Farmer back after fundraising run through India

Australian ultramarathon runner and former federal MP Pat Farmer has arrived back in Australia after a 64-day fundraising run through India.

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He is hoping his run will help pay for the education costs of thousands of disadvantaged Indian girls.

After 64 days and more than 4,000 kilometres, Pat Farmer is home.

Farmer touched down to a hero’s welcome from Indian government and community figures in Sydney.

He arrived from Delhi after the two-month saga where he ran from Kanyakumari, in the country’s south, to the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in the north.

Mr Farmer says the run has exposed him to many different sides of life in India.

“(It was) good to see the diversity — the deserts, the mountains, the oceans, the seas, the inlands and the people themselves. So many different cultures, so many different religions.”

Mr Farmer embarked on the run to raise funds to provide education to disadvantaged girls in India.

He says there were big challenges along the way.

“Including the moments when I was very, very dehydrated and had to be hospitalised for the afternoon. I then got back out on the road later on after that, after being rehydrated, and continued on running from there.”

His wife, Tania Farmer, was with him during each step of the journey, accompanying him in a convoy that followed.

She marvels at what he has done.

“Everything that’s put in front of him, to still get up every day and just, literally, one step at a time, day after day, and then, finally, he makes it, it’s just … like I say, it’s just an incredible thing to witness.”

So far, Mr Farmer has raised more than $33,000 to help fund the girls’ education.

The consul general of India in Sydney, B Vanlalvawna, was waiting for him at Sydney airport.

Mr Vanlalvawna says the journey has also helped forge a stronger bond between India and Australia.

“I think that the impact … the visibility which he has generated across India will continue to have a lasting impact in the minds of people both in India and Australia.”

 

 

Retail, transport stall services growth

Weakness in retail and transport has stalled growth of the overall services sector.

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The Australian Industry Group’s Performance of Services Index (PSI) fell 2.3 points to 49.5 points in March, with a move below the 50 mark, indicating the sector is shrinking.

The decline was driven by contractions in retail and transport and storage services.

The retail subsector shrank for the six consecutive month in March, mainly due to the lower Australian dollar pushing up the cost of imported products.

Official retail trade figures for February, released on Monday, showed spending was flat, supporting the Ai Group survey findings.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox says the sector’s brief return to expansion in February was, obviously, short-lived.

“The ingredient missing from a more robust performance remains the continuing business restraint, particularly in relation to investment,” Mr Willox said.

“There is clearly scope for measures to be taken in the May (federal) budget to stimulate business investment and confidence.”

However, there were some positives – the health and community services subsector continued to grow in March.

The subsector, which includes health, welfare and education services, expanded for the eighth consecutive month.

Personal and recreational services also grew on the back of the lower dollar, compared to 2015.

The subsector benefited from a lower dollar with consumers preferring to spend on local services and holidays rather than foreign goods and overseas trips.

The earlier timing of Easter this year boosted accommodation, cafes and restaurants, with a higher demand for hospitality services in March.

Despite those gains, the overall services sector contracted over the month.

Transport and storage services remained the weakest subsector, although respondents were optimistic lower fuel costs and new transport infrastructure could help improve conditions in future.

Telemovie aimed at deterring asylum seekers condemned by human rights groups

Refugee and human rights groups have condemned a new film commissioned by Australia’s immigration department, which aims to deter Afghan asylum seekers from attempting to reach Australia.

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Dr Graham Thom from Amnesty International Australia told SBS the film does little to address the refugee crisis.

“While some people may be dissuaded from seeking a new life in Australia, the threat of war or persecution remains in their home countries and they will still undertake a journey in search of safety, just to a different destination,” he said.

The film, titled Journey, follows the story of asylum seekers suffering horrible circumstances as they try to make the trip to Australia by boat.

It cost the government almost $6 million to make and was filmed in three different countries.

Another $1.63 million went to Lapis Communications to promote the film.

“That money could have been spent to address the root causes of why people are forced to flee their homes, used to support people in transit, or put towards increasing and improving the efficiency of resettling people to Australia,” said Mr Thom.

Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, agrees that the money could have been put to better use.

“The $6 million spent by Australia on making and promoting this film would have made a great practical difference to many organisations supporting people who have been displaced from their countries due to persecution or conflict,” he said.

Mr Power believes Australia needs to meaningfully engage with our region to help stop the flow of refugees from the source of their persecution.

“It’s questionable the role a film can have in the longer term, in resolving the conflict and persecution that forces people to flee,” he said.

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Journey made its premiere on Friday to audiences in Afghanistan via local television. It was also broadcast in Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.

Put It Out There Pictures, the company which produced the film, state on their website the telemovie aims to inform audiences ‘about the futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hard line policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters’.

‘This is about people, not politics. People continue to come to Australia to seek a better and safer life, far too often with tragic consequences,’ the production company told ABC’s Lateline in statement on their website.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection say the film complements and reinforces the Australian government’s anti-people smuggling message.

“Independent research in these countries has revealed misunderstandings and false rumours about Australia’s policy, and a perception that Australia remains a preferred destination country for those seeking to travel illegally by boat,” a spokesperson for the department told SBS News.

“The Journey telemovie is a key part of ongoing anti-people smuggling communication activity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq to ensure awareness levels of Operation Sovereign Borders remain high and to inform people considering travelling by illegal means of the associated dangers and consequences,” the spokesperson said. 

A number of young Afghan men told Guardian Australia the film did achieve its goal.

“It was a good movie,” said Mostafa Ebadi, 23. “It showed the lies smugglers tell passengers before leaving.”

Others were not so convinced.

Humayoon, 29-year-old Afghan man, said he was only staying in the country as long as he had a job.

“If I can’t feed my family, what am I supposed to do,” he said.

Groups in Australia say policy, not films, should be the priority.

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“UNHCR-registered Afghan refugees have been stuck in Indonesia since the Australian Government announced that anyone who arrived by boat after July 1, 2014, would never be eligible for resettlement in Australia,” Dr Thom said.

“The Australian Government should take steps to reverse this policy and allow the refugees trapped by the moratorium to pursue resettlement through a fair process. Otherwise they will have little option but to put themselves back into the hands of people smugglers.”

The Refugee Council says the situation of asylum seekers is desperate. 

“No one wants to see people dying on dangerous boat journeys, but if people’s lives are in danger, many people will risk dangerous boat journeys,” says Mr Power.

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Hockeyroos beat Canada in NZ

Three goals in nine minutes either side of quarter time set the foundation for a dominant 4-0 Hockeyroos win over outsiders Canada at the Hawkes Bay Cup in Hastings.

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Penalty corner strikes from defenders Georgie Morgan and Jodie Kenny inside the opening period were supplemented by a double from 18-year-old Grace Stewart, the first of which came shortly after the restart, her second coming late in the contest.

The result on Tuesday means the Hockeyroos finished second in Pool A behind Japan on goals differential and will face either China, Ireland or India in Thursday’s quarter-final.

As in their opening two matches – a 1-1 draw against Japan and a 2-0 win over Korea – the Australian women controlled play throughout, creating numerous opportunities but failing to convert many of the best chances.

Hockeyroos coach Adam Commens admitted the number of opportunities passed up by his side was frustrating.

“I know our players are better than what they’ve shown and I’m just imploring them to start to bring into practice in these games the sorts of things we’ve been training,” Commens said.

“I thought today we could have done that much better.”

Commens said the focus was to improve and peak in time for the Rio Olympics.

“I think the way that were playing throughout the pitch is positive. We’re creating those chances … we just need to tidy up the end zone,” he said.

“In an Olympic year … selection pressure is there and sometimes that pressure can contribute but the pressure’s going to be that much more at the Olympic Games.”

Such was the Australian dominance that Hockeyroos goalkeeper Ashlee Wells was largely a spectator, called into action for the only time in the 50th minute, comfortably dismissing a shot on goal.

The Hockeyroos face the third-placed team from Pool B in the quarters which will be completed later on Tuesday.

GWS not the little brother anymore: Ward

Greater Western Sydney co-captain Callan Ward says the Giants should no longer be considered the “little brother” of the harbour city AFL derby as they chase a first SCG win on Saturday.

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Sydney have a 7-1 overall record against the Giants and have won all three of their SCG encounters against GWS, who have just started their fifth season at the top level.

The early-season lineups of both teams underlined that the once-vast experience gap between the two clubs has closed drastically.

The Swans’ round-one contained three debutants, 11 players aged 23 or under and 12 with 53 games or less experience.

Conversely, the Giants had no debutants and while they had 14 players aged 23 or under, they fielded ten with 53 or fewer appearances.

Sydney didn’t field anyone aged over 29 for their first game, while GWS included 32-year-old Steve Johnson and 30-year-old Heath Shaw.

“Our average age isn’t too much less than (Sydney’s),” Ward said on Tuesday.

“Everyone talks about the big brother-little brother, it’s not really that anymore.”

Swans’ coach John Longmire stressed two circumstances had combined to close the gap between the two teams.

“The maturity and the recruiting of GWS and we’ve probably lost a bit of experience,” Longmire said.

“Those two things have meant the teams are a bit closer matched this week.”

GWS thumped Sydney by 34 points in a NAB Challenge game just over a month ago, when both teams fielded fairly strong sides.

“They were far too good for us,” Longmire said.

“We learnt some lessons that night.”

Sydney looked pedestrian on that occasion, seemingly lacking the foot speed of the Giants.

“It was certainly questioned over that pre-season period and I think the other main factor was that we weren’t winning a lot of contested ball,” Swans’ co-captain Kieren Jack said.

“We were a little bit off in that pre-season.

“We still think we’ve got some speed on the outside that can be more than dangerous for opposition sides.

“Jake Lloyd and Harry Cunningham are probably a little bit under-estimated by opposition teams.”

The only injury concern for either side coming off last weekend is a syndesmosis issue for young Giants’ key defender Caleb Marchbank, who coach Leon Cameron said would be sidelined for up to eight weeks.

He is likely to be replaced by Joel Patfull or Nick Haynes.

Views turn on PM as economy less buoyant

Suddenly life isn’t so rosy for Malcolm Turnbull.

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Opinion polls have turned against the prime minister and confidence is down, while a spread of new figures over the past couple of days suggest the economy is far from powering along.

Tuesday’s data showed a weakening international trade position, a drop in car sales over the past year and a contracting services sector.

That followed reports of a flat retail spending result, further signs home building has peaked and declining demand for workers a day earlier.

The only certainty at the moment is that the Reserve Bank won’t be lifting the cash rate any time soon.

The central bank left the cash rate at a record low 2 per cent at its monthly board meeting, as widely expected by economists.

Governor Glenn Stevens stuck to the line that a low inflation outlook provides scope for a further cut should it be needed.

But the prime minister insists he is steering his government on the right course.

Under his economic leadership, policies had been put in place that would drive innovation and competition – from giving small and medium-sized businesses better protection against the “big guys”, to taking on building industry lawlessness, and opening up big markets in Asia.

“All of those steps and many others are focused on driving economic growth,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

However, voters are not impressed – with the latest Newspoll showing Labor has taken the lead 51-49 per cent from the coalition for the first time since Mr Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott last September.

Mr Turnbull’s personal standing with voters continues to slip while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s position is on the mend.

And the bad news didn’t end there for the government.

The latest Essential Research found shadow treasurer Chris Bowen (23 per cent) closing in on Treasurer Scott Morrison (26 per cent) as the more trusted to handle the economy, although just over half didn’t know.

Consumer confidence also fell for a third week in a row ahead of the May 3 budget.

“Optimism over the potential for the current government to implement lasting reform seems to be fading,” ANZ head of economics Felicity Emmett said.

Dun and Bradstreet’s latest business expectations survey found pessimism at a two-year low, suggesting the pace of economic growth is set to slow.

Its economic adviser, Stephen Koukoulas, says while it is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the negative outlook, he expects the upcoming federal election and global economic uncertainty may be contributing.

US transfers two Libyans from Guantanamo

The Pentagon says two Libyans held for more than a decade without trial at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been transferred to Senegal, as President Barack Obama pushes to close the facility before leaving office in January.

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The two men were the first of a group of about a dozen who are expected to be transferred in coming weeks to countries that have agreed to take them, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

With the latest departures, there are now 89 prisoners at the US naval base in Guantanamo.

Most have been held for years without charge or trial, drawing international condemnation.

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Obama, who in February gave Congress a plan for closing the prison, is seeking to make good on his long-time pledge, but faces stiff opposition from many Republican lawmakers, as well as some fellow Democrats.

“We are taking all possible steps to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and to close the detention facility in a responsible manner that protects our national security,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

The Pentagon identified the two Libyans as Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby, 55, and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar, believed to be 43 or 44.

They were among a group of prisoners, now numbering 35 following their departure, who have been cleared for transfer by US government review panels.

US officials have said they expect to move out all members of that group by this summer, sending them to their homelands or other countries.

Kerry thanked the government of Senegal, a Muslim-majority West African country, for accepting the two Libyans for “humanitarian resettlement”.

The United States has ruled out repatriating detainees to countries like Libya, which is locked in civil conflict and where militant Islamist groups are active.

Both had been accused of links to al Qaeda and were suspected members of a Libyan Islamist faction, according to leaked US military documents.

They were captured separately in Pakistan and held at Guantanamo since 2002.

The most prominent of those to be resettled over the next several weeks is Tariq Bah Odah, a 37-year-old Yemeni on a long-term hunger strike who has been force-fed by nasal tube since he stopped eating solid food in 2007.

The Shark who could’ve been an NRL Titan

Daly Cherry Evans, Trent Hodkinson, Aidan Sezer – now you can add Chad Townsend to the list of NRL playmakers who decided against pursuing a future on the Gold Coast last year.

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Ahead of this Sunday’s clash with the Titans, the Sharks halfback revealed how was approached with the idea of playing on the holiday strip this season instead of returning home to the Shire.

“Basically at the start when I went to the Warriors and said I’d like to move back to Sydney, I had a couple of offers from some teams,” Townsend said on Tuesday.

“I just had an informal chat. I’m pretty close with (Titans assistant coach) Rohan Smith, he spent one season as an assistant coach at the Warriors, and he just asked me what I was doing.

“I said, `Look mate, my preference is to move back to Sydney’, and that’s about as far as it went.”

Townsend was one of many generals linked to the Titans, who spent the majority of last season attempting to entice an elite playmaker to join the club following the controversial backflip of Cherry-Evans.

In the end they got Newcastle No.7 Tyrone Roberts, who was forced to look elsewhere after the Knights signed one of the Titans’ targets in Hodkinson.

The 25-year-old Townsend, who has played in all five games at halfback this season, said moving back to his junior club was the right call and was enjoying picking the brain of star recruit James Maloney.

“I’m in a pretty good place at the moment. I’m enjoying my footy, I’m enjoying this bunch of boys that we’ve got here, and we’ve got a lot of potential,” he said.

“(Shaun has) got a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of experience.

“He’s played Origin and played in grand finals. People go through their whole careers without playing in those games. For him to have that experience is something that I really draw from him.”

The normally defensively sound Sharks turned NRL entertainers in a high-scoring 34-26 win over Wests Tigers last-start, just their fourth 30-plus total since the start of 2014.

Townsend said it was the sign of things to come.

“It means what we’re doing is working and if we can stick to it, who knows what’s going to happen down the track? It’s definitely a positive sign pretty early on in the season,” he said.

East Timor determined to get Australia’s attention over sea boundaries

One of Australia’s closest neighbours, East Timor, is trying to draw Australia into negotiations to draw the sea boundary between the two countries in the resource-rich Timor Sea.

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East Timorese activist group, Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) claims that since 1999, the Australian government has received around $5 billion dollars in revenues, from oil and gas fields, in the sea they said belongs to East Timor.

Various activist groups estimate that there are resources worth roughly $52 billion in that body of water.

“We believe that Timor’s independence struggle will not be completed until it establishes internationally-recognised boundaries and has control over the resources within those borders.”

Online campaigns and protests have been organised by several organisations this week calling for Australia to consider negotiations.

A rally in Melbourne on Thursday, outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office drew hundreds of demonstrators. It is just one in a series of protests held in the last week: outside the Australian embassies in Dili, Jakarta, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur.

The largest protests, organised by MKOTT , were seen in East Timor’s capital, Dili, on Tuesday and Wednesday, where around 20,000 took part.

Day two of Dili’s #HandsOffTimorsOil protests at Aus Embassy in East #Timor pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/GpAjKyM08w

— Timor Sea Justice (@TimorSeaJustice) March 23, 2016Great to hear speakers at today’s #HandsOffTimorsOil rally outside @dfat office in Melbourne #auspol #solidarity pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/tWa0GsLVvG

— Travis (@teakingw) March 24, 2016

A rally in Jakarta was also held on Thursday.

Why the East Timorese are protesting

Eka Lopes was one of the thousands who attended Wednesday’s protest in front of Australia’s embassy in Dili.

Protesters shouted slogans including “negotiations now” and “hands off Timor oil”  as East Timorese security forces guarded the embassy.

Our oil is our future #HandsOffTimorsOil

— chipy pereira (@chipypereira) March 22, 2016

Ms Lopes told SBS the protestors are demanding the boundaries be drawn so that East Timor has control over the resources in the waters off its coast.

“It is critical for East Timor to have boundaries, because oil is an important resource,” she said.

“Australia gets 10 per cent of the revenue from the area (where resources are extracted), this is unfair because East Timorese people believe that if it belongs to us, it should be given to us, not taken by a country that already has a lot of wealth.

Today’s protest #HandsOffTimorsOil #medianlinenow pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/t1puP1ceCj

— Eka Potter (@eka_potter) March 23, 2016

Ms Lopes said seeking what her country believes as justice, was the main goal.

“It’s an important thing, when something happens to Timor we come out and show our solidarity and show support for each other,” she said.

“It’s a big deal, not only for people in Dili, but for our entire history.”

There’s even a protest being held in #Timor’s small regional town of Aileu#medianlinenow #HandsOffTimorsOil pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/608VdSfmEa

— Humans of Dili (@dili_humans) March 23, 2016

The Australian-based group, Timor Sea Justice Campaign, want a boundary to be drawn along the median line halfway between the two countries’ coastlines.

Frosty relations between the countries developed after Australia withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2002, leaving East Timor with no legal avenues to negotiate its claim.

The group says one of the areas in question, called the Greater Sunrise gas field, is located 100km from East Timor and is expected to generate $40 billion in government revenues.

According to the group, the area would lie entirely within Timor’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

East Timor’s government also believes that if the maritime boundary was decided under the UN convention, the bulk of the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea would lie within their territory.

Timor Justice Sea spokesman Sam King told SBS he believes the Australian government’s position is not legal.

“The Australian government has withdrawn from the relevant international law conventions, precisely because it doesn’t have any confidence that what it’s doing is legal,” he said.

“What they have essentially done is try to bully the Timorese government and grab what they can.” 

Below is a picture on Twitter from cartoonist Alan Moir.

Australia & East Timor Oil #eastTimor #Timor signed prints $55 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/NoL7OSbYnj

— Alan Moir (@moir_alan) March 23, 2016Online campaign to get Australia’s attention

New York-based campaign group, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), joined this week’s protests by calling on people to post a photo of themselves holding paper signs with the words ‘Australia: hands off Timor’s oil’ and ‘Australia: Median Line Now.’

AUSTRALIA: Hands off Timor-Leste’s oil!!#medianlinenow #[email protected] en @etan009 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/1syhKzjl8N

— Endie van Binsbergen (@endievb) March 22, 2016ETAN spokesman John Miller told SBS: “We are doing so to send a strong message to the Australian government that their recalcitrance is affecting its global reputation and credibility.”

“ETAN advocated for Timor’s self-determination and sovereignty for many years,” Mr Miller said.

“We believe that Timor’s independence struggle will not be completed until it establishes internationally-recognised boundaries and has control over the resources within those borders.

“This would end Australia’s legalized theft of income that the East Timorese are entitled to.”

Australia stands by existing treaties

A spokesman from DFAT told SBS previous negotiations between the two countries did not reach agreement on permanent boundaries.

“As an alternative, we agreed to place permanent delimitation of our maritime boundaries on hold and focus on joint development of the resources,” the spokesman said.

“Australia stands by the existing Timor Sea treaties, which have provided investor certainty and allowed Timor-Leste to earn US$11.91 billion in revenue and Australia to earn US$1.33 billion.

“Timor-Leste receives 90 per cent of the revenue from the Joint Petroleum Development Area, an area claimed by both parties during negotiations. Timor-Leste will receive 50 per cent of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise, even though it would only receive 20.1 per cent of revenue if a maritime boundary was drawn based on application of median line principles.”

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The spokesman said Australia has consistently been open to consultations with the East Timorese Government, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “recently reiterated a willingness for dialogue on a range of bilateral matters directly in correspondence with the Timor-Leste Prime Minister Rui De Araujo.”

The spokesman said stability and development of East Timor is very important to Australia.

“We are Timor-Leste’s largest development cooperation partner (A$95.3 million ODA in 2015-16) and work closely with the government to enhance livelihoods, advance human development and strengthen governance and institutions.”

Fortescue scraps Downer at Christmas Creek

Fortescue Metals Group is looking to cut more costs as it scraps its contract with Downer EDI at Christmas Creek and moves to a full owner-operator model.

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Fortescue did not say whether employees from Downer would move across to the company when the current mining services contract in the Pilbara ends on September 30.

Downer EDI shares fell more than seven per cent despite assurances the decision would not affect the company’s 2016 financial results.

Fortescue chief executive Nev Power said production from Christmas Creek was not expected to be affected during the transition as the company looks to improve efficiency and productivity following a slump in iron ore prices.

“Adoption of an owner-operator model will further reduce Fortescue’s costs through ongoing improvement of the efficiency and productivity of our Christmas Creek mining operations,” Mr Power said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said the Downer team had been involved with mining at Christmas Creek since the company started operating in the Pilbara.

Fortescue has relied heavily on the use of contractors at its Pilbara mines.

Mr Power said Fortescue was focused on costs, production and safety as it looks to improve its balance sheet.

Downer EDI said it was in discussions with Fortescue about the transition and would provide an orderly handover of the Christmas Creek operation.

“The transition to an owner-operator model at Christmas Creek is not expected to have an impact on Downer’s 2016 financial results,” the company said in a statement.

Christmas Creek produces around 55 million tonnes of iron ore per annum.

Fortescue shares were 2.5 cents, or 0.96 per cent, lower at $2.565 while Downer shares were down 27.5 cents, or 7.35 per cent, at $3.465 at 1405 AEST.