Vocus tumbles 30% after profit warning

Vocus Group shares plunged 30 per cent following the telco’s second profit warning in six months, as management grapple with a raft of problems following its rapid expansion.


The owner of internet providers dodo and iPrimus blamed the latest downgrade on a range of issues, including revenue delays on major project contracts and lower earnings from its recently launched New Zealand energy retail business.

Lower than forecast billings and higher staff and technology costs were also a factor.

In an announcement after Tuesday’s market close, Vocus warned its annual underlying earnings would fall by as much as 19 per cent, to between $365 million and $375 million.

In November the company downgraded earnings expectation to between $430 million to $450 million.

Underlying profit after tax could drop by as much as 26 per cent to between $160 million and $165 million, compared to its previous forecast of $205 million to $215 million.

Vocus also said annual revenue would be about $1.8 billion, down from its previous estimate of $1.9 billion.

The company has grown rapidly by buying national fibre telecom network Nextgen Networks, and rival M2 Group last year, plus Amcom Telecommunications in 2015.

Morningstar senior equity analyst Brian Han described the trading update as “distressing”, raising serious doubts about the group’s financial controls and systems.

“While steps are being taken to improve in these areas, it is abundantly clear Vocus has bitten off more than it can chew with its recent spate of mergers and acquisitions,” he said.

“Reporting and technology systems are woefully inadequate for what is a major player in the telecom big leagues.”

Financial services firm Patersons Securities said in a research note that Vocus’ $3.75 billion tie-up with M2 has “turned into something of a poison merger”, with Vocus losing more than two-thirds of its value in the past year.

Vocus shares dropped 30 per cent to a three-and-a-half year low of $2.35 during Wednesday’s session, and ended the day 91 cents weaker, or 27 per cent, at $2.44.

That slashed the group’s market value by $565 million to $1.5 billion.

Mongooses hide identity to survive

Killing of pups is common in mongoose social groups, and researchers believe offspring may do best if they hide which adults they are related to.


Concealing identity reduces the risk of attack by less-related adults, they say.

But it means mothers may not be able to tell pups apart, and therefore cannot pay special attention to their own young.

“In most species we would expect mothers to target care at their own offspring, but mongooses seem unable to do this,” said Dr Emma Vitikainen, of the University of Exeter.

“We think this is because mothers synchronise birth to the same day, and pups may have evolved to conceal their identity.

“In the banded mongoose infanticide is common, and it might be too dangerous for the pups to advertise which adults they are most closely related to, as this could expose them to spiteful behaviour by less-related group members.”

A system of adult “helpers” operates in mongoose groups, with adults often looking after pups that are not their own.

They do not choose which young to care for based on relatedness.

Dr Vitikainen added: “Intriguingly, we also found that female helpers tend to pair up with female pups, and male helpers with male pups.”

The study also found that females become more likely to act as helpers after they have given birth.

Professor Michael Cant, who leads the long-term study of banded mongooses in Uganda, said: “We know that, among adults, individuals can discriminate kin from non-kin when it comes to mating and evicting rivals from the group.

“But for pups that are vulnerable to infanticide, anonymity may be the best strategy for all.”

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

‘A lot at stake’: Turnbull on North Korea threat

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says there is a lot at stake on the threat of North Korea, as he prepares for his first face-to-face meeting with US President Donald Trump to discuss a response to Pyongyang’s missile tests.


Mr Turnbull is flying to New York for the highly-anticipated meeting on May 4 to discuss Kim Jong-un and the coalition campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister and US President will also mark commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

North Korea has publicly threatened Australia, warning if Canberra continued to follow the US’s moves to “isolate and stifle” the country it would be a “suicidal act of coming within the range of the nuclear strike of the strategic force of North Korea”.

In an exclusive interview with SBS News, Prime Minister Turnbull denounced the “enormous risks” Kim Jong–un’s regime has been unleashing with its “reckless and dangerous” conduct.


“There is a lot at stake,” the Prime Minister said.

But Mr Turnbull said he wanted to see a diplomatic resolution to the saga.

“All parties should aim to resolve matters diplomatically,” he said.

“The important thing is the dangerous, reckless and threatening conduct of North Korea comes to an end.”

The key player, he suggested, would be China in brokering any potential agreement.

“That is going to require a concerted effort by the nations with the most leverage over North Korea and of course nobody has more leverage than China,” Prime Minister Turnbull said.

“That is why I’ve said and the president has echoed this – the eyes of the world are on Beijing because Beijing has the overwhelming economic relationship over North Korea.”

Turnbull ‘speaks his mind’ to SBS ahead of US meeting with Trump

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China to launch own encyclopaedia to rival Wikipedia

China is under pressure to write its own encyclopaedia so it can guide public thought, according to a statement by the project’s executive editor Yang Muzhi published last month on the website of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


He once listed Wikipedia, which is available in China, and Britain’s Encyclopaedia Britannica as potential rivals and said the project aims to exceed them, according to an article he wrote late last year.

The project, which will be under the guidance of the state-owned China Publishing Group, “must have Chinese characteristics,” he wrote, adding it would be a “symbol of the country’s cultural and technological development” and increase its softpower and international influence.

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Unlike Wikipedia – and its Chinese version Baidu Baike – which are written by volunteers and are in a constant state of revision, the new project, which was approved in 2011, will be entirely written by professionals.

So far over 20,000 scholars and academics have been enlisted to compile the project, which aims to have more than 300,000 entries by its 2018 launch.

The new encyclopaedia will be based on a previous printed version, published in book form in 1993. A second edition, which can be accessed through a special terminal, was released in 2009.

The newest version will be released online before being published in a bound edition.

China has over 700 million internet users but a 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that the country had the most restrictive online use policies of 65 nations it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.

It has maintained that its various forms of web censorship – collectively known as “The Great Firewall” – are necessary for protecting its national security.

Sites blocked due to their content or sensitivity, among them Facebook and Twitter, cannot be accessed in China without special software that allows users to bypass the strict controls.

Beijing issued a new restriction for online freedoms, requiring Chinese Internet users to provide their real names when accessing online news sources.

The new restriction will come into effect on June 1.

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WA kids hospital lead not from ‘dead leg’

Brass fittings are the key source of lead leaching at the Perth Children’s Hospital, rather than the “dead leg” in the ring main, the state government says.


The West Australian government has released a technical report into the ongoing issue, partly disputing the findings of an independent report from the Building Commission last month, which found the most likely source of contamination was both the ring main pipes and the brass fittings.

Treasurer Ben Wyatt said the dead leg water pipe, which was removed as a precautionary measure in September, was unlikely to explain the ongoing lead problem.

“It’s unlikely to have been the dead leg to have been releasing through the sludge into the water prior to it being disconnected,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Mr Wyatt said there were also elevated levels of lead, zinc and copper in the dead leg, but not in the hospital.

He said the Jacobs Report, developed by the Department of Treasury’s hydraulic engineering adviser, was commissioned specifically for the water issue, while the Building Commission did not have all the information.

The Jacobs Report concluded that leaching from brass fittings within the hospital “potentially exacerbated by dezincification” was the source of elevated lead levels, attributing it to water sitting in the hospital’s pipes for months.

Health Minister Roger Cook said phosphate treatment to reduce lead levels would begin this week.

After the lead contamination is treated and the Chief Health Officer declares the water safe, the full commissioning will begin, which Mr Cook estimated could take up to 14 weeks.

He also insisted there was no risk to the public or staff at the wider Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre precinct.

Contractor John Holland has previously claimed lead came into the hospital from an outside source.

Powerful IS-claimed blast targets NATO convoy in Kabul

The explosion, which came during morning rush hour on a busy road near the US embassy and NATO headquarters, killed “mostly” civilians, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP without giving a breakdown.


NATO said three coalition service members had received “non-life threatening wounds” in the attack.

“[They] are in stable condition, and are currently being treated at coalition medical facilities,” a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan said, without confirming their nationalities.

IS claimed responsibility for the blast via its Amaq propaganda agency, saying the eight dead were all American soldiers. The militants are known to exaggerate their claims.

Related reading

The attack comes three weeks after the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on the jihadist group’s hideous in eastern Afghanistan.

NATO commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said the strike, which triggered global shockwaves, showed there was “no space” for IS in the war-torn country. 

Monday’s attack comes as the US seeks to craft a new strategy in Afghanistan and NATO mulls boosting troop levels as they face a “stalemate” against the resurgent Taliban. 

The blast, which IS said was a suicide car bomb and NATO said was an improvised explosive device (IED), damaged two of the heavily armoured vehicles in the convoy and left a small crater in the road, witnesses and an AFP photographer said.

MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles, which are designed to withstand large explosions, are routinely used by international forces moving around Kabul. 

At least three civilian cars were also damaged, with one ablaze, while windows were shattered up to several hundred metres away. Firefighters and ambulances rushed stunned survivors to hospital.

Nicholson has said the US decision to drop the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast on IS hideouts in Nangarhar province last month was a “very clear message” to the group: “If they come to Afghanistan they will be destroyed”.

Some observers have condemned the move against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat to Afghanistan as the Taliban. Others suggested it would boost the Taliban, who have been in a turf war with IS in Nangarhar.

The weapon, dubbed the “Mother of All Bombs”, killed at least 95 jihadists, according to the Afghan defence ministry, but fighting in the area has continued. 

Last week, two US troops were killed in an operation against IS near where the bomb was dropped. The Pentagon has said it is investigating if they were killed by friendly fire.

Watch: Eight dead in Kabul blast

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Pentagon chief Jim Mattis warned of “another tough year” for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan when he visited Kabul last month.

He would not be drawn on calls by Nicholson for a “few thousand” more troops to break the “stalemate” against the Taliban insurgents.

But NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a German newspaper Sunday that the 28-nation alliance was considering boosting its troop strength once more given the “challenging” security situation. 

The US has around 8400 troops in the country with about another 5000 from NATO allies. Most are taking part in NATO’s train, assist and advise mission, though some are also carrying out counter-terror missions targeting IS and Al-Qaeda.

First emerging in 2015, ISIS-K overran large parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, near the Pakistan border, but their part in the Afghan conflict had been largely overshadowed by the operations against the Taliban.

Captain Bill Salvin, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said the local IS presence peaked at between 2500 to 3000 but that defections and recent battlefield losses had reduced their number to a maximum of 800.

“We have a very good chance of destroying them in 2017,” Salvin told AFP recently.

Afghan forces have been straining to beat back the Taliban insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.

With more than one third of Afghanistan outside of government control, civilians also continue to bear a heavy brunt, with thousands killed and wounded each year and children paying an increasingly disproportionate price, according to UN figures.

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Smith deals with unfamiliar AFL territory

Midfielder Isaac Smith has entered unfamiliar territory in his AFL career as Hawthorn deal with a succession of heavy losses.


But he knows enough to realise if catastrophic change is coming, it won’t be pretty.

Since his 2011 debut, Smith has played in three premierships and he boasts a 75 per cent win-loss record.

The number 75 was St Kilda’s winning margin over Hawthorn on Sunday, which prompted coach Alastair Clarkson to warn of potential catastrophic change at the club.

The Hawks are in crisis with a 1-5 record, which also features 86-point losses to Gold Coast and Geelong.

“I’m guessing in footy clubs, when teams aren’t playing too well, the players go fast and then, if the rot keeps going, then the whole club changes – a shake-up,” he told RSN.

“Footy doesn’t wait for anyone – history shows that if you keep losing and keep losing badly, the whole club gets turned upside down.”

Smith has backed Hawthorn’s abilities – on the rare occasion they’ve been brought to an AFL match.

He noted on Thursday they have also shown signs of life this season.

“We beat West Coast the other week and beat them really well, so it shows when we bring it, we can play well,” he said.

“We’re the only side to be up by four or five goals against Adelaide with 10 minutes to go in the third.

“We’re just not bringing it at the moment.”

They now play Melbourne, who are coming off a strong win over Essendon and are 3-3.

Hawks great Jordan Lewis will be the focus of attention at the MCG on Sunday when he plays against them for the first time.

“Most people who’ve played against Lewy know he has a bit of lip on him and he’s a bit of a character out there,” Smith said.

“Lewy’s going to be pretty fired up, but we’re going to be pretty fired up as well, so it’s going to be a nice contest.”

NZ refuse to be intimidated by Kangaroos

Veteran Simon Mannering admits New Zealand have been overawed by Mal Meninga and his all-conquering Australian team.


Not this time.

Friday’s Test between the Kiwis and Kangaroos is shaping as a battle of wills and minds, something 41-Test stalwart Mannering says the New Zealanders have struggled to get right.

The Kangaroos are hot favourites for Friday’s trans-Tasman clash in Canberra as well as the end-of-season World Cup, but some of aura has been taken away from the side in recent time.

Paul Gallen and Corey Paker are retired, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott are missing due to injury and Johnathan Thurston is racing the clock to overcome a calf iproblem.

The Kiwis are fielding an all-star spine of Warriors quartet Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke.

Lock and Dally M co-winner Jason Taumalolo is arguably the best player in the game – having averaged more than 200m for North Queensland this year.

All of this has served to feed into the belief of the Kiwis side as they attempt to win just their third mid-season trans-Tasman Test since 1997.

“You just look at the results. When you’ve had a number of results go against you, it’s hard not to have that doubt there,” Mannering said.

“That’s definitely a thing of the past. You put it to one side.

“But it’s one things having that strong team on paper. You’ve got to have that belief and take it on the field.”

The Kiwis were buoyed by three straight wins over Australia in the 2014 Four Nation and 2015 trans-Tasman Test but haven’t beaten the Kangaroos in their four attempts since.

For the Kiwis, Mannering’s Warriors teammates Foran, Johnson, Luke and Tuivasa-Sheck shape as key having honed their combination over the past five rounds.

For years the Kiwis have always performed better during long tournaments, getting better as they get time together under their belts while in one-off matches have seemed to lack the same cohesion.

But Kidwell’s side is growing in its consistency and will only improve if they’re able to field the same side more regularly.

“It always helped when you do have regular faces in the side,” Mannering said.

“We’ve probably had that for the last few years now. We saw that in 2015 when we had a pretty consistent team and managed to get a result against a tough Australian team.

“Everyone is pretty familiar with each other and we have some combinations there with the nine, six, seven and one all being at the same club (the Warriors) but at the end of the day it’s not going to get us the win.”

Kanaks hesitant to sever French connection

It is a weekly ritual in the heart of New Caledonia’s capital Noumea.


Young indigenous Kanaks release their frustrations through music and dance on the main square, Place des Cocotiers.

Andre Fatoumaou is a singer and beatboxer.

As a French citizen, he says he feels less than equal.

“Yes, yes, there’s a two-tiered system.”

It is a tension lying just below the surface in New Caledonia, with security fears over so-called “delinquents,” the term used to describe young, socially disaffected Kanaks.

An independence referendum due in this French territory next year came with a pledge from France 30 years ago to level out the inequalities resulting from 160 years of colonisation.

But young Kanaks still struggle to find jobs, and Andre Fatoumaou says, when they do, it is often in low-skilled occupations.

“It’s about appearance – ‘Oh, you’re a Kanak, we don’t want you’ – because it’s always the cliches.”

The French government has invested heavily in education, but the French MP for New Caledonia, Phillippe Gomes, admits Kanaks’ results are well below national standards.

In France, the high school completion rate in 2016 was 88.5 per cent.

Kanaks achieved about 50 per cent, up from 15 per cent 30 years ago.

Mr Gomes says it cannot be a quick process.

“A journey has been achieved, but you can’t complete a journey like this in only one generation.”

While many young Kanaks have fallen through the cracks in the system, there have been improvements for others.

Charles Washetine, spokesman for the Kanak Liberation Party, one of the main independence groups, makes that clear.

“We don’t have to stigmatise all the young Kanaks, because there are others that have achieved something with their lives.”

French migrants and long-term settlers are in the majority on this Pacific island, living a European lifestyle.

Kanaks, who make up about 40 per cent of the population, were once confined to reserves.

Mr Gomes, the French MP, says, today, they are over-represented in the prison population.

“Our country has failed on this subject, and it’s true that, today, we are now paying the price for it.”

Suspicions remain high on both sides.

And Andre Fatoumaou, the beatboxer, has a warning.

“Everyone has to be in the same boat, or, otherwise, we won’t get independence.”

“… this morning … wah … That’s right. Okay … My name is Andre … Goodbye, everybody.”


Greens largely backing Coalition school funding plan

The Turnbull Government plans to inject $19 billion into schools over the next decade.


Over 9,000 schools would benefit, while just 24 private schools would lose money.

A further 350 schools would receive a funding boost, but less money than they were expecting under previous deals.

And the Catholic education sector is complaining many of its schools would lose out after what it has said is a lack of consultation.

The director of Catholic Education in Canberra, Ross Fox, says it could affect schools’ fees.

“Yesterday, the Minister and the Prime Minister announced a plan that will see pressure on Catholic school fees and, therefore, will reduce the choice that parents have in choosing a school for their kids.”

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has rejected that criticism, saying Catholic schools would be funded the same way as any other private school under the plan.

“Unsurprisingly, people who didn’t get everything they asked for might sometimes complain about the consultation. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t consultation. It just means that we are not going to continue with a system that is based on special deals for one state or another state, one sector or another sector. Our proposal is to treat every school fairly, equitably, under the same terms, regardless of their background, regardless of their school sector, regardless of their faith.”

In the next four years, non-government schools would get a funding increase of $1.2 billion, while government schools would get $2.2 billion.

But Labor is accusing the Government of actually cutting funds from education, because the total amount is less than what Labor promised when it was in power.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek says the Government is using the name of David Gonski, who led the committee behind Labor’s plan, to sell a worse deal now.

Mr Gonski has stood with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the new plan, but she says the reality about the plan remains.

“This education funding cut announcement is the new Coke of education announcements. This is taking a trusted brand and using that to cover up an inferior product, a product that no Australian parent will buy.”

The Greens say they want to see more details but are cautiously supporting the changes.

Greens leader Richard di Natale has welcomed the funding cut for some wealthy private schools on the east coast.

“If that means making sure that a tennis court doesn’t get built, or an extra swimming pool doesn’t get built, or another set of rowing sheds doesn’t get built in a wealthy private school, so that our public schools get the facilities and infrastructure that they need to give kids the best start in life, well, we’ll do that.”

But there was less enthusiasm from the Government’s state Liberal colleagues in New South Wales.

The state’s education minister, Rob Stokes, has threatened court action to protect the funding the state negotiated with the previous Labor Government.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says her Government is not backing down.

“New South Wales doesn’t shy away from the fact that we expect the original agreements and funding arrangements we signed up to to be delivered. And that’s a position we’ll continue to advocate. So we were very pleased to be the first state to sign up to the Gonski agreements, and we will continue to ensure those agreements are honoured. And, we’ve articulated that publicly and privately to our colleagues over a number of occasions and will continue to do that, and that’s something we won’t digress from.”