The rise of Australia’s visual effects industry

Indiana Jones publicity stillThe first Indian Jones films in the 1980s included only a few visual effects

In Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past the character Quicksilver pauses time.

Quicksilver – under attack in the Pentagon kitchen – dodges bullets, moving them by hand. They smash instead through the rain, shattering droplets of water. Meanwhile pots, pans, and vegetables hang in mid-air.

Now Rising Sun Pictures, the Adelaide-based visual effects company responsible for X-Men’s “Pentagon kitchen” scene, is up for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

Tim Crosbie, Rising Sun’s VFX superviser, is one of only two Australians to be nominated at this year’s Academy Awards, held on 22 February in Los Angeles. The other is David Lee as part of a team nominated for best sound mixing on Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.

Delivering complexity

X-Men will be pitted against Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Interstellar.

X-Men: Pentagon kitchen scene before special effects are addedX-Men’s “pentagon kitchen”: the real stuff…

X-Men Pentagon kitchen scene after special effects are added…and the finished product with special effects

“To be nominated amongst the best in the world is extraordinary,” says Tony Clark, Rising Sun co-founder and director. “I don’t think we ever really dreamed we would achieve the level of work that we have.”

Rising Sun is riding the wave of an industry boom. In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade included just 80 visual effects shots. Two decades later the blockbuster Avatar had over 3,000.

“What the industry has now achieved is the ability to deliver complexity,” says Mr Clark. “There is nothing that can’t be done in computer graphics now, except [convincing] digital humans.”

Rising Sun, now celebrating its 20th year, has delivered visual effects in 120 movies, including the scene when the space station re-enters Earth’s atmosphere in Gravity.

Now they are working on Tarzan, Pan, and The Gods of Egypt.

Teething problems

Other Australian visual effects companies are also making an impact.

Tony Clark, Rising Sun co-founder and directorTony Clark says creating visual effects is labour-intensive work

Animal Logic (The LEGO Movie) and Iloura (Ted) are both respected international players. In 2012, US-based Luma Pictures opened a Melbourne office.

In recent years, generous tax breaks and government subsidies have attracted Hollywood to Australia.

Productions need a budget of just A$500,000 ($390,000, £252,000) to qualify for a Post, Digital and Visual effects (PDV) tax credit of 30% in Australia – up from 15% in 2011.

“It keeps us in the game [and] competing internationally,” says industry body Ausfilm Chief Executive Officer Debra Richards.

Step oneThe way to do it: step one…

Step two…step two

Final product…and what audiences see on the big screen

Yet, in a relatively young industry beset by teething problems, even an Oscar has not been able to prevent closure for certain companies.

Just two weeks before winning an Oscar for visual effects in Life of Pi in 2013, American firm Rhythm Hues filed for bankruptcy.

James Cameron’s Digital Domain facility, also an Oscar-winner, had filed for bankruptcy five months earlier.

Their demise raised the question: why are visual effects firms struggling in an era when their work dominates the box office, helping to rake in millions in revenue for studios?

“They were victims of two things: one, the global incentive market and two, a failure to roll with the times,” says Mr Clark.

Inconsistent market

Countries such as Australia have muscled in on an industry once dominated by California. Instantaneous communications has made collaboration across oceans possible.

Oscar statues are shown in preparation for the 87th Academy Awards in HollywoodThe stage is being set for this year’s Academy Awards to be held on 22 February

But Australia has also suffered. The Dr D studios, established by director George Miller of Mad Max fame, closed its Sydney production facility in 2013.

A year earlier Fuel VFX went into voluntary administration before being acquired by Animal Logic.

In Australia, competition from Canada combined with an (up until recently) strong Australian dollar to add pressure to an inconsistent market that lives – or dies – through contractual work.

“Unfortunately our location incentive is not competitive compared with [other] global incentives,” says Mr Clark. “It has been quiet in the last few years, particularly due to exchange rates and location incentives.”

“You might miss out on an opportunity because timing is everything,” adds Simon Rosenthal, head of VFX for Iloura, who cites the industry’s cyclical nature as a major challenge.

“That and maintaining the work force here – a high level of expertise is required.”

To keep the market competitive, studios often dole out scenes from a single film to multiple companies, who also invest in research and development to stay ahead of their competitors.

Iloura spends about 20% of its time investing in research and development.

Mr Rosenthal calls his team “a bunch of boffins: modellers who build the objects, riggers who build the internal muscle skeletal system, texture artists who apply the surface, animators who make the thing move, FX artists who blow it up”.

‘Doing things by hand’

It’s a labour intensive business. For example, a team of more than 60 people at Rising Sun took about six months to create the Pentagon Kitchen scene.

There is a risk that Australia might one day be undercut by India and China. Both countries have thriving film industries and cheap labour costs. Both are now looking at increasing their visual effects know-how.

For now, thanks to a recent fall in the Australian dollar, Mr Clark expects more work will flow here.

Whether or not Rising Sun wins an Oscar on Sunday he hopes viewers appreciate the artistry behind those flying saucepans.

“Everyone thinks it is [just] done by the computer. But everything we do is about people doing things by hand – they are using computers as a tool and a paintbrush.”

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Rain ruins Australia v Bangladesh

Australia’s World Cup Pool A match against Bangladesh in Brisbane was abandoned without a ball being bowled.

Heavy rain overnight and throughout the day prevented any play at the Gabba.

Both sides took one point from the game and are level on three points in the group, three behind leaders New Zealand.

It is only the second World Cup match to be washed out completely, after Sri Lanka against West Indies at The Oval in 1979.

The weather prevented captain Michael Clarke from making his return from a hamstring injury, the Australia captain having missed the co-hosts’

111-run win over England

on the first day of the tournament.

Clarke has not played a competitive international since having surgery in December, but

made 64

in the World Cup warm-up win over the United Arab Emirates.

Bangladesh, who

beat Afghanistan

in their World Cup opener, face Sri Lanka in Melbourne on Thursday, while Australia play unbeaten New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday.

England sit bottom of Pool A after losing their first two games. Their next match is against Scotland in Christchurch on Monday.

The top four teams from each group qualify for the quarter-finals.

Listen to highlights from Test Match Special’s and 5 live Sport’s 2015 Cricket World Cup coverage

Pool A

Team

Played

Won

Lost

N/R

R/R

Points

1

New Zealand

3

3

0

0

+3.59

6

2

Australia

2

1

0

1

+2.22

3

3

Bangladesh

2

1

0

1

+2.10

3

4

Sri Lanka

1

0

1

0

-1.96

0

5

Afghanistan

1

0

1

0

-2.10

0

6

Scotland

1

0

1

0

-3.04

0

7

England

2

0

2

0

-3.95

0

Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza

Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza shelters from the rain

Bangladesh fans

Bangladesh have won only one of their 19 completed ODIs against Australia

Australia fans

The Gabba hosts Ireland’s match against the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday

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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media along side the Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski and Interpreter Mark Cave, aka #SignGuy

An Australian sign language interpreter who translated the Queensland Premier’s live Cyclone Marcia press conference has made waves on social media. But what did his energetic performance add to the important storm information being broadcast?

A number of sign language interpreters have hit the headlines in the past few years for their show-stealing performances at public events. In 2013, viewers of the Nelson Mandela memorial called out an interpreter for not using correct South African sign language.

In 2012, Lydia Callis, who interpreted at live press conference updates for New York’s Mayor Bloomberg during Superstorm Sandy, shot to fame for her energetic translations. It’s thought that people take particular note of the interpreter because it’s a novelty that they don’t see on their screens too often.

The latest one to go viral comes from Australia.

Mark Cave has been widely praised by deaf and hearing tweeters alike for his interpretation of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s live updates on the status of Tropical Cyclone Marcia. He is “doing so much for AUSLAN and understanding”, one Tweeter said of the 30-year-old. AUSLAN is Australian sign language, the UK equivalent is BSL. Another tweeter pointed out that sign language is “a must for all emergency events”. Some users aren’t fluent in English so can’t benefit from subtitles.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media along side the Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski and Interpreter Mark Cave, aka #SignGuyCave interprets for Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski

“Interpreters are seen on TV screens during emergencies like Cyclone Marcia or Superstorm Sandy because that’s the best way for authorities to ensure that deaf people who use sign language get the message that everyone else is getting,” says Charlie Swinbourne, editor of deaf community blog The Limping Chicken.

Sign language, he says, incorporates not only hand movements, but body language and facial expressions too. Just as hearing people might modify the tone of their voice, Swinbourne says that interpreters have to be more animated than usual when translating information in emergency situations, to convey their seriousness. “To a non-signing audience, those relatively dramatic signs, for words like ‘storm’, really stand out,” he says.

People with no connection to the deaf community have described Cave’s animated performance as “hilarious”, “entertaining”, “poetic” and “mesmerising”, like an “interpretive dancer”. @Lou_OMara loves the interpreter’s facial expressions, saying that he should be on children’s television show Play School.

Comments on Twitter

Sign language interpreter Rob Troy says that sometimes translations might come across as slightly over the top because “we are not always aware of how we look when the complexities of the situation take over. It is this dissonance between what we portray and what we believe we are portraying that makes sign language interpreting so interesting, and at times comedic, for the audience.”

Some tweeters made it clear that their attention had been drawn to Cave, rather than the Queensland Premier. @VisionInvesting wrote that #signguy was “making an update on cyclone and being translated by some lady”. “We muted and made up our own commentary”, @JanHan29 said.

Troy says that while “it is always important to respect the speaker when interpreting a one-way event”, it is not something that is always at the forefront of his mind. “In that very moment, I am concentrating on delivering the message”, he says.

Twitter came alive with jokes about the Australian interpreter’s impact, with viewers using the hashtag #signguy over 1,000 times in 24 hours. @aus_pm, a fake account for the country’s prime minister Tony Abbott, tweeted: “Maybe #signguy wants to be Chief Whip? I’ll ask.”

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VIDEO: ‘Cyclone sandwich’ hits Australia

A powerful cyclone has hit the coast of central Queensland in Australia.

Cyclone Marcia made landfall near the tourist town of Yeppoon, where it tore roofs off houses.

The cyclone has since been downgraded but was expected to cause massive seas with abnormally high tides, flash flooding and winds gusting up to nearly 300 kilometres per hour.

Separately, Tropical Cyclone Lam hit the Northern Territory, effectively “sandwiching” the country.

Phil Mercer reports

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Powerful cyclones hit Australia

People duck waves on the Australian Gold Coast (20 Feb 2015)Some Australians were not heeding emergency warnings

Two major storms have slammed into Australia, knocking out power, damaging homes and forcing evacuations in coastal areas.

Tropical Cyclone Marcia hit the Queensland coast between Yeppoon and St Lawrence on Friday morning local time.

Arriving with little warning as a Category Five storm, it has now been downgraded to a Two but still threatens high tides and heavy rain.

Separately, Tropical Cyclone Lam hit a remote area of the Northern Territory.

‘Terrifying experience’

In its latest update, the BOM said Marcia had weakened to a Category Two cyclone, with sustained winds of 110km/h (72mph) and gusts of up to 155km/h.

It was about about 60km west of the town of Gladstone, Queensland and 65km north-northeast of Biloela, and moving south-southeast at 18 kmh but expected to weaken below cyclone strength by Saturday morning.

Strong winds and waves hit the coastal town of Yeppoon in north Queensland on 20 February 2015 after Tropical Cyclone Marcia made landfall“Destructive winds” battered coastal and island communities including Yeppoon in Queensland

Driving rain and high winds from Cyclone Marcia hit Yeppoon, Queensland, Australia, on 20 February 2015 About 870 Yeppoon homes were evacuated because of possible storm surges

Surfers during Tropical Cyclone Marcia at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast (20 Feb 2015)Surfers off the Gold Coast made the most of the rough sea conditions

The BoM warned of abnormally high tides and said people in coastal areas should be ready evacuate if necessary.

Earlier on Friday, the storm passed through Rockhampton and Yeppoon, where Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said people of had gone through a “terrifying experience”.

“We are very, very thankful that we have avoided the worst of what could’ve been an absolute catastrophe if those winds had escalated and the Category Five had gone straight over Yeppoon,” she told reporters in Brisbane.

Ms Palaszczuk said earlier that 33,000 residences were without power in the Livingstone/Yeppoon area and 20,000 in Rockhampton.

There were no reports of injuries, but some homes and businesses suffered significant structural damage, she tweeted.



Tropical Cyclone Marcia in the Coral Sea

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Darren Ferguson is on Great Keppel Island, where winds are up to 150 km/h

In Yeppoon, about 870 homes were evacuated because of storm surges, according to Queensland emergency authorities.

More than 170 schools and childcare centres had been closed, and people evacuated or moved to safety on both Lady Elliot Island and Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.



ABC's weather forecast showing the storm

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Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow spoke to the BBC just before Marcia was due to hit the town

The mayor of Rockhampton, Margaret Strelow, told ABC Radio that Marcia was like “a real moving beast” as it appeared to head first to the west of the city and then to the east.

Further south, local media reported that 90,000 sandbags had so far been handed out across Queensland’s major city, Brisbane, because of predictions of heavy rain and flooding.

Describing the cyclone as “very serious”, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Let’s hope we can get through it without any loss of life.”

Roads impassable

Cyclone Lam, which arrived as a Category Four, struck close to the tiny and remote indigenous settlements of Elcho and Goulburn Island, east of Darwin.

Some communities had been evacuated ahead of the storm, but others spent the day in emergency shelters.

Evacuated children from Warruwi community attend class in Darwin, Northern Territory (20 Feb 2015)These children were evacuated to Darwin along with their entire community from Goulburn Island

Regional police commander Bruce Porter said Elcho Island had no power or water, and that there had been “substantial” damage.

“Initial reports are the airstrip is still intact but covered with debris,” the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

“There are downed power lines. There are a number of trees down and many roads are impassable and we do have a number of buildings and houses that have been severely damaged.”

Lam has now been downgraded to a tropical low, but Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) warned of further “squally thunderstorms” and high tides.

Cyclones Lam (top) and MarciaSatellite images of Cyclones Lam (top) and Marcia

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Australia’s ‘beautiful prison’ in Papua New Guinea

Manus Island

For more than a year Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving on Christmas Island to a holding camp in Papua New Guinea. If their applications are upheld they can stay in Papua New Guinea, but will never return to Australia. A year ago there was bloodshed, and many in the camp are at breaking point.

“Imagine a large and real cage in the most isolated island, surrounded by ocean and jungle and tall coconut trees,” says Omid, a 25-year-old Iranian.

“No doubt our prison is the most beautiful prison in the world.”

Omid is not exaggerating. Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is small and rugged, covered in thick jungle, and the coastline is stunning.

It’s home to around 50,000 islanders – but also to about 1,000 detained asylum seekers who never wanted to be here and are mostly desperate to get out and go anywhere except back where they came from.

Until mid-2013, Omid was a journalist in Iran. He fled the country under the threat of arrest, paying traffickers a small fortune to take him to Australia.

Like many asylum seekers setting off from Indonesia, Omid headed for Christmas Island, a tiny Australian territory much closer than the mainland.

Map of Manus in relation to Australia

Despite reaching Australian borders, he was relocated to an overcrowded detention centre on Manus Island, where he has been stuck for the last 18 months.

That’s because of a controversial deal between Australia and Papua New Guinea in July 2013, in which Australia effectively began outsourcing much of the responsibility for these asylum seekers to its impoverished Pacific neighbour.

“Any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees,” stated Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister at the time.

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If the men and women apply to stay in PNG, and they are judged to be genuine asylum seekers, they will be settled there.

If they are judged to be economic migrants, they will be sent home.

But most of the people held in the camp have refused to apply for residency in PNG and remain in the camp, for lack of anywhere else to go, in a kind of limbo.

“They were padlocked behind gates and [within] the first five minutes [of my arrival] the asylum seekers started shaking the fence and started calling for help,” says Australian student Nicole Judge, who worked there as a support worker for four months in 2013.

“Manus Island had an instant sense of imprisonment.”

A former Australian naval base, the centre initially consisted of a series of old army tents, rammed full of people, mainly from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Manus in 2012

“It was totally degrading and humiliating,” Judge says. “The stench of faeces, it’s unbearably hot – and you’ve got mosquitoes.”

Detainees contracted malaria and typhoid, which was aggravated by a regular lack of toilet paper and running water.

The squalid conditions form part of a long list of troubling claims.

“Every day I saw asylum seekers humiliated by staff. We’d have a lot of stereotyping, a lot of racism, ill-treatment,” says Judge.

The conditions took their toll on vulnerable detainees.

“I saw quite a few times men attempt suicide, self-harm, or just sit down and scream, yell or cry,” says Judge.

Omid, meanwhile, says mental illness is rife, and describes self-harm as a daily occurrence.

“We are now used to watching the blood. People cut themselves and they feel relaxed temporarily.

“Dozens of asylum seekers are traumatised with sleep disorders and nightmares.”

Hunger strikers Hunger strikers in January 2015 are tended to by fellow asylum seekers

Reza BaratiReza Barati, 23, was killed in brutal violence at the centre in February 2014

One year ago, in February 2014, growing animosity between asylum seekers and their local guards came to a climax.

Guards responded violently to protests by detainees, and local people joined in the bloodshed after being allowed into the camp with machetes and knives.

Twenty-three-year-old Reza Barati was brutally murdered. A further 77 people were injured, including one who was shot and another blinded in one eye.

An Australian parliamentary inquiry concluded that the events were “eminently foreseeable”.

Improvements to the camp were subsequently made, including new accommodation blocks, clean water from Australia, floodlights at night and higher security fences.

But discontent continues to fester.

About 700 of the detainees went on hunger strike in January this year. At least 10 sewed their lips shut in protest. Others swallowed razor blades and hazardous chemicals.

Three men with their lips sewn shutSeveral men have sewn their lips together in protest

The Australian government defends its tough actions as a necessary step in combating people trafficking. It also argues that this is the best way to save lives lost at sea in rickety, overcrowded vessels.

In 2013, 400 boats carrying more than 26,000 asylum seekers reached Australian territory, but more than 300 people died in the attempt.

In 2014, by contrast, just one boat arrived. A further 15 were intercepted and turned back by the Australian navy.

At the end of the year the government signed a similar deal Cambodia, raising the possibility of detainees in Nauru being resettled there.

Rescue ship takes asylum seekers to Christmas Island in 2012Asylum seekers in 2012 were rescued from a capsized boat and taken to Christmas Island

Of those held in Papua New Guinea, an unspecified number, up to a few hundred, have gone home of their own accord.

Only 80 have so far been granted asylum. Ten of those have moved out of the camp and are living temporarily in Manus, waiting to be resettled elsewhere in PNG.

But while Australia and PNG may be close geographically, economically and culturally they’re a world apart.

Four Australian cities made the top 10 “liveable” cities in 2014, as judged by the Economist Intelligence Unit, while PNG’s capital Port Moresby came third from bottom, behind only Dhaka in Bangladesh and Damascus, capital of Syria.

Machete attacks, gun crime and carjacking are frequent events.

Unemployment is high, health and education standards are low. The country’s 7.2 million people speak 700 different languages, and four fifths of them live in rural areas with few of the facilities of modern life.

Highland tribesPapua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country in the world

Critics have questioned whether a country with such problems can withstand an influx of foreigners with whom they share very few cultural ties – and this may help explain why few of the asylum seekers have applied to stay there.

“They don’t want to be in Papua – they want to be in Australia,” says Charlie Benjamin, the mayor of Manus.

“If somebody doesn’t want to be resettled here and you force them to be, definitely there will be a problem.”

He adds: “Settling people from another culture – another religion – here in Papua New Guinea is not easy for us to accept.”

Australia spends nearly $500,000 to run the camp each year, employing local cleaners, caterers and security guards.

Manus has also received Australian development aid – a new market is being built in the main town of Lorengau – though critics say Australian construction companies are favoured over local ones.

The islanders call it “boomerang aid”.

The fact that the few refugees to have moved out of the camp are being housed in a new housing unit costing more than $100m – better equipped than most islanders’ homes – has already caused some resentment.

Typical Manus house and familyMost Manus islanders live without many modern conveniences

“Is the assistance they are giving to us equal to what we are giving them?” asks Benjamin. “I don’t think so. Maybe my expectation is too high.”

Omid’s expectations, meanwhile, are at their lowest.

“What makes it worse than a prison is the uncertainty we face. A prisoner knows how long he will be imprisoned but we don’t,” he says.

“Sorry, I don’t care what happens to me any more.”

Watch the full documentary Dying for a Better Life, presented by Fariba Sahraei, on BBC World at 09:10 GMT and 20:10 GMT on Saturday 21 February, or at 02:10 GMT and 15:10 GMT on Sunday 22 February

For more on the BBC’s A Richer World, go to www.bbc.com/richerworld – or join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #BBCRicherWorld

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England women thrash New Zealand

England women bowled New Zealand out for 60 as they won the first of three Twenty20 matches by eight wickets with 50 balls left in Whangarei.

Spinner Heather Knight (3-10) took three wickets for two runs to reduce New Zealand to 10-4 after five overs.

Anya Shrubsole later took 3-6 as New Zealand collapsed to their lowest T20 international score.

England captain Charlotte Edwards made an unbeaten 32 as England reached their victory target after just 11.4 overs.

At 18-6 New Zealand looked strong candidates to record the lowest ever women’s T20I score, beating Sri Lanka’s 57 all out against Bangladesh in 2012.

Katie Perkins and Erin Bermingham saw New Zealand through the next few overs, but the introduction of Anya Shrubsole accounted for Perkins and then Tahuhu.

Bermingham, the only Kiwi to reach double figures, had taken her score to 20 and the New Zealand total to 55 before she too played across the line and was lbw to Laura Marsh.

At 55-9 New Zealand still needed three runs to make it past Sri Lanka’s previous low and they limped to 60, before Shrubsole wrapped up the innings.

England lost Lauren Winfield for one with the score on five, but Charlotte Edwards looked in confident mood and steered her side to an emphatic victory.

Victory was a measure of revenge for England after they lost the one-day series 2-1.

The second Twenty20 international is to be played at the same venue on Friday.

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Virgin Australia loss narrows

Virgin Australia planeVirgin Australia is majority owned by Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Etihad

Virgin Australia saw its losses narrow to A$47.8m ($37.3m; £24.2m) in the six months to December because of lower oil prices and a cost-cutting programme.

Revenue rose by 6% to A$2.38bn from a year earlier.

Australia’s second-largest carrier has also benefited from a truce with rival Qantas following a bruising domestic price war.

Virgin Australia said it now expects an improved performance in the second half of the financial year.

Chief executive John Borghetti said in a statement that “good momentum is building in our domestic business, which accounts for around 75% of our total business”.

“Based on Virgin Australia Group’s current hedging position and market rates, the Group expects to see further benefit in the second half of the 2015 financial year,” he said.

However, many analysts still expect it to post a third consecutive annual loss in 2015.

Virgin Australia launched in 1999 as a budget carrier travelling between Sydney and Melbourne before converting to an international airline in 2011.

The carrier is majority-owned by Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Etihad Airways, which together hold a 73% stake. Virgin founder Richard Branson holds a 10% stake.

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Australian wins US terror appeal

David Hicks. Photo: 2013Hicks’ lawyer said his client is now “free to live his life”

An Australian former Guantanamo Bay detainee has had his terrorism conviction overturned in the US.

David Hicks, 39, pleaded guilty at the base in Cuba in 2007 to providing material support to terrorism.

But a US court has struck down the conviction, on the grounds the charge was not a war crime and so should not have been heard at a military court.

Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, where he attended al-Qaeda training camps and met Osama Bin Laden.

A Pentagon spokesman said the US will not appeal.

The unanimous ruling, by the US Court of Military Commission Review, reverses what had been one of the few successes in prosecuting Guantanamo detainees.

‘Long road’

“David is aware of the decision and he is thrilled,” Hicks’ lawyer Wells Dixon said. “He is free to live his life without this conviction hanging over his head.”

“It’s been a long road which has finally now come to an end,” his father told ABC. “It’s pretty hard to take in at the moment.”

Hicks travelled to Pakistan in 1999, joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group the following year and took part in an attack on Indian forces, according to court documents.

He then went to Afghanistan where he was captured by the Northern Alliance and handed to the US in late 2001.

He spent more than five years at Guantanamo, where he says he was tortured.

His guilty plea was part of a plea bargain which shortened his seven-year sentence and allowed him to return home.

Prosecutors had argued his conviction should have stood as he agreed not to appeal as part of the plea bargain.

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Japan Post to buy Australia’s Toll

Japan Post signJapan Post is set to takeover Australia’s Toll Holdings in a $5.1bn bid

Government owned Japan Post will buy Australia’s largest freight and logistics firm Toll Holdings for $5.1bn (£3.3bn), the companies said.

The move is expected to help Japan Post, which is one of the world’s biggest financial firms, become a leading global logistics player.

Under the deal, Melbourne-based Toll will retain its name and run as a division under Japan Post.

The state-owned company also has plans to list on the stock market this year.

“Together, this will be a very powerful combination and one of the world’s top five logistics companies,” Toll chairman Ray Horsburgh said in a statement on Wednesday.

‘Premium’ price

Shares of Toll, which is also the largest independent logistics firm in the Asia Pacific region, skyrocketed 47% in Sydney after it agreed to the takeover bid.

Toll’s board said the $9.04 Australian dollars ($7.06; £4.60) offer price, was a 49% premium to Tuesday’s closing price of A$6.08, and made for a “compelling transaction”.

Meanwhile, Japan Post, which has net assets of about $115bn, said the acquisition would help it step up mergers and acquisitions throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

In December, the conglomerate had said it planned to list its core postal, bank and insurance units, in what could be the biggest share offering of Japan’s state firms in about 20 years.

The takeover bid is subject to approval by shareholders and regulators.

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31514088#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

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