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Sun sets on Woodside’s Sunrise

Woodside Petroleum has shelved plans to develop the Sunrise gas field off East Timor as it slashes jobs and spending following a sharp fall in the oil price.

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The energy giant plans to cut operating expenditure by 15 per cent and will shed more than 300 jobs this year, despite chief executive Peter Coleman receiving a $2 million annual pay rise.

Mr Coleman, who was paid $8.5 million in 2014, said Woodside had binned plans to develop Sunrise because of regulatory and fiscal uncertainty.

“We’ve pretty well exhausted the activities that we can progress,” Mr Coleman told reporters.

“We can’t evaluate this project and we can’t put it up to buyers as being a viable project.”

Analysts say Woodside is effectively giving the East Timorese government an ultimatum to either accept floating LNG technology or leave the gas in the ground.

East Timor and Australia have been unable to agree on development plans and tax revenue for Sunrise, which contains around five trillion cubic feet of gas, and Woodside and its partners have rejected the fledgling nation’s proposal to build a domestic onshore LNG plant.

The gas field lies in the Joint Petroleum Development Area which is jointly administered by Australia and East Timor.

Mr Coleman said Woodside had been working with the East Timorese and Australian governments on a development concept over the past 18 months but it was unable to continue spending significant amounts of money and time on the stalled project.

In order to take the next step, Woodside needed to know “who it was paying its rent to”.

East Timor’s new prime minister Rui Maria de Araujo was sworn in on Monday, replacing Xanana Gusmao, who will remain in cabinet as part of a new power-sharing arrangement.

But Mr Coleman does not expect the leadership change to make any difference to the project.

Woodside’s 2014 net profit rose 38 per cent to $US2.4 billion and the company raised its final dividend by 40 per cent to $US1.44.

The company cut 320 jobs during 2014 and it plans to shed around the same number of staff this year as it focuses on driving down costs.

As the cutbacks occur, Mr Coleman’s annual 2014 pay packet grew by $2 million to $8.5 million in 2014 after he collected almost $3 million in short-term bonuses.

Mr Coleman said Woodside was trying to reduce costs associated with its key Browse joint venture offshore project in Western Australia in light of steep oil price falls.

The Browse joint venture is due to make a final investment decision in 2016.

Fat Prophets Resources analyst David Lennox said Sunrise would be a reasonable growth project for Woodside but the company was prepared to wait to assess the success of the Browse floating LNG project before pushing ahead with Sunrise.

“They’re more concerned about near term growth,” he said.

WOODSIDE’s PROFIT UP BUT JOBS TO GO

* Net profit up 38 per cent to $US2.4b, from $US1.7b

* Revenue up 25 per cent to $US7.4 billion, from $US5.93b.

* Dividend up 40 per cent to $US1.44, from $US1.03

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Captain Chigumbura urges Zimbabwe to be ‘ruthless’

They were 214 for three and well set to push on for the final 15 overs in their chase of 340 before losing a flurry of wickets to be bowled out for 277.

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“It was a bit of both, a confidence boost the way we played, and obviously it’s always disappointing to play the way we did for 90 overs but we didn’t manage to finish off the last 10 overs,” Chigumbura told reporters in Nelson.

“We took a lot out of the game we played and hopefully we can carry on with that form. Playing the first game gave us the opportunity to try and correct where we went wrong from the first one.

“The two days that we’ve got, we tried to polish that, and yeah, we’re now looking forward to the UAE game,” he said.

“We have to take every game seriously and do the basics right and make sure that when you get into good winning position you are ruthless and win the game.”

Hamilton Masakadza’s form has been another positive for the Zimbabwe side. The 31-year-old batsman scored an unbeaten 117 in their warm-up victory over Sri Lanka and followed it up with a 80 against South Africa.

“The good thing about our team at the moment, everyone is in good nick, so we don’t expect just Hamilton to put up a good performance,” Chigumbura said.

“The rest of the guys in the squad are capable of doing the same job.”

This will be the first one-day international between the two sides and UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir spelled out his team’s ambition in the tournament.

“See, every individual in the team has his own target and goals. Collectively we are looking forward to at least having a couple of wins against test nations,” Tauqir said.

“Predominantly it’s an expat game in the UAE, a lot of Asian, a lot of English, Australian people play there, but I believe our participation in the World Cup would inspire many more Emirati nationals to follow the game with passion.”

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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What draws foreign travellers to psychedelic drugs in South America?

The sky is black in the Amazonian jungle as a group of people – mainly foreigners – gather inside a wooden circular hut known as a maloca.

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Among the group is 27-year-old New Zealand man Matt McGuiness, who travelled to Peru hoping to find something meaningful after spending years working long hours in the film industry.

One by one, each of them approaches the man leading the group, who gives them a cup of ayahuasca (pronounced “eye-uh-WAH-skuh”) – a strong-smelling brown concoction made from plants – and they go back to their seats.

What happens has been the subject of fascination for decades. In between extreme physical reactions – diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea are common – advocates for ayahuasca promise enlightenment, mental clarity and awakening.

But those on the other side warn against taking such a powerful drug in a country where its use is unregulated, noting reports of dodgy tour operators giving mind-bending doses, as well as deaths and alleged sexual assaults at some of the many “retreats” that have opened to cater for its boom in popularity.

Whatever the outcome, no one seems to dispute that ayahuasca, a drug illegal in most parts of the world, is powerful.

“It definitely changes you afterward,” Matt says.

Healing

Peruvian woman Sandra, who did not wish to provide her last name, and her family have been operating an ayahuasca retreat in their home city of Cusco, Peru, for almost 30 years.

She says that ayahuasca was traditionally used for healing, or to access knowledge and wisdom, and was brewed and distributed by shamans (medicine men) in ceremonies now offered to foreigners at retreats like her family’s.

The family are now making it a priority to ensure visitors understand the cultural and religious significance of ayahuasca before they take it.

 “If used properly, it can help people access reality, and it’s really reality that’s inspiring people.”

The word “ayahuasca” translates from the Quechua language to mean “dead rope”, in reference to its main ingredient, the caapi vine, which looks like a rope, and the idea that ayahuasca “kills off” negative energy.

To make ayahuasca the vine is mixed with a number of other plants including the leaves of a shrub called chacruna, which contains the hallucinogen DMT.

Its effects last about four hours and sound either terrifying or transformative, depending on who you talk to. Many people come out the other end saying they feel reborn.

Experiencing ‘death’

Before taking ayahuasca, visitors to Sandra’s family’s retreat are asked to avoid medications, drugs or alcohol. If mixed with these substances, ayahuasca can have serious effects on the body and may even be fatal.

All customers are asked to sign a form recognising these risks and nurses are on hand if people get into trouble. Soon there will be doctors on staff, too, they say.

Matt McGuiness says he took a while to “let go” after taking it, once the drug took hold he was in awe.

“I saw a half-cat lady, blue skinned, with some sort of Egyptian headdress,” he says. “It was just all of a sudden.”

“There are moments during these visions that you just can’t believe it.”

But Sandra says it’s dangerous for people to come to Peru just looking for a “trip”, and stresses that people must have a stable mind going in.

“Some people come with expectation to experiment, which is completely wrong because they have a shock,” she says.

“It’s like going to hell. It’s close to death, but not like you’re physically dying.”

Ayahuasca in Australia

Robin Rodd, a lecturer at James Cook University in Queensland who has been researching ayahuasca for years, says it can now be found all over the world, including Australia.

“There was a global western cultural boom that happened around the beginning of the 21st century when you started to see Hollywood stars doing pilgrimages and royalty in the UK,” he says. “Australia was another chapter in the global expansion out from the Amazon.”

A recent story in the New York Times describes people gathering inside a house in Brooklyn and being given cups of the brew by a Colombian shaman while sitting on yoga mats.

But he rejects the idea that taking ayahuasca out of its traditional setting makes people treat it like a party drug.

“People have different reasons and motivations but there’s always reverence and respect,” he says.

“No one takes it to get high. It’s not nose candy. It’s not something you can do socially.”

Ayahuasca is illegal in Australia but is still brewed and distributed by a few “key practitioners” who have run ceremonies around the country for some time, he says.

A spokesman for Australian Customs and Border Protection told SBS importing the plants needed to make ayahuasca carried penalties under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 but was unable to provide statistics on seizures of ayahuasca coming into Australia.

A wonder cure?

A large number of the people who travel to South America each year for ayahuasca are looking to cure ailments, disease and trauma.

A clinic in Peru that uses ayahuasca to treat addiction has been open for 20 years.

“They operate under the idea that drug addictions are spirit possessions that take over humans and take control of their consciousness,” Robin says. “Ayahuasca can help remove that.”

“I just don’t know if it actually does what everyone claims it does, which is heal you.”

In the United States, former marine Ryan LeCompte operates tours for veterans looking to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental issues stemming from combat.

In a 2014 CNN report headlined “Is this the next medical marijuana?” a former veteran named “Libby” who suffered PTDS was asked why she wanted to try ayahuasca.

“I would like to wish not to die all the time,” she said. “I want that to go away.”

Sandra says ayahuasca can certainly be used to treat trauma but not immediately after a traumatic event.

“It’s important that your mind is stable,” she says. “If you are in shock, it is shocking. Many people wait 40 to 50 years after childhood trauma to heal it.”

Actor Lindsey Lohan, who has publicly struggled with addiction, is one of many celebrities to praise the healing capabilities of ayahuasca, describing her “life-changing” experience in a video posted to YouTube.

Other celebrity disciples include Sting, Tori Amos and Australian musician Ben Lee, who said in an interview: “If used properly, it can help people access reality, and it’s really reality that’s inspiring people.”

‘There’s always been a dark side’

Simmering on the sidelines of the ayahuasca-tourism boom are lingering stories of sinister behaviour at retreats, opportunistic shamans and bad trips.

In a statement on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website, the Australian government warns Australians looking to take ayahuasca of its dangers.

“While this is not illegal in Peru and Ecuador, there is no way to thoroughly vet ayahuasca tour operators,” DFAT says.

“Some participants have been seriously assaulted and robbed. Victims report a range of experiences, from being alert but unable to maintain control of their surroundings, to total amnesia.”

In 2012, US teenager Kyle Nolan died after taking ayahuasca at the Shimbre Shamanic Centre in Peru’s Amazonian basin.

Shaman Jose Pineda Vargas, 58, later admitted to police that he had buried the Californian teenager’s body to cover up his death. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

While rare, this story is not isolated. Two French citizens reportedly died at ayahuasca lodges and 19-year-old British teenager Henry Miller died last year after taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony in Colombia.

But Robin Rodd says these stories make up a small minority.

“There has always been a dark side,” he says. “Even before tourism. Because there was always a side that can be used in sorcery and to cause harm to people.”

“And now you’ve got people with foreign currency in poor areas of a developing country who are trading off an Indigenous idea.”

“But there are all sorts of factors here and relative to the number of people that have consumed it in a whole range of circumstances, the death rate is low.”

Freeing your mind or losing it?

Australian woman Harriet Jones* says that when her former boyfriend came back from Peru after a trip taking ayahuasca, she noticed a change.

“When he got back from Peru he was really spacey, like he was floating,” she says.

She recalls that weeks later, John* came over to her house claiming his head was in a “f–ked-up place.”

“It was like he was on a complete downer and he was nearly in tears,” she says. “It just broke my heart.”

“I just don’t know if it actually does what everyone claims it does, which is heal you.”

But Matt McGuiness, who is still traveling in South America, says auyascha can be a positive, mind-opening experience if taken right.

“Like with any conscious-changing substance, it’s about setting – who you’re with and where you are,” he says.

And he has nothing but positive words to say about his own experiences with the drug.

“You get put through the shit but I remember the next day [after taking it] I could really feel I’d been cleaned out,” he says.

“Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

“I’ve never felt that good, sober.”

*Names have been changed

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or follow @LifelineAust @OntheLineAus @kidshelp @beyondblue @headspace_aus @ReachOut_AUS on Twitter.

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Push to kick out rogue greyhound trainers

Racing authorities want rogue trainers who use live animals to train greyhounds kicked out of the sport for good.

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Seven Queensland trainers under investigation for live baiting face being warned off any race track, including horse racing and trots, and banned from the industry for life.

Racing Queensland chairman Kevin Dixon said the trainers had seven days to show why they should not be prevented from visiting any racecourse, placing a bet and training, preparing or owning a registered racing animal.

One of the trainers subject to both suspension and a show cause notice, Tom Noble, said he expected a harsh punishment.

“Well, I’ll get life. They won’t let me race a dog again,” he told the Nine Network.

“It’s a big industry, greyhound racing, I can’t see it folding up, but it’s not going to do it any good.”

Another trainer, Reg Kay, will be removed from the Queensland Greyhound Hall of Fame.

A further six Queensland trainers are suspended and their greyhounds have been barred from competing pending an investigation.

Thirty trainers in all have been suspended in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, out of 70 people implicated in using live animals to `blood’ dogs.

Greyhound Racing Victoria’s integrity, racing and welfare general manager Glen Canty said the case was unprecedented and the complex investigation would take time.

“We have immediately suspended all the individuals identified from evidence provided to us and will work hard to identify others as more information comes to hand,” Mr Canty said.

“It is our intention, as well as the demand of most people in the sport, to drive these rogue elements out.”

Victorian authorities have stopped greyhounds trained or owned by 10 suspended trainers, all linked to a private training facility in Tooradin, from racing while the allegations are investigated.

The move also stops the dogs racing if they had been transferred to another registered person.

GRV said it was unable to confirm whose registrations were suspended on legal advice, amid reports its former integrity and racing operations manager Bob Smith was among those caught up in the scandal.

Seven NSW trainers have been stood down pending investigations.

RSPCA Australia CEO Heather Neil said hundreds of dogs were now potentially at risk of being put down after being suspended from racing.

The RSPCA wants an independent overhaul of the industry’s regulation.

Greyhounds Australasia CEO Scott Parker said the industry controlling bodies were backing government reviews and setting up independent taskforces and would make any changes they recommended.

“If that means a change to their integrity role, if that’s deemed in the best interests of restoring public confidence to the industry, then the industry will need to accept that and we’ll almost certainly accept that willingly,” he told AAP.

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Berry-related Hepatitis A confirmed in WA

West Australian health authorities expect there will be more cases of Hepatitis A after the state’s first case was confirmed, bringing the national total to 13.

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Department of Health Communicable Disease Control director Paul Armstrong could not provide specific information about the case for confidentiality reasons, but said the patient was an adult who had eaten contaminated frozen berries.

Consumers are urged not to consume Nanna’s Raspberries 1kg packs, Nanna’s Frozen Mixed Berries 1kg packs, and 300g and 500g packs of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries.

Dr Armstrong said the berries had been imported from China and distributed across the country.

“So anybody in the country who has eaten those berries is at risk and they should be on the look-out for symptoms,” he told reporters.

People can develop symptoms within two months but will most likely start displaying them within one month of ingestion, Dr Armstrong said.

These include fever, nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal discomfort.

After several days jaundice can develop, with yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin, dark urine and pale stools, sometimes accompanied by diarrhoea.

He said one in 1000 people who are infected with hepatitis A will die from the viral illness, which is caused when food is contaminated with faecal matter.

Exposure to an infected person can also cause the illness.

Some who are infected do not display symptoms at all.

Those who get sick usually recover within one to two weeks, but sometimes take longer.

Some will wind up in hospital.

More cases are expected as some consumers would have bought and eaten the berries before the public health alert was raised and supermarket shelves were cleared of the product, Dr Armstrong said.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

There are currently no other suspected cases in WA.

“I don’t think we’re not going to get any more cases,” Dr Armstrong said.

“It’s eaten very widely.”

The risk to people who have been in contact with the WA patient will be assessed, and then vaccinations will be given as needed, he said.

To be effective, that must happen within two weeks of exposure.

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