Drought killed off Tasmanian tiger: study

Drought was to blame for the extinction of Tasmanian tigers from the Australian mainland, a new study by the University of Adelaide has found.

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Using DNA from fossil bones and museum specimens, the report says drought caused by the onset of El Nino weather patterns was the likely cause of the tiger’s demise.

“The ancient DNA tells us that the mainland extinction was rapid, and not the result of intrinsic factors such as inbreeding or loss of genetic diversity,” researcher Lauren White said.

Ms White said tigers lived in western regions of Australia right up to their extinction from the mainland around 3000 years ago.

The researcher said the reasons for the tiger’s disappearance but continuing survival in Tasmania until the 1930s had remained a scientific mystery.

Previous theories include the introduction of dingoes and an increased Indigenous population.

But professor Jeremy Austin, said both groups went through a population crash at the same time and with no dingoes in Tasmania at the time and minimal population, weather was the most likely cause.

“Tasmania would have been somewhat shielded from the warmer, drier climate because of its higher rainfall but it appears that this population was also affected by the El Nino event before starting to recover,” Mr Austin said.

The animal survived in Tasmania after European settlement but the local government offered a bounty for tigers claiming the animal was attacking sheep.

The last wild Tasmanian tiger was shot by a farmer in 1930 and the last in captivity died in 1936.

There have been numerous unconfirmed sighting ever since the animal was declared extinct.

Late caesareans linked to preterm births

Emergency caesarean sections performed when a woman is fully dilated during labour may raise the risk of premature births in later pregnancies.

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A study of hundreds of Australian women who had two consecutive births between 1989 and 2015 found caesareans at full dilation was associated with a two-fold risk of a subsequent spontaneous preterm birth.

The findings are published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Since premature births pose a risk to newborn babies, the researchers say mums who have caesareans at full dilation – when the cervix has dilated to 10cm – should be closely monitored.

“Preterm birth is a multifaceted public health concern for which many risk factors are still unknown,” says study co-author Dr Joanne Ludlow, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Royal Prince Alfred hospital.

“Our study has shown a statistically significant two-fold increase in the rate of spontaneous preterm birth among women who had a fully dilated caesarean section compared with caesarean section in the first stage of labour,” Dr Ludlow said.

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus and connects the uterus to the vagina. During pregnancy its job is to stay closed and only open at the end of the pregnancy.

When the cervix has become fully dilated in labour it kind of merges with the uterus and a caesarean runs the risk of causing potential trauma to the structure because it’s harder to identify, explains RPA obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Bradley d Vries.

“When you do a caesarean section when the cervix is fully dilated sometimes when you do the cut in the uterus it might extend down to the cervix and then that could cause some damage to the cervix. So in the future pregnancy it might not function so well,” Dr d Vries said.

To investigate the risks it may cause for future pregnancies researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study of 2672 women done over a 25-year period (1989-2015) who had an emergency caesarean section.

Eighty per cent of these women (2142) had a caesarean section during the first stage of labour and 20 per cent (533) at full dilation of the cervix (10cm).

The rates of spontaneous preterm birth in a subsequent pregnancy were 1.7 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively.

While pre-term births were twice as common among those women who’d had a previous caesarean at full dilation, the overall risk is small, says Dr d Vries.

Time running out for asylum seeker claims

The federal government continues to cop flak over its treatment of asylum seekers as a deadline looms for hundreds of people to claim protection in Australia.

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Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has given thousands of asylum seekers who arrived by boat between late 2012 and early 2014 an October 1 deadline to “lodge it or leave.”

The government is concerned “fake refugees” are bleeding taxpayers of welfare dollars, and may have lived in the community for years without a proper analysis of their backgrounds.

Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim believes the deadline, which will expire this Sunday, is unreasonable and unfair.

Senator McKim claims the cut-off date continues a pattern of treating vulnerable people seeking asylum with contempt and cruelty.

“This is another sorry chapter in his long record of trying to overturn due process and the rule of law,” he told AAP on Thursday.

“We urge everyone potentially affected who has not yet received legal advice to contact the legal supports available as soon as they can.”

More than 6000 people have applied since the cut-off date was announced in May, but about 600 asylum seekers are yet to submit their paperwork.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre acting principal lawyer Noosheen Mogadam said those who had not yet lodged applications faced an uphill battle.

“They need to make themselves known and we will endeavour to assist them where we can,” Ms Mogadam told AAP.

The immigration department has indicated it will deal swiftly with those who do not apply, considering it an indication the person no longer intends to seek protection in Australia.

Those who do not apply and do not make arrangements to leave Australia may be detained and removed from the country.

Mr Dutton, who is in London for a series of counter-terror meetings, has been contacted for comment.

Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann praised the lawyers who handled an influx of applications.

“For some asylum seekers, the Turnbull government only lifted the bar to make an application late last year and many have been on waiting lists to receive legal assistance,” Mr Neumann said.

“I commend those in the legal and not-for-profit sectors who have provided legal assistance and helped asylum seekers lodge their applications before the deadline.”

Beach Energy buys Origin assets for $1.6b

Kerry Stokes-backed Beach Energy has agreed to pay $1.

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585 billion for Origin Energy’s conventional oil and gas exploration business in a deal that will double its market value.

The Lattice Energy acquisition will also triple Beach’s oil & gas reserves to 232 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe), and production in the 2018 financial year is now expected to more than double to between 25 and 27 mmboe.

Beach Energy chief executive Matt Kay says the “transformational” acquisition will deliver a diverse asset portfolio and provide material value growth for shareholders.

“It establishes Beach as a major supplier of gas to domestic markets, and provides a step-change in production, operating capabilities and geographic exposure,” he said said in a statement.

Beach, whose biggest shareholder is the Kerry Stokes-owned Seven Group Holdings, had been rumoured to be a suitor for the assets since Origin hived them into the Lattice business in December 2016.

The deal covers oil & gas projects in the Otway, Cooper, Bass and Bonaparte basins, as well as an interest in the Perth Basin.

It also includes stakes in the Kupe gas project and the Canterbury basin in New Zealand.

Cooper Basin-focused Beach completed an all-stock takeover of smaller rival Drillsearch Energy in 2016, amid an extended downturn in oil prices.

On Thursday, it announced a three-for-14 rights share offer to raise $301 million, with the balance to be funded through syndicated debt facilities.

Shares are to be sold at 75 cents each, a 9.1 per cent discount to the 82.5 cents closing price on Wednesday.

Beach shares are currently in a trading halt.

Seven Group will subscribe to $68 million of the capital raising, taking its stake in Beach to 25.73 per cent, from 22.73 per cent now.

The Lattice sale settles efforts by Origin Energy to streamline its business and reduce debt as part of efforts to bolster its finances.

Origin’s balance sheet had been stretched by the development of the $26 billion Australia Pacific liquefied natural gas project in Queensland, which has forced it to raise equity, slash jobs and suspend dividends.

The company had pledged to divest Lattice by the end of 2017, either through a trade sale or an IPO float.

On Thursday, it said the proceeds from the sale will be used to pay down debt, putting it on track to cut net debt to below $7 billion by June 2018.

Origin will retain its 37.5 per cent stake in APLNG, exploration interests in Ironbark, Browse and Beetaloo basins, and its power generation and retailing business.

The company said it had retained access to a significant portion of Lattice’s future east coast gas production through long-term gas supply agreements.

Morgans analyst called the deal a great result for Origin, but said it was hard to see an upside for Beach.

“Beach has agreed to pay a heavy price to pick up these assets, given all of the upside has been removed by Origin having recently contracted all of the east coast gas back to itself at a fixed below-market gas price,” he said in a note.

By 1432 AEST, Origin shares were up 0.9 per cent at $7.52 each.

US slashes number of refugees for resettlement

The decision will disappoint refugee advocates and United Nations agencies, which are struggling to cope with millions displaced by several major wars.

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In the 2016 fiscal year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees from around the world. This year it is on course to take in about 50,000.

The US is still the world’s biggest destination for refugees, but arrivals are well down from a high of more than 200,000 in 1980.

And President Donald Trump has made no secret of his hostility to resettlement, having ordered a moratorium on new arrivals and tougher background checks.

Officials said they plan to complete a review of security procedures for vetting new arrivals by next month, but arrivals next year will be reduced.

“The security and safety of the American people is our chief concern,” a senior US official told reporters on a call to announce the new figure.

“We need to ensure refugee resettlement opportunities go to those who are eligible for such protection and who are not known to present a risk to the safety or the security of our country.” 

Those who are accepted for resettlement in the United States are selected by the United Nations refugee agency from among the most vulnerable displaced people.

Widows with children, the elderly and the disabled are given priority and subjected to a thorough screening process by US security and intelligence agencies.

The process takes between 18 months and two years, and only then are the refugees assigned to resettlement agencies working under contract with the State Department.

The agencies help families find housing and employment, mainly in small and medium cities around the United States. 

Nevertheless, Trump has ordered a security review to further tighten procedures, slowing acceptances.

The International Refugee Assistance Project, part of the New York-based Urban Justice Center, condemned the announcement as a case of the United States abdicating its leadership role on humanitarian issues at time when the world is grappling with the largest number of refugees since World War II.

“Resettlement is only an option in the most urgent refugee cases,” Betsy Fisher, IRAP’s policy director, said.

“It’s hard to comprehend why the administration would move to limit resettlement, when the need is greater than ever. We are abandoning desperate people in life-or-death situations, including children with medical emergencies, US wartime allies, and survivors of torture.”

The employed drink at ‘riskier’ levels

Employed people are more inclined to regularly drink riskier levels of alcohol than the unemployed, data suggests.

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New analysis of the National Drug Household Survey 2016, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, has highlighted a trend between alcohol consumption and employment.

While the unemployed are more likely to use methamphetamine, twice as likely to use cannabis or smoke daily, employed people are more likely to use cocaine and regularly consume ‘risky’ levels of alcohol.

The data found more employed people fall in the category of ‘lifetime risky’ drinkers – that is they drink two or more drinks per day on average, says AIHW spokesperson Mathew James.

“The percentage of employed people drinking at that level is 21 per cent, unemployed people 16.5 per cent,” said Mr James.

Also, one in three (32.9 per cent) employed people drank five or more drinks on a single occasion at least every month over a 12 months period, higher than the unemployed at 26.9 per cent.

“The only one on alcohol consumption where the unemployed is slightly higher, but the difference wouldn’t be significant, is the proportion of unemployed people who would drink 11 or more drinks at least monthly,” Mr James told AAP.

“This was a bit higher for the unemployed, but generally speaking you don’t really see that pattern for alcohol consumption its really the illicit drugs and not all the illicit drugs either,” he said.

Overall, the survey of 24,000 Australians conducted in late 2016, shows fewer Australians are drinking to excess than in 2013, with 83 per cent of people drinking moderately or abstaining.

Earlier this week, health experts called on Australians to reduce their alcohol consumption to reduce the burden of cancer.

The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risk from Drinking Alcohol suggest that an adult should drink no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the lifetime risk of harm attributed to alcohol.

Senator Cory Bernardi defends gay marriage robo-calls

Conservative senator Cory Bernardi has defended targeting millions of homes with robo-calls urging people to vote ‘no’ in the same-sex marriage postal survey.

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But he has simultaneously attacked as an invasion of privacy bulk text messages sent out by marriage equality advocates urging Australians to vote ‘yes’.

“Taking the poll of an electorate or doing some market research is a time-honoured political technique and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Senator Bernardi told Sky News on Thursday.

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“This is just polling an electorate – it’s stock in trade of any political business – and it’s not invasive like sending text messages to unlisted numbers or to 12-year-olds telling them how to vote.”

In a copy of the phone call recording published by Nine News, the senator tells households in Victoria and South Australia that same-sex marriage is a recipe for division.

He goes on to add that it would remove gender from all areas of society including schools.

“As a parent, I am deeply concerned about how changing the marriage act will affect families and children,” he says.

0:00 ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ vote ramp up postal survey campaigns Share ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ vote ramp up postal survey campaigns

“Ultimately this is a question about parents’ rights.”

Senator Bernardi then outlines concerns about “radical gay sex education” and gender ideology programs before asking people to indicate how they’ll vote in the survey by using their keypads.

“For some reason people feel that their mobiles are more personal space,” he said of the apparent distinction between the unsolicited calls and text messages.

“To have randomly generated numbers and have people targeting or telling you what to do through that seems to have upset a great many people.”

Twitter finds the furore over Macklemore’s same-sex marriage anthem absolutely hilarious

It was announced at the beginning of September that Grammy Award-winning US musician Macklemore would be headlining the half-time show at the NRL Grand Final this weekend.

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Obviously, the singer would be expected to play his biggest hits – which includes his 2013 #1 hit, ‘Same Love’, a hugely popular track that advocates for the equality of LGBTQIA+ people. It was recorded in 2012, in the lead up to the United States legalising same-sex marriage.

Since the announcement, Australia has become embroiled in a national debate over the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and so, many ‘No’ voters are unhappy that Macklemore is singing a song that is pro-LGBTQIA+ and pro-same-sex marriage at the Grand Final. 

This includes former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who tweeted, “Footy fans shouldn’t be subjected to a politicised grand final. Sport is sport!”.

A petition asking for the “removal of LGBTIQ politics out of the awesome sport of Rugby League” has also been created by former NRL player Tony Wall.

The petition, which has been backed by the Coalition for Marriage, reads, “It will be very difficult to watch the NRL Grand Final with my wife and five young children as the event will be heavily politicised with a LGBTIQ anthem taking centre stage.”

While Macklemore has already publicly responded to the complaints (“I’m gonna go harder, I’m going to love”), ‘Yes’ voters have spent their time making jokes about the furore on Twitter.

Can straight people settle down and stop calling a Macklemore song from 2013 a “LGBTQ anthem”??? We’re not talking Carly Rae Jepsen here.

— mat whitehead (@matwhi) September 27, 2017The stock photo on the petition to ban Macklemore from performing the NRL grand final is truly stunning pic南京夜生活,/09JokE7Di4

— Sally Rugg 🏳️‍🌈 (@sallyrugg) September 28, 2017Tony Abbott gonna kneel during the Macklemore song

— DANNY DORITO (@brah_dawg) September 27, 2017should i threaten to shirtfront macklemore

— Aus Gov Just Googled (@GovGoogles) September 27, 2017Yeah mates, that Macklemore song is too political, get him out of the NRL Grand Final! Get Cold Chisel on to play Khe Sanh instead!

— Andrew (@andrew_54) September 27, 2017I also oppose Macklemore performing at the NRL grand final —Tegan & Sara would have been much better

— Lane Sainty (@lanesainty) September 27, 2017I heard Macklemore’s Same Love today and incredibly it didn’t turn me gay so i’m looking forward to hearing it in person on Sunday #NRLGF

— James (@JamesK_1312) September 27, 2017

Others brought up the strangeness of the situation, particularly seeing Attorney-General George Brandis call Tony Abbott’s opposition to the performance “bizarre”, and explaining the popularity of the song ‘Same Love’ to him on ABC TV:

George Brandis explaining Macklemore’s discology to Tony Abbott on morning television. What a time to be alive.

— Michael Koziol (@michaelkoziol) September 27, 2017

Others wanted the backlash to stop – for a variety of reasons:

We’ve seen the culture wars do some awful things but ‘force the left to endorse Macklemore’ might be the worst among them.

— Colley (@JamColley) September 27, 2017Omg @TonyAbbottMHR STOP EMBARRASSING US IN FRONT OF @macklemore. #samelove#marriageequality#VoteYes

— Carrie 🌈 (@flamingo_a_gogo) September 27, 2017Macklemore is the George Clooney Batman for the Aus queer community: the hero we neither deserve nor want

— Patrick Lenton (@PatrickLenton) September 27, 2017I agree in principle with the banning of Macklemore at public events but not because he has a pro-SSM song

— Vince Rugari (@VinceRugari) September 27, 2017

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Crows will again adopt anthem stare

Adelaide players will again adopt the so-called Crows stare during the national anthem before the AFL grand final.

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And they couldn’t give two hoots what anyone else thinks about it.

The Crows travelled to Melbourne on Thursday, ahead of Saturday’s grand final against Richmond, adamant they were not disrespecting the anthem.

Adelaide’s players have stood in a trance-like state, staring at their opponents, during the anthem before their two previous finals this season.

The unusual stance has prompted much debate from outside the club.

But Adelaide’s chief executive Andrew Fagan puts the talking point down to one thing: an insatiable “thirst for content when it comes to the AFL”.

Fagan said the Crows stare was simply a tool for his players to deal with the national anthem.

“We want to prepare for the game, to be ready and focused,” Fagan said.

“And we have worked out something that has done that for us for the last couple of weeks.

“It’s something unusual to stand there for the national anthem, it’s not a normal preparation.

“And so you have got to come up with something that you think will have you best prepared and the guys have got that at the moment.

“What others say about it is up to them.”

Richmond assistant coach Justin Leppitsch said the Tigers are unconcerned about the Crows stare down.

“I don’t think that’s high on our agenda to look at, to be perfectly honest … we’ve probably spent more time on their ball movement and defence,” he said.

“You do what makes you feel good before the game.

“If that makes them feel good, well, good.”

The Crows travelled to Melbourne on a mid-afternoon flight on Thursday confident in their lead-in to the premiership decider.

“Although we don’t have grand final experience in the playing group, we have got it amongst our coaches,” Fagan said.

“And that has been one of the messages to the guys … embrace the week.

“It’s not a normal week … but equally you have got to try and stick to your normal structures and personal preparation.

“And I am really confident we have got the balance right and we will be ready to go on the weekend.”

Amazon moves to embed Alexa into homes

Amazon has unveiled a range of new Echo smart home devices as the technology giant attempts to embed virtual assistant Alexa into homes.

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The online retailer is slashing prices to undercut Google, introducing better acoustics in response to a forthcoming Apple speaker and rolling out new formats.

“We want to make sure we are building a product that everyone can use,” said David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice-president of devices and services, during a Wednesday event showcasing the company’s holiday product line-up at its Seattle headquarters.

A second generation of the Echo smart speaker, with a redesigned sound system and better voice recognition was among the announcements, alongside a new Echo Plus that automatically discovers and connects with smart light bulbs and other products.

An alarm clock-inspired Echo Spot, Bluetooth-connected Echo Buttons and the video screen-based Echo Show were also revealed alongside a new HDR and 4K-enabled Fire TV.

The device, which comes in a new smaller form, also has improved far-field voice recognition.

Limp said in the three years since the company launched the Echo and Alexa in the US, the firm had learned “voice and the ambient voice experience in the home is going to be ubiquitous”.

The new Echo Plus is being pitched as a more powerful version of the Echo and automatically looks for and connects with other smart home devices.

Amazon says unlike the original Echo, consumers will not need to use Alexa apps or Skills to connect with smart light bulbs and other appliances, with the device automatically discovering devices when turned on.

A new version of the Fire TV streaming box will come with high dynamic range (HDR) and 4K support built in.

A further new Echo device, the Echo Spot, was also revealed. The small device is designed to replace traditional alarm clocks and also has video calling capabilities.