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Country music to come alive at Charters Towers

Troy Cassar-Daley will be a big drawcard at this year�s Charters Towers Country Music Festival.

THE contestants are perfecting their pitch and tuning their guitars in preparation for the 34th annual Charters Towers Country Music Festival.

The 2011 event will be held over the May Day long weekend (and is one of the main attractions of the 10 Days in the Towers extravaganza) from Friday, April 29, through to Sunday, May 1.

The competition will be broken into divisions for seniors, juniors, juveniles, song-writing, and the prince and princess of the talent quest section.

Special guest performers over the three days of the competition include Liam O’Donoghue; Kiara Rodrigues; Levena Stewart; Luke Austen; Travis Sinclair; Darren Carr; Peter Denahy; Guys, Girls, Guitars & Bars; and Troy Cassar-Daley.

Tickets for the event are on sale now at the Ticket Shop.

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Live export industry commits to Indonesian improvements

AUSTRALIA’S livestock export industry will deliver further animal welfare improvements in its biggest cattle export market, Indonesia, following the release of an independent study commissioned by the industry’s Live Trade Animal Welfare Partnership with the Australian Government.

The Independent study into animal welfare conditions for cattle in Indonesia from point of arrival from Australia to slaughter was conducted by a panel led by Professor Emeritus in Veterinary Science at Melbourne University, Prof Ivan Caple, and assessed 17 Indonesian facilities to rate the effectiveness of the industry’s animal welfare programs.

The review found the welfare of Australian cattle in Indonesia was generally good and provided recommendations for further animal welfare improvements in Indonesia. Industry has already implemented or has scheduled these improvements for action including:

improving point of slaughter training materials and further extending animal handler competency through training programs and ongoing review and support structuring journey management guidelines to ensure long-haul transport provides sufficient rest-time for livestock. delivering further feedlot management programs to expand the technical support provided to Indonesian feedlotters. LiveCorp CEO Cameron Hall said the livestock export industry is committed to making ongoing improvements in Indonesia and fully supports all of the recommendations made by the expert panel.

“We’re pleased the study has recognised the good animal welfare standards in Indonesia for Australian cattle,” he said.

“Many of the areas requiring further improvement are best addressed by extending or modifying programs currently being delivered by Meat & Livestock Australia and LiveCorp, with the support of the Indonesian and Australian Governments,” said Mr Hall.

“The industry has long recognised the importance of improving the welfare of Australian cattle in Indonesia, particularly at the point of processing, and this is reflected clearly in our action plan and our annual investment of over $1 million into animal welfare in Indonesia.

“Indonesia is Australia’s largest and most important live cattle export market and is the major market outlet for cattle producers across northern Australia. Ensuring ongoing improvements in animal welfare is critical to the long term sustainability of the trade, and continued improvement in animal welfare in Indonesia is the livestock export industry’s highest priority,” Mr Hall concluded.

Other panel members included Prof. Neville Gregory, University of London; Dr Penelope McGowan, beef cattle veterinarian and member of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA); and Dr Paul Cusack, a nutrition and feedlot expert.

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Taking seatbelt action

WITH the school year about to begin – and thousands of rural children again riding in school buses daily on a hotch-potch of roads – their parents are determined to make seatbelts a State election issue.

For more than a decade, rural parent groups have been lobbying to make seatbelts compulsory in school buses.

And perhaps – just perhaps – this time around, complaints to a cash-strapped State Labor Government (and an eager Opposition) may not fall on deaf ears.

Typically, South Coast’s Belt Up for Safety (BUS) Action Group is happy to up the political ante.

Group spokeswoman, Glenda Staniford, Fern Gully Winery, Termeil, said last week she was hopeful seatbelt legislation was only months away.

Mrs Staniford said she was working with local MP, Joanna Gash, to develop laws mandating seatbelts for all high-speed school buses – those travelling at more than 80 kilometres an hour – a move that also had the support of influential federal independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

“That’s the minimum standard that should already be happening,” she said.

“We just need to phase it in on new and replacement buses.”

Ms Staniford said in 2007 the Howard Government had offered $40 million to encourage the installation of seatbelts on school buses.

Under this voluntary scheme, bus companies could apply for Seat Belts For Kids subsidies of up to $25,000 a bus to install lap/sash seatbelts that met federal and State standards.

(A spokesman from Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, said so far about $17.1 million had been spent helping 113 bus companies retro-fit 217 buses and the program would continue until funds were exhausted.)

Mrs Staniford said parent groups were now focused on having the restraints made compulsory.

And because regulation of school bus seatbelts fell under the State Government’s jurisdiction, the issue would be raised as the March State election neared, with an emphasis on lobbying candidates for marginal seats.

Mrs Staniford said eliminating the practise of having students standing while travelling on buses was a particular problem.

“We’re the only State not to have done (eliminate) it,” she said.

Bus NSW executive director, Darryl Mellish, who represents the bus and coach sector, said operators were not opposed to mandatory seatbelts, and welcomed community debate on the issue.

But introducing seat belts universally would mean contracts for school bus runs would need to be re-negotiated because bus capacities would change.

“We’re aware of the emotive issue – we feel we’re the meat in the sandwich,” he said.

“Parents want seatbelts, but the government needs to back that with funds.”

Mr Mellish said bus operators across the State now ran vehicles that adhered to government standards, and if these standards changed, the operators would make the adjustment.

However, the analysis had found buses were “very safe” in transporting students, said Mr Mellish.

A spokesman for NSW Transport Minister, John Robertson, said Transport NSW was now assessing more than 3000 individual rural and regional school bus routes across the State.

“The Government is looking at individual local routes to see what should be done,” he said.

“Risk factors include a range of road, traffic and climate conditions, including speed limits, road design and curvature, or the presence of heavy vehicle traffic.”

The spokesman said strategies which might be implemented included reducing travel speeds, changing routes, providing additional training for drivers, or, where appropriate, installing seatbelts.

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Farmworks doing it tough

DROUGHT in Western Australia and too much rain in the east made the past year a courageous time to list on the stock exchange for ambitious WA farm services and chemical supplier, FarmWorks Australia Limited.

FarmWorks’ $61.9 million revenue from operations across Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, NSW and Queensland translated into an after tax trading loss of $574,000 for the six months to September.

While seasonal setbacks restricted growth plans for the business’ livestock marketing activities in SA and WA, the company was also hit by the cost of carrying a large inventory of high-priced glyphosate herbicide and other farm chemicals, which had to be sold at a discount.

Although its share price has rallied slightly to a little in the past week to 11 cents, it is still lagging well behind the 24c a share quoted after listing 10 months ago.

FarmWorks has also just changed chief executive officers, after last year’s appointment, David Connolly, resigned early this month, replaced by Rick Moody, who had joined the company as chief financial officer in December.

Company chairman for the float in March, Glenn Tetley, was also replaced by Larry Shutes in mid 2010, and the company’s registered office changed twice, first to Sydney and recently to Surfers Paradise in Queensland.

Its trading head office remains in Perth.

Mr Moody, whose background as an accountant and company executive includes eight years with long established farm services player, Elders, said the Queensland business registration reflected the fact that Farmworks’ major shareholder and financial backer, Charter Pacific was in Queensland.

“We’ve had a less successful year than was expected, but we’re still travelling pretty well, with last year’s revenue actually an improvement on the previous trading year,” Mr Moody said.

“We’ll continue with our plans to expand the company’s geographic spread and risk diversification strategy by developing more wholesale markets for the Conquest chemical range in the eastern States and sales of other farm inputs.

“Livestock market growth is also still a key objective, although has been hampered by the widespread flooding and disruption to cattle markets in Queensland.

“Overall, however, the longer term seasonal prospects for agriculture are positive as a result of the widespread rain, and WA should be likely to enjoy a more traditional seasonal break in autumn.”

FarmWorks, founded in 2001 in WA has developed a full service network of rural services including rural merchandise, livestock, finance and property.

It has a total customer base of approximately 4700 growers and employs more than 60 staff across Australia.

With the FarmWorks brand name well recognised in rural WA and SA, the medium term business plan is to strengthen its position in the NSW, Queensland and Northern Territory markets.

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“David and Goliath” cyclones bear down on Queensland

An infra-red image shows Cyclone Anthony bearing down on the Queensland coast, with a large tropical depression off Vanuatu expected to develop into another, more devastating cyclone. Photo: US National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information ServiceThe two cyclones bearing down on the Queensland coast could be a case of “David and Goliath”, with the second system expected to be bigger and more devastating, Premier Anna Bligh said today.

Cyclone Anthony intensified to a category-two system just before 2pm today and is expected to cross the coast near Ayr, in north Queensland, between 11pm tonight and 1am tomorrow (local time).

The cyclone is at present 360 kilometres east of Townsville, with a warning zone currently stretching along the coast from Cardwell to Sarina, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

However, the bureau is more worried about another intense tropical low near Vanuatu, which is expected to develop into a cyclone, named Yasi, and potentially cross the Queensland coast on Thursday morning.

The prospect of two cyclones crossing the coast within four days of each other comes after three quarters of Queensland was declared a disaster zone in the wake of devastating flooding.

Ms Bligh described the two cyclones as “David and Goliath”, with Cyclone Anthony expected to be “quite smaller than the second event”.

She said Anthony would make landfall overnight.

“This is a system that is likely to bring with it rainfall of 200 to 300 mm but could have 400mm in parts,” she said.

She said Anthony should not be underestimated, with wind gusts of more than 120km/h likely and damage expected.

Evacuation centres would be ready to take people after the cyclone struck land, but the safest place for people was to remain in their homes and secure loose items, she said.

“Today is a day to batten down the hatches,” she said.

Ms Bligh said authorities had “very serious concerns” about the second low-pressure system, expected to form into a tropical cyclone today and bring with it “very significant gale force winds”.

A cyclone watch for the second system was likely to be issued tomorrow, she said.

It was likely to make landfall by Thursday morning, 12 hours earlier than initially predicted, she said.

“The second system is a very large system; it is a very large rainfall system as well as potentially a very significant cyclone,’’ Ms Bligh said.

‘‘So we’re looking at not only a potentially damaging cyclone but more very heavy rainfall, depending on where it falls, which could fall into river catchments and cause further flooding beyond the cyclone,’’ she said.

Ms Bligh said despite the recent devastating flooding that tested emergency resources, authorities were well-rested and ready to respond to the latest cyclone events.

“We are not battle weary, we are battle ready,” she said.

Ms Bligh said the Abbot Point coal terminal had closed, Hay Point was about to close, Townsville ferry operations had ceased, and the Sunlander rail service to and from Cairns had been cancelled.

In Townsville, shelters had been opened for homeless people and caravan park residents.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Jim Davidson said Cyclone Anthony was expected to develop into a category two system by 2pm local time today.

“The destructive winds could be up to 140km/h,” he said.

Mr Davidson said the gale force winds may be felt to an extent of 140 or 150 kilometres, while the gales associated with the second system could extend 300 or 400 kilometres.

The second system would bring more raise and create a “storm tide threat”.

Mr Davidson said it would be very large area of impact but it was too early to predict its intensity.

He said the system was still far off the Queensland coast to accurate predict where it would cross the coast.

However, landfall could potentially occur anywhere between Cooktown in far north Queensland and Hervey Bay, a 1500-kilometre stretch of coast, Mr Davidson said.

“It’s not inevitable [that the cyclone will cross the coast] but there’s a good likelihood that we will see a fairly large system on the Queensland coast by Thursday,” he said.

“The models have been absolutely consistent now for some days in generating a tropical disturbance … and moving it westward across the Queensland coast.”

He said forecasting models, which were becoming more sophisticated, were picked up the system four or five days ago.

“It’s quite unusual to have a forecast this far out,” he said.

“It doesn’t happen very often and I guess that’s why we’re taking it very seriously.”

Ms Bligh added: “This is a very disturbing weather pattern.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the prospect of the two cyclones hitting Queensland so soon after the state was devastated by widespread floods as “cruel”.

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