during that time.

But analysts have forecast losses in the company’s coal and aluminium divisions of $US27 million ($A30.45 million) and $US44 million ($A49.62 million) respectively.

Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Young said the investment community would focus on Rio’s ability to cut costs and capital expenditure guidance.

He predicts about 50 per cent of its $US2 billion cost cutting target for 2013 would have been achieved.

Further information on asset sales would be well received, Mr Young said, given Mr Walsh promised to aggressively pursue them.

An increase in Rio’s interim dividend of US83.5 cents a share from US72.5 cents is forecast, in line with its practice of paying half the previous year’s payout.

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