Fortescue Metals flags dividend boost

Fortescue Metals is likely to join mining giant Rio Tinto in raising dividends as the price of iron ore remains elevated.

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The miner’s chief executive Nev Power said on Tuesday that with the company enjoying strong margins on the back of improved iron ore prices, it needs to balance returns for debt holders and shareholders.

“We flagged at the time of the interim dividend that we would be reviewing the payout ratio at the time of final dividend. The board will consider this in two weeks,” he said on the on the sidelines of the Diggers and Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Fortescue currently has a payout ratio of 30 to 40 per cent of net profit, and declared a sharply higher interim dividend of 20 cents a share in February, representing 38 per cent of profit.

Earlier this month, Rio Tinto paid a record interim dividend after its underlying half year profit more than doubled due to stronger commodity prices.

The higher returns reflect a reluctance among big miners to splash money on new mines or businesses, and come on the back of higher but volatile prices of the steel making ingredient, helped by rising demand from China’s steel industry.

Iron ore currently trades around $US75 per tonne.

“The Chinese steel industry has maintained production consistently around 800 million tonnes and we believe it will do that for decades to come,” Mr Power said.

He attributed the recent volatility in the iron ore price to significantly larger stocks at Chinese ports in recent months, but said he expects those stocks to taper over the next 6-12 months and reduce some of that volatility.

The miner last month said it expects to trim costs further this financial year and is targeting steady iron ore shipments in 2017/18.

Fortescue will release full-year results on August 21.

Its shares dropped 10 cents, or 1.7 per cent, to $5.77 on Tuesday.

UN warns of ‘escalating crisis’ on Manus Island after death

The United Nations is warning of an escalating crisis on Manus Island after the death of a refugee.

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it is gravely concerned by deteriorating conditions at the Manus Island regional processing centre as authorities shuffle detainees around ahead of its October closure.

“The UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic death of a young refugee yesterday, which also highlights the precarious situation for vulnerable people on Manus Island,” the agency said on Tuesday.

An Iranian refugee with a history of mental illness took his own life in the township of Lorengau on Monday before he was due to move from detention into the Papua New Guinean community.

Refugee advocates have described the man’s suicide as a preventable tragedy.

The refugees in #Manus are calling for an independent investigation into Hamed’s death. The refugees argue that its suspicious.

— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) August 8, 2017

Tensions are high on Manus Island, with water and electricity cut off to some compounds at the centre as demolition works gather steam.

The UN believes the looming closure of the processing centre, along with the withdrawal of medical care, torture and trauma support and security services, is exacerbating a highly stressful situation for those on the island.

The agency says many of the nearly 800 refugees on Manus Island fear for their safety outside the centre following violent incidents in recent years.

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Greens senator Nick McKim tried to disrupt parliament on Tuesday to label Manus Island and Nauru unsafe and demand the immediate evacuation of all refugees.

The situation on Manus Island was becoming more dire and dangerous by the hour, he said.

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“The only safe place for these people is to be evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru and brought here to Australia,” he told senators.

Senator McKim read aloud the names of eight people who have died while in offshore detention since 2013, before pausing for a minute’s silence.

Cabinet minister Michaelia Cash labelled his move “way worse than disgusting”.

The UN insists critical services on Manus Island must continue, warning any further reduction of fundamental supports for refugees and asylum-seekers would add to the serious health and security risks of detainees.

The Iranian refugee’s death is being investigated by PNG authorities.

Adding to tensions on Manus Island and Nauru is the release of a leaked transcript of Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump discussing a people-swap deal in January.

The prime minister assured the new president the US was not obliged to accept a single refugee, needing only to process those held in detention to honour the bargain.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.

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60th anniversary of Japan-Aust trade ties

Former prime minister John Howard has hailed the foresight of Australia and Japan’s post-WWII leaders in putting the bitterness of conflict behind them to build trade ties.

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It’s 60 years since Robert Menzies and his Japanese counterpart Nobusuke Kishi – the grandfather of current leader Shinzo Abe – signed the Japan-Australia commerce agreement.

Mr Howard and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo are marking the anniversary at a function with the Japanese Ambassador Sumio Kusaka in Canberra on Tuesday.

Menzies and Kishi signed the deal only 12 years after the end of WWII – a conflict in which Australia had come under attack from the Japanese on home soil on multiple occasions.

Australian soldiers also fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands.

“This was no mean feat,” Mr Howard said of the deal.

“Many members of the coalition government at the time, such as Reginald Schwartz, a senior minister and Alick Downer, father of Australia’s longest serving foreign minister, had been prisoners of war.”

He noted some sections of the Returned Services League opposed the agreement, along with the Labor Party as well as some parts of Australian industry.

“The trade relationship between Australia and Japan immeasurably strengthened our countries’ economic performance over the following decades,” Mr Howard said, adding that it was only in 2008 that China surpassed Japan as Australia’s principal export market.

Mr Ciobo said existing Australia’s economic relationship with Japan was the result of a “grand vision” and “remarkable political bravery”.

“Free trade and open markets are the ticket to prosperity and key to driving future jobs and growth,” he said.

Australia and Japan reached a free trade deal in 2014.

Boyd praised for heart as AFL end looms

Captain Bob Murphy has hailed Matthew Boyd as the self-confessed grump who shone brightest when times were toughest at the Western Bulldogs.

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Boyd is the latest AFL veteran to announce his impending retirement, humbly saying he is embarrassed to be calling it quits at the same time as Luke Hodge, Nick Riewoldt and Sam Mitchell.

But Boyd’s career stacks up in comparison – former captain, three-time All-Australian, three-time club best-and-fairest winner, premiership player.

With 291 games, he holds the record among rookie-drafted players.

Starting on the rookie list meant Boyd did it tough and he developed a well-earned reputation for his intense, driven character.

“The real man is much more rounded than that,” Murphy said.

“The grumpiness is now kind of his badge of honour, but it’s something we tease him with.

“It’s exaggerated, because he has such a big heart and a genuine care for people and this place.

“You can still see the claws occasionally and he has been my attack dog.”

Boyd was a key member of last year’s premiership team, only two years after the club was on its knees – again.

“We’ve gone through a lot of tough times and you need people with the steady hand,” Murphy said.

“When things are at their absolute worst, that’s when Matty is at his absolute best.”

But there was no avoiding that grumpiness on Tuesday, much to everyone’s amusement.

With wife Kate and their three children Chloe, Asher and James looking on, Boyd noted in his retirement speech that their elder daughter had picked up on Dad’s serious side.

“She (Chloe) knows the day before a game, because she says ‘Dad, you’re even more grumpy than usual’,” Boyd said.

He still sometimes pinches himself about last year’s historic flag, but Boyd is also proud about how he has handled himself since.

Boyd has no regrets about going on for another season, even though he has managed only nine games and will miss Friday night’s blockbuster against GWS as he nurses a leg injury.

“I feel really fulfilled with my career, given the year I’m going through now,” he said.

“I’ve been able to handle myself in the right sort of way and let my character show through and handle myself with integrity.

“That makes me feel really good about my career.”

MATTHEW BOYD:

* DOB: 27/8/82 (34)

* No.23 selection in the 2002 rookie draft

* 2003 AFL debut, 291 games (most by a rookie-drafted player)

* 2016 premiership player

* Captain 2011-13

* Three-time All-Australian

* Three-time club best-and-fairest winner

Protest against uni cuts taken to streets

Hundreds of protesters have rallied at events across Australia challenging the federal government’s “deeply flawed” cuts to higher education.

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In Melbourne police watched on as about 200 university students and staff met outside the city’s state library on Tuesday before marching down Swanston Street for a sit in.

The group chanted “no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities” and held up “education is a right, not a privilege” banners and placards as part of the hour-long National Tertiary Education Union demonstration.

The union had called for Australia-wide protests on university campuses in addition to planned National Union of Students rallies in cities centres.

“If the government’s higher education reform package passes the Senate, there will be an immediate detrimental impact on staff and students through job losses, bigger class sizes, less course choice, more support services cut and even more employment insecurity,” NTEU president Jeannie Rea said.

“We are meeting on campuses because we also have a message for our university managements.

“Hard-working staff have had enough of being treated as a soft target every time there are calls for ‘belt tightening’ or ‘budget repair’.”

The Turnbull government wants to impose a 2.5 per cent “efficiency dividend” on universities in 2018 and 2019.

It also plans to increase student fees by up to $3600 over a four-year degree and link a portion of university funding to performance and transparency measures.

Under this plan, the government argues real per-student funding will be $18,958 in 2018 compared with $17,623 in 2009, when all universities had surpluses, or $18,024 in 2011, when all but Central Queensland University did.