Author Archives: Maxdbs

Myer chief retails ‘tale of woe’

Down at heel: Retail has a hard road ahead, Myer’s boss says.MYER boss Bernie Brookes has described Australia’s retail landscape as a ”tale of woe” where sector growth will remain below 3 per cent for the next few years due to consumer angst over rising energy prices, steeper healthcare and education costs and the carbon tax.
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The chief executive of the country’s biggest department store also warned that higher penalty rates and the current industrial relations framework would lead to many shops shedding staff and reducing their trading hours.

Speaking at a Financial Services Council lunch in Melbourne yesterday, Mr Brookes said the pain was being felt across the discretionary retail industry and that he feared further company collapses following a string of failures in the past two years. ”What we are seeing in retail is really a tale of woe, we are seeing the most difficult time I have encountered in nearly 36 years that I have been involved in retail. I have not seen it as difficult, as consistently difficult, than what it is today,” Mr Brookes said.

While the strong dollar was encouraging shoppers to surf the web for better deals overseas, a weakening of the currency could trigger a new round of corporate collapses. ”There is no doubt a lot of stores are hanging on, they have got high levels of inventory and are hanging on despite the high level of the Australian dollar being generous to them in their buying prices,” he said. ”If we see the Australian dollar come off, [it is] going to be more expensive for them [shops] to purchase the product, and therefore we could see quite a few more stores go into significant issues.”

Asked about future growth rates, Mr Brookes said he remained sceptical about the discretionary retail sector squeezing out even 3 per cent growth in the short term.

”I think if the discretionary retail sector grew by 3 per cent, it would be a fantastic opportunity to get back into some of the metabolism of good growth and good profitability and, more importantly, good prices for the consumer.

”I don’t see 3 per cent growth in discretionary retail in the next year and perhaps the year on. This is a tough market and it isn’t going to improve overnight.”

Myer has already trimmed its forecasts, warning that its full-year profit will be as much as 15 per cent below last year’s performance, while rival David Jones has warned of drooping sales and profitability this year. Mr Brookes said data flowing from the company’s 4.1 million MyerOne club card members showed they were worried about higher energy prices as well as the rising costs of healthcare and education. The carbon tax was also holding back spending.

He said the Fair Work Act meant stores would be forced to close early in the face of massive penalty rates that staff had to be paid. ”There will be stores closing on Sunday,” he said. ”With the reintroduction of penalty rates, you are going to see not only stores close but also shopping centres close.”

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TV ads sway more than online: survey

ADVERTISING on TV continues to be far more influential than ads online, with many people complaining about the intrusiveness of digital ads and their potential to invade privacy.
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According to research by Deloitte, which surveyed people in eight countries, television advertising was the most influential on consumer decisions in Australia, followed by newspaper ads and online.

But online advertising is catching up to traditional media with the fast-growing influence of online reviews. The survey found that 56 per cent of people learnt about a new product online for the first time and 43 per cent bought something based on an online review or recommendation.

The report also found that many shoppers, 41 per cent, checked competitors’ prices on their smartphones while in a shop. Dubbed ”word of mouth in the 21st century”, the researchers concluded that checking prices online had become everyday behaviour.

The survey results provide an interesting dilemma for advertisers, with people concerned about the potential for invasion of privacy with online ads, but also interested in more targeted online marketing. Many of those surveyed said they would click on more ads if they were targeted to their needs.

Researchers said that the online advertising community needed to provide more reassurance to consumers regarding the collection, use and security of personal information, in order to overcome people’s privacy concerns and boost effectiveness.

Among the types of advertising available online, Australians preferred search engine advertising, interactive advertising and advertising on apps on mobile phones. But video-based pre-roll and post-roll ads were not very influential on buying decisions, ranking fifth and 10th in terms of influence.

Deloitte Technology, Media and Telecommunications partner Clare Harding said the research also showed that while TV was the preferred form of entertainment for most Australians, 60 per cent of those surveyed were multitasking on other electronic devices.

”Opportunities exist for newspaper publishers and advertisers to connect with consumers across multiple platforms and provide an integrated content or brand experience. Advertisers should also take the opportunity to rethink ad design and incorporate the ‘small screen’ of smartphones, tablets and laptops into the ‘big screen’ viewing experience of the TV,” Harding said.

The report, undertaken between November 2011 and March 2012, surveyed around 2000 consumers in each of the eight countries surveyed, with those interviewed spanning four generations. This is the first year Australia has participated.

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Mojo names former ninemsn head as chief

FORMER ninemsn chief executive Joe Pollard is set to become the most senior woman in Australian advertising as she takes over as head of Publicis Mojo Australia.
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Ms Pollard joins the company at a time of huge change for the industry, with the softening of advertising markets and the rise of digital.

Publicis Worldwide earlier this year also took over ownership of the Australian company.

Publicis’ blue-chip clients include Coca-Cola, Toyota, LG, Qantas and Goodman Fielder.

The executive chairman of Publicis Worldwide, Jean-Yves Naouri, flew to Australia to make the announcement, praising Ms Pollard’s leadership experience in marketing communications, creative, media and digital. Ms Pollard has been chief executive of ninemsn for three years. Under her leadership, ninemsn showed strong growth in audience engagement, revenue and profitability. Two offshoots, Cudo and Bing were also launched.

Mr Naouri said Ms Pollard had a wealth of experience in all aspects of marketing and communications.

”Given her time on agency side, client side and recently running the largest digital publisher in Australia, I believe she brings a unique set of skills to Publicis Mojo,” he said.

Ms Pollard was at Nike for 10 years, including time as chief marketing officer.

Ms Pollard said Publicis Mojo had an amazing roster of world-class clients facing complex business challenges in a changing environment.

Publicis Mojo’s executive chairman, Graeme Wills, and chief executive Nicholas Davie, both set to step down from their roles, will stay on in the short term to help a smooth client transition.

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Demand, not carbon, drives expansion

It’s the timing of the Olympic Dam expansion that is being reviewed and, despite what the opposition may say, the carbon tax and mining tax are not decisive.EVEN taking into account the fact Canberra’s spin cycle is in overdrive ahead of the July 1 start of Labor’s carbon tax, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne have been a bit hyperbolic this week.
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During a whistle-stop tour of South Australia, Abbott said BHP Billiton’s $30 billion Olympic dam expansion project was ”hanging in the balance”. Axing Labor’s carbon tax and mining tax and reining in ”union militancy” were three major incentives that a Coalition government would deliver, he said, adding that in the meantime the Labor government should guarantee that its mining tax won’t be extended to gold, copper and uranium.

Pyne said BHP was reconsidering the timing of the Olympic Dam expansion because of heightened political risk, adding: ”I directly blame the Gillard government for that.”

The truth is more complex, as usual. It’s the timing of the Olympic Dam expansion that is being reviewed, and the carbon tax and mining tax are not decisive.

BHP chief executive Marius Kloppers, the group’s chairman, Jac Nasser, Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese and Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg have all warned recently that Australia is becoming a more expensive place to invest in, and a more regulation-heavy one.

But as BHP reacts to softer commodity markets by re-sequencing its lengthy line-up of potential resources developments, Australia’s carbon tax and mining tax are not front of mind: hardly surprising really, given that Kloppers is a supporter of carbon pricing and helped negotiate a watered-down mining tax after Julia Gillard pushed Kevin Rudd aside in June 2010.

Kloppers said in September 2010 that BHP accepted that climate change was a reality and added that, because the multilateral push for a carbon pricing regime had been derailed, Australia would be best served by going alone, and going early.

The BHP view at that time was that carbon pricing was inevitable, but that it needed to be simple, transparent and predictable, revenue neutral and broadly based, but also designed to protect trade-exposed industries.

He has subsequently criticised the structure of the Australian carbon-pricing regime, saying for example that the imposition of a carbon tax on the coal industry makes it more costly, and therefore less attractive as an investment destination than it was compared with coal-producing countries, including Indonesia, that have not yet introduced carbon pricing.

Nasser has called for a slower introduction of carbon pricing here and he has also said he thinks Labor’s Fair Work Act should be redrawn to reduce ”disproportionate union influence”.

And yes, getting the go-ahead for a mine development in this country is a regulatory marathon. It took more than five years to negotiate it in Olympic Dam’s case and more than 8300 people, 38 government departments and service providers, 55 non-government organisations and 60 industry groups had a role in the development of the project’s environmental impact statement.

We can do better than that.

It’s worth noting that BHP’s consistent message has been that it understands that careful and open planning and consultation is needed to build a lasting consensus around a development of the size of Olympic Dam, the world’s biggest uranium deposit and fourth-largest copper deposit.

BHP has also not stepped back its overall support for carbon pricing. In fact, it’s been loading a price for carbon into its investment decisions for years. The structure of the tax here is not its ideal, but BHP believes it can live with it.

The key forces behind BHP’s rethink about major expansions, including Olympic Dam, are commodity demand and commodity prices.

Both have softened as the northern hemisphere sovereign debt crisis and the economic slowdown it has induced depresses China’s growth, and as the hangover from last year’s over-zealous attack on inflation in China endures.

The price of copper, Olympic Dam’s main product, leapt by 257 per cent between December 2008 and mid-February last year for example, but has since slid by 27 per cent.

Kloppers and Nasser have been pretty clear on this, with Nasser flatly answering ”no” to a question in mid-May about whether BHP was going to stick to a previously announced five-year $US80 billion capital expenditure budget, and Kloppers stating that iron ore demand will grow strongly but less rapidly in the next decade than it has in the past 10 years. He also predicted that after 2025 it will move into a ”protracted period of low to negative growth”.

BHP has 22 major project developments and expansions under way, and they will soak up the group’s spending power in the 2012 and 2013 financial years. Thereafter, BHP would have ”flexibility” on project sequencing, Kloppers said last month, and it will be running the slide rule over new prospects very carefully.

The sums on projects here, including Olympic Dam, will include the cost of the mining tax and the carbon tax, and BHP will also be comparing labour productivity.

Commodity prices are the big variable, however – if they stay off the boil, projects like Olympic Dam will proceed more slowly regardless of what party is in power in Canberra.

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Sydney Airport to land more tourists

Low-cost airlines like Scoot are providing extra lift for Sydney Airport.SYDNEY Airport was ”stepping up its role” in the tourism space, said chief executive Kerrie Mather, and there had already been wins with the arrival of low-cost Asian airlines AirAsiaX and Scoot.
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At a business lunch yesterday in Sydney, Ms Mather signalled closer co-operation with Tourism Australia and New South Wales Tourism.

She said she had travelled to India as part of the NSW Tourism delegation and was hopeful that direct flights to India from Sydney would eventuate. She had also just returned from China, which was a ”market with potential for us”.

Ms Mather said last year 640,000 passengers from China came through the airport and this year China would move to second place, behind New Zealand, as the dominant country for the airport’s visitors.

She reiterated that Sydney Airport Corporation welcomed the federal government identifying a future airport site for a second Sydney Airport and securing transportation corridors, but said the existing airport could deal with demand through until 2045.

Last week the corporation issued legal proceedings against the federal Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, after the government brought forward to mid next year a deadline for the airport to produce a draft master plan.

Ms Mather said the airport was consulting about a new plan it announced in December last year, which will see a reconfiguration of the airport, including moving the jet base and air traffic control tower, and integrating domestic and international flights from the same terminals.

”We are halfway through that period of consultation so we were on track delivering our master plan by 2014,” she said. ”It is important we incorporate [this vision] in the master plan, so we need time to work through.

”So we have asked for the reasons why the master plan has been bought forward.”

The airport had discussed with Qantas buying back its long term leases for its jet base and terminal, which were not due to expire until 2019, considering that the Qantas sites took up 30 per cent of the airport’s footprint, she said.

Discussions had already resulted in some suggested improvements, which dealt principally with productivity issues, she said.

Ms Mather said the train station access fees on the privately owned Airport Link remained an impediment and she wanted to see both the removal of the fee and improvements on the line, such as better provision for passengers carrying luggage. The NSW government has said it will release later this year a discussion paper on transport for the airport and Port Botany area.

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Nagging doubts as LionGold stalks its quarry

Will Castlemaine Goldfields have a bar of the LionGold offer?SHAREHOLDERS in Castlemaine Goldfields have more than 16 million reasons to proceed with caution as they ponder a takeover offer from their Singaporean suitor, LionGold.
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LionGold has been collecting gold assets around the world over the past year, and in early April offered two LionGold shares for every nine Castlemaine Goldfields shares in an all-scrip deal.

LionGold has promised to use its financial might to unlock extra value in struggling Castlemaine’s assets, which include the historic Victorian goldfields, scene of the Eureka Stockade in 1854.

But yesterday’s release of the Bidder’s Statement has raised doubts about LionGold’s financial strength, with a significant portion of the company’s finances tied up in overdue payments from an opaque private company based in the Marshall Islands.

LionGold confirmed that a private company, Enchante, had repaid barely 15 per cent of the more than $19 million it owes LionGold.

LionGold blamed delays in getting money for Enchante’s failure to pay the outstanding $16.39 million, and LionGold conceded in the Bidder’s Statement that there was some risk of Enchante defaulting on the debt.

Earlier this year when bidding for another ASX-listed goldminer, Signature Metals, LionGold conceded that Enchante had no accounts or financial statements that were publicly available for inspection. The outstanding $16.39 million is triple the $5.48 million of cash that LionGold has on hand, and comprises about half the $32.6 million that LionGold expects to have on hand by the end of 2012.

But LionGold’s chief operating officer, Errol Smart, told BusinessDay yesterday the company had dealt closely with Enchante in the past and had ”strong comfort that that money will be forthcoming” before the end of the year.

Mr Smart said LionGold had easily completed a recent convertible bond raising for $US23 million, demonstrating its ability to get finance when needed.

”We are not concerned at all about access to finance,” he said.

”We do have other avenues of financing as and when required.”

Castlemaine’s non-executive chairman, Gary Scanlan, also pointed to that raising as proof that LionGold could get funds, despite the difficult economic conditions.

He said the takeover offer was a case of ”relative risk assessment” for Castlemaine shareholders, and he stood by his recommendation that shareholders accept the offer.

Investors did not appear to be deterred by the state of LionGold’s finances, with Castlemaine shares closing half a cent higher at 15.5¢. The stock was fetching closer to 9¢ before the takeover offer was launched in April.

Aside from Castlemaine and Signature, LionGold has tried to get the private Australian gold explorer Brimstone Resources, which holds leases in Western Australia and Victoria. Other acquisitions have been for assets in Mali, Ghana and might soon include Bolivia.

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Greiner denies buy conspiracy

FORMER New South Wales premier Nick Greiner has denied allegations of bid-rigging brought against him by an investment company controlled by a Russian oligarch.
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Pala Investments, registered in the Swiss canton of Zug but ultimately controlled by Russian billionaire Vladimir Iorich, is suing Mr Greiner in a lawsuit also targeting the mining services company he chairs, Bradken, and the company’s chief executive, Brian Hodges.

In a lawsuit filed in May, the Swiss group alleges Bradken, Mr Greiner and Mr Hodges conspired with US private equity group Castle Harlan to buy cheaply an Australian subsidiary, Norcast Wear Solutions (NWS), which competed with Bradken.

However, in a response filed with the court on Tuesday, Bradken, Mr Greiner and Mr Hodges denied their ”commercial dealings” with Castle Harlan broke Australian competition law.

In addition to his role at Bradken, Mr Greiner sits on the board of Castle Harlan’s Australian affiliate, CHAMP.

While Castle Harlan is not a target of the Federal Court lawsuit, Pala last week filed a similar claim against it in the Supreme Court of New York.

In the Federal Court, Pala alleges Bradken and Castle Harlan reached an understanding that Castle Harlan would buy NWS, which makes liners for grinding mills, and then on-sell it to Bradken. Castle Harlan bought NWS in July last year for $190 million and that day flipped it to Bradken in a deal that earned it $US25 million.

Mr Greiner and Mr Hodges told the court Bradken learnt from Goldman Sachs that NWS was for sale in February 2011 but believed that it was excluded from the sale process because it was a direct competitor.

Bradken informed Castle Harlan about its interest in NWS and gave Castle Harlan a deposit towards the purchase of NWS on the same day the private equity group agreed to buy the company, they said.

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Creditors uneasy over transfer of Reed contract

CREDITORS owed up to $80 million by the embattled Reed Construction group are concerned that a contract Reed holds on the Law Courts project has been transferred to another company owned by Reed founder Geoff Reed.
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The transfer this week heightened concerns that Reed is on the brink of seeking voluntary administration.

Law Courts Limited said yesterday it had agreed to a proposal by Reed Construction Australia to novate the construction management contract Reed held for works at the courts to RBG Holdings Group Pty Ltd, the holding company for the Reed Group. It stressed that the overall $300 million project was with firm LCL, not Reed.

It said the measure would ensure continued employment of Reed Constructions project staff, ”retaining significant experience and knowledge of the project in its final stages”, and would also put in place a mechanism that retained all existing employment entitlements for the Reed workforce.

Law Courts said it provided ”the most certainty for the project to continue uninterrupted and avoids lost time and additional costs given the current circumstances surrounding Reed Construction Australia. Law Courts Limited intends to complete the project using the existing resources and contractors on site.”

The novation of the contract comes at a tense time for the company and its subcontractors and suppliers, many of which have not been paid for six months. Reed faces a wind-up application in the New South Wales Supreme Court next week from three creditors.

Reed’s future was under new pressure last week as the NSW Department of Education said it did not owe it money under Building the Education Revolution. Reed claimed substantial sums were owed under BER, and from road projects. Reed said last week it was still negotiating its BER claims.

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India’s boom now gloom

A chastised government is promising shelter from India’s economic storm.THE ”India rising” story was supposed to be one of uninterrupted growth, an irrepressible economic tide that would turn the world’s largest democracy into one of the 21st century’s economic powers.
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A rupee that has lost nearly a quarter of its value in 12 months, a soaring budget deficit, tanking sharemarket and savagely curtailed growth were never part of the plan. But this is India’s economic reality.

India’s economy has staggered to its worst position since the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

Inflation remains above 7 per cent, and, despite promises to cut subsidies, India’s budget deficit was 5.9 per cent in the financial year ended March, and will stay above 5 per cent this year.

The rupee is hovering at record lows, near to, and even briefly above, 56 to the US dollar, and has lost 24.8 per cent of its value since this time last year. Analysts predict it might fall as low as 58.50 in coming months if the European financial dilemma deteriorates.

India’s growth last quarter, 5.3 per cent, was the worst result in eight years. The manufacturing sector shrank 0.3 per cent in the quarter compared with a year earlier, while the farm sector grew by only 1.7 per cent.

India was once the darling of international investors, but foreign firms are now steering clear of the country. Several global telcos have quit India over corruption and uncertainty in licensing.

Gross capital formation – a measurement of fresh investments by companies – grew by 5.3 per cent last financial year, down sharply from 11.1 per cent the year before. As a proportion of GDP it has fallen below 30 per cent.

Worse numbers after bad have prompted Standard & Poor’s to cut India’s credit outlook from stable to negative, imperilling its BBB-minus investment grade status.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee says India’s economic malaise is worse now than during the global financial crisis because this time the cupboard is bare.

He says the government does not have the money to repeat the huge stimulus program launched four years ago. ”The second round of global uncertainty and the slowdown has come rather quickly on the heels of the previous one, with practically no headroom for running a proactive fiscal policy.”

But, to the frustration of businesses and despair of India’s 400 million poor, finding an excuse to do nothing has become this government’s modus operandi.

Almost all of the Indian government’s major economic efforts – to allow foreign investment in multi-brand retail (supermarkets); to curb food inflation; to reform taxation and bring in a GST; or to stop the country’s rampant corruption (much of it within the government) – have failed.

A report from Standard and Poor’s this week, titled Will India be the first BRIC fallen angel? – said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had no authority in the government. “The cabinet is appointed largely by Sonia Gandhi,” it said. ”Hence, the Prime Minister often appears to have limited ability to influence his cabinet colleagues and proceed with the liberalisation policies he favours.”

Dr Kanhaiya Singh, senior fellow at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, told BusinessDay in Delhi: “The government is in a precarious position, a position it has itself created. No one can give this government good marks. The management of inflation and interest rates, and of the economy generally, has not been good for the past few years.”

He said inaction had gripped the government, and time-sensitive decisions were deferred or abandoned because of political difficulties.

”And the major reason behind this indecisiveness is the eruption of a volcano of corruption. That has jeopardised the entire bureaucracy and the political system. No one will make a decision, everyone is too scared.”

Stung by months of criticism, the Prime Minister has committed his government to 10,000 kilometres of new roads, and 18,000 megawatts of additional power generation this financial year, as well as beginning work on 42 port projects and three new airports. ”In these difficult times, we must do everything possible to revive business and investor sentiment,” he said.

India’s unwillingness to use the good times of previous years to prepare for the bad – running up deficits even while growth was in double digits – encourage comparisons with the European economies now staring down imminent collapse. But analysts say that unlike Europe and its structural problems, India’s economic fundamentals are sound and the country can recover.

‘The fundamental ingredients of the Indian economy are intact,” said Kanhaiya Singh, from the National Council of Applied Economic Research. ”They are not jeopardised, so, once these upheavals are taken care of, and the international economic environment comes back to normal, India will quickly pick up.”

”The current problems facing the economy aren’t insurmountable,” Prashant Jain, chief investment officer at HDFC Asset Management in Mumbai told Bloomberg.

”With a few difficult steps, it should be possible to put it back on the rails fairly quickly.”

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Separating claims would cost $1bn in benefits

Aboriginal groups at odds over the James Price Point site marked for a $35 billion gas hub have withdrawn a bid to splinter native title claims after the West Australian Government and the project’s operator Woodside Petroleum threatened to suspend more than $1 billion in benefits.
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It is understood that there are long standing differences of opinion over the cultural significance of the claim site, which includes James Price Point, between the Goolarabooloo and the Jabirr Jabirr people of the Kimberley region.

The two groups have remained on the one native title claim since the 1990s, until last week where an application was filed to withdraw the claim which would have allowed two separate claims to be registered in time for the next round of land acquisition talks.

The move was understood to have seen both groups entitled to participate separately in future negotiations over the Browse liquefied natural gas hub proposal.

However, moments before going to court today, those behind the decision to splinter buckled under pressure from the WA government and Woodside to withdraw the application, leaving the conflicted groups to remain as the one negotiating body.

The hub at James Price Point is an option for processing gas from the Browse basin off the West Australian coast, but a final investment decision is not expected from Woodside until early next year.

Representing the joint claim lawyer, Vance Hughston told the Federal Court in Perth both sides had received letters from Woodside and the government shortly after the application to end the claim was lodged last week.

The groups were served with default notices in relation to the previous Browse Precinct Agreement, estimated to be worth about $1.5 billion, as well as notices to suspend their benefits under the agreement leading up to today’s hearing.

“The applicants are no longer prepared to push ahead with this discontinuance,” Mr Hughston said by videolink.

“The applicants find themselves in an impossible situation where the stakes are so high that they’re not prepared to take this matter any further without taking instructions from the broader group.”

Kimberly Land Council chief executive Nolan Hunter said the “extreme pressure from the State Government and Woodside has taken its toll on the Named Applicants,” in a statement after court.

“As a result, they instructed the KLC to withdraw the Discontinuance Application and hold an entire Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr native title claim group meeting to decide whether the group should split and lodge individual native title claims, or if it should remain together as one group.

“Native title is important to the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr people and needs to be determined to provide certainty to the group and resolve any internal issues.”

The validity of any state agreements signed by the group is expected to be challenged in the coming weeks.

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