He has ruled out an increase to Australia’s overall annual intake, but he is being urged to consider a one-off increase for refugees displaced by conflict in the Middle East.

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The Abbott Government has indicated religious minorities could have priority if it does increase Australia’s humanitarian-refugee intake for people fleeing Syria.

 

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has suggested Australia should prioritise the Yazidi population.

 

Frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull says Syrian Christians will struggle to return home even if conflict ends.

 

But Greens leader Richard Di Natale has told the ABC that suggestions of prioritising certain persecuted minorities over others is dangerous and divisive.

 

“So what are we suggesting here? Are we suggesting that people of Islamic faith shouldn’t be let into Australia? I mean, that is a very dangerous territory. Are we going to determine our refugee intake on the basis of faith now? We won’t let in people who practise Islam? I’m really concerned when the Prime Minister starts to use race politics, politics of division, politics of sectarianism, to determine how we make the contribution that needs to be made when it comes to letting in refugees.”

 

The Greens have proposed taking in 20,000 Syrians as additional refugees to Australia’s current humanitarian intake, calling the current situation a humanitarian catastrophe.

 

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has reportedly asked the Government to prioritise Christians fleeing regions of Syria controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

 

He has told The Australian newspaper the Government should increase the refugee intake “very substantially” to accommodate thousands more Christians fleeing to Turkey and Europe.

 

The Islamic Council of Victoria says the conversation about raising Australia’s refugee intake is long overdue.

 

But council secretary Kuranda Seyit, too, says selecting refugees based on religion sets a dangerous precedent.

 

“You could probably say that 99 per cent of the refugees that are flowing into Europe and into neighbouring countries are Muslim. Preference should be given to the most urgent cases. We should not be discriminating on a religious basis. I think that every case is serious. A person fleeing a war zone, regardless if it’s a woman, a child or a man, they all deserve the right to be given refuge, to be given asylum. There would be, I suppose, criticism towards Australia as being a Christian society, giving preferential treatment to Christian refugees, and I hope that we do not get those types of accusations.”

 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called on Tony Abbott to offer an additional 10,000 humanitarian places for refugees escaping conflict in the Middle East.

 

Mr Shorten says his party is also proposing $100 million be provided to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

 

He says that would ensure timely assistance for countries around Syria where refugees are fleeing.

 

“The whole world is trying to grapple with this challenging problem. I believe that Australia has a role to play in assisting the international movement to respond to the problems that the neighbours of Syria are facing and, more important, the population of Syria. We need to lift the overall number. That’s the essence of what Labor’s proposing. And we also say, ‘Let’s do this together.’ This is not politics as usual. This is not business as usual. We’ve suggested a meeting of the Opposition and the Government, state leaders, community organisations and, of course, religious organisations.”

 

The UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, has launched its first humanitarian appeal to support European operations since the Second World War.

 

Naomi Steer is the UNHCR’s national director in Australia.

 

She says more than 360,000 refugees have reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea since January and the Australian people have helped provide life-saving support.

 

“Australians have responded already, donating to UNHCR’s appeal, but we would really ask for much more support and generosity. And it often doesn’t take a lot to provide that kind of support. Twenty-five dollars provides an emergency kit, or a blanket, some cooking facilities, all very simple items but all things that mean a lot to people who have absolutely nothing.”

 

 

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South Australia has urged Canberra to “get on with” the Australia-China free trade agreement (FTA) as the state signs major new trade deals with the Chinese province of Shandong.

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Despite the federal opposition’s concerns, Labor Premier Jay Weatherill wants the deal settled as soon as possible to grow jobs and send a positive message to the nation’s largest trading partner.

“I do want the federal parliament to deal with this urgently,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“We want to send the clearest possible message (to China) that they’re welcome, their trade is welcome, their investments welcome.”

He said it should be possible to move forward on the agreement without the “hysteria” of political debate.

South Australia expects the FTA to particularly benefit the state’s food, wine, services and advanced manufacturing sectors.

Exports of meat, manufactured goods and wine have all increased over the past year.

“Our message to Canberra is to get on with it,” Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said.

SA will sign new trade agreements with Shandong province on Tuesday night as 150 key officials and trade delegates visit Adelaide, including party secretary Jiang Yikang, the area’s most senior official.

SA and Shandong were established as sister states almost 30 years ago as a way to foster cultural and business ties.

Mr Hamilton-Smith said such international government-to-government relationships opened doors in business.

“It’s presented South Australia as a doorway to Australia and Shandong as a doorway to China,” he said.

“So far already this year quite a lot of jobs and quite a lot of enterprise have grown from the engagement.”

He said the new deal would set out the continuing engagement between SA and Shandong for years to come.

“This relationship will provide South Australian exporters access to lucrative new markets, which will lead to a rapid escalation in export opportunities and job outcomes,” he said.

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Media reports have revealed thousands of workers from 7-Eleven franchises have been underpaid.

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Many of them are international students who now want to be allowed to work more hours.

 

Kevin describes himself as “just an average student.”

 

But travelling to Australia from the Philippines to pursue his studies has not come without challenges.

 

“It’s really expensive. And we can see that all over the news that Australia really does have one of the highest costs when it comes to studying. For instance accommodation is really expensive.”

 

Kevin is one of many international students finding it hard to make ends meet.

 

After reports of worker exploitation by 7-Eleven stores and United Petroleum, some students are saying the laws are at fault.

 

In Australia, international students are permitted to work just 40 hours per fortnight, or 20 hours per week, while they are studying.

 

Kevin says that isn’t enough.

 

He says the system creates desperate students, which leaves them vulnerable to exploitative employers.

 

“A lot of international students would be so desperate to work, even in abusive working environments, just to be able to support their needs, their weekly needs. And so I think that’s where the exploitation by employers comes in, because they know there are heaps of international students who are willing to take on jobs which are not offering what should be offered.”

 

Student representatives are noticing the toll it’s taking.

 

Chris Wilson is President of the Postgraduate and Reasearch Student Association at the Australian National University (ANU).

 

International students make up nearly half of the postgraduate body at A-N-U, and Chris says cost of living is one of the biggest issues they raise.

 

“I usually hear and see the tiredness and fatigue of people trying to study full-time and trying to work as much as they can in order to afford what I wouldn’t really consider basics, but food, rent, all of this sort of stuff.”

 

There are roughly half a million international students in Australia, at any given moment.

 

They boost the economy by billions of dollars each year.

 

Now they are demanding recognition for their contribution.

 

Kofi Osei Bonsu is a student leader at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

 

He’s rallying international students to ask the government to allow them to work longer hours.

 

“Students are really suffering in silence. I believe that, if the government increases the 20 hour limit to 30 – at least – it will help stop this exploitation….I want the government to do more.”

 

So far the government hasn’t indicated how they will tackle the issue.

 

Last week Immigration Minister Peter Dutton spoke on a proposal to grant amnesty to foreign workers, who want to speak out about their exploitation without fear of punishment for breaking the 20-hour rule.

 

“I think any of those matters obviously need to be properly investigated and the appropriate response be provided at the time, but there’ll be a process for that to go through and we can make comment on that in due course.”

 

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St George-Illawarra star Benji Marshall is on the verge of ending a three-year drought without finals or Test football.

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In what is the Dragons’ first finals match in the post-Wayne Bennett era, Marshall will be the point man when his side faces off against Canterbury in Saturday’s elimination final.

But the 30-year-old is also a strong chance of being selected in the Kiwis’ three-Test series against England in November, with first-choice halfback Shaun Johnson still recovering from a broken ankle.

Back-up option Thomas Leuluai wasn’t named in the Kiwis’ train-on squad on Tuesday after rupturing his knee mid-season, although rookie Tuimoala Lolohea could partner Kieran Foran in the halves.

However former Test representative Sam Perrett, who lines up against Marshall this weekend, joined a growing chorus of Kiwis, including Johnson himself, pushing for a recall for the 2008 World Cup-winning skipper to the national team.

“With his experience – he’s captained the Kiwis in the past – I think he’s still got a lot to offer,” Perrett said.

“He’s a great player, so hopefully he does get back in. I’d love to see him back in the Kiwi jersey.”

Marshall, who left the NRL for a failed stint in rugby union in 2014, last played for the Kiwis in 2012.

His last appearance in a finals fixture was with the Wests Tigers in the same year.

Perrett, who played 19 Tests for the Kiwis between 2007-13, said he still considered Marshall one of his toughest ever opponents.

“He’s always been that kind of player for me personally,” he said.

“I dread playing guys like Benji, and Chrissy Sandow in the past.

“They’re just very unpredictable and, a lot of the time, what they have a crack at comes off.”

Saturday’s clash with the Bulldogs is the Dragons’ first finals match since going down to Brisbane in the 2011 semi-final.

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The government needs to consider greater safeguards and stronger diplomatic efforts before Australia sells uranium to India, a new report says.

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The treaties committee report, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, said India should be encouraged to become a party to the comprehensive test ban treaty and separate its civil and military nuclear facilities.

Uranium should not be sold to India until it puts in place an independent nuclear regulator and best practice safety inspections of nuclear facilities, the report said.

Committee chairman, Liberal MP Wyatt Roy, said in the report there were some “significant risks” to selling uranium to India.

India was outside the “nuclear non-proliferation mainstream” and Australia should use all diplomatic steps to ensure it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

There were weaknesses in the way India’s nuclear facilities are regulated “that jeopardise nuclear safety and security”.

“The committee has made a recommendation that the sale of uranium to India only commence when these weaknesses have been addressed,” Mr Roy said.

However, he said the committee had been satisfied Australian nuclear material in India could be accounted for and tracked.

The report found uranium sales to India could be between 1000 and 2000 tonnes and worth up to $225 million in export earnings by 2030.

The Mining Council estimated jobs in the industry could rise from 4300 to 8000.

Two Labor members of the committee said the full separation of India’s civil and military nuclear facilities and the setting up of a new independent watchdog should be done before the treaty is ratified.

The majority committee view was that these two matters should be addressed after ratification.

“We consider it essential that any nuclear agreement with India should be at least as rigorous as all the agreements Australia has concluded with other countries,” Labor’s Melissa Parke and Sue Lines wrote.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the deal should not go ahead.

“It puts the interest of a small and marginal industry ahead of global security,” he said.

Talks with India on uranium were first flagged under the Howard government but stalled under the Rudd Labor government, before the ALP changed its policy in December 2011.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard announced formal talks with India in October 2012 and the agreement was tabled in parliament in October 2014.

Labor MP and deputy chairman of the committee, Kelvin Thomson, said the report should act as an “orange light”, warning the government to tread carefully.

“The government will ignore these powerful recommendations, which come not only from opposition members but members of the government, at its peril and the peril of Australia’s reputation as a global citizen with a strong commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament,” Mr Thomson said.

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It is the first time Britain has carried out such an attack.

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The drone strike was carried out last month, targeting British citizen Reyaad Khan.

 

It also killed fellow Briton Ruhul Amin and another IS fighter.

 

While the United States has carried out drone attacks against its own citizens for more than ten years, it marks the first known targeted attack by Britain on one of its own citizens.

 

Speaking about the deaths in the British parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the strike as “entirely lawful”.

 

He also confirmed a third Briton, Junaid Hussein, also believed to be fighting with IS, died in a drone strike by the United States.

 

“I’m clear that the action we took was entirely lawful. The Attorney-General was consulted and was clear there would be a clear, legal basis for action in international law. We were exercising the UK’s inherent right to self-defence. There was clear evidence of the individuals in question planning and directing armed attacks against the UK.”

 

During the session in the House of Commons, Acting Labour Party Leader Harriet Harman asked the Prime Minister why Khan was deliberately targeted in the attack.

 

“What was it about this individual and his actions that singled him out from all that has gone before? Did he represent an ongoing threat, or was the threat based on a specific act he was plotting?”

 

Mr Cameron insisted the drone strike was necessary to national security.

 

“We should be under no illusion, their intention was the murder of British citizens. So, on this occasion, we ourselves took action.”

 

Mr Cameron also said he supported Britain extending its bombing campaign against I-S to Syria as well as Iraq.

 

But he stressed he would return to parliament for formal authorisation.

 

Mr Cameron’s government was defeated on taking military action in Syria in 2013 in one of the most damaging foreign-policy blows to his previous coalition government.

 

A family friend of Reyaad Khan has told the BBC he is shocked by the killing.

 

“It is shocking for us as a local community. It is a devastating situation for the family as well as the local community. I believe what the RAF has done, maybe in terms of British interest they have done (it), but, obviously, there are a lot more questions to answer.”

 

Estimates range between 500 and as many as 2,000 British nationals have travelled to fight in Syria.

 

Speaking in a video years before he left Britain, Reyaad Khan said he hoped to one day become prime minister and was determined to reduce crime rates in his neighbourhood.

 

Asked by a reporter if he thought the world was an evil place or a lovely place?, he replied, “The world can be a lovely place. But you’ve just got to get rid of the evil. There’s a bit of both. If everyone can choose the good, then the evil will go away.”

 

 

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Pacific island countries are hopeful of wrapping up a trade pact with the European Union by year’s end and one with Australia and New Zealand mid-next year.

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Fourteen leaders discussed trade agreement negotiation progress and labour mobility on Tuesday in Port Moresby, ahead of the Pacific Island Forum leaders summit and retreat, which includes Australia and New Zealand, later this week.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the Pacific island nations hoped to seal the EU trade deal at the UN climate change talks in Paris this December.

“On the sidelines of that meeting we look forward to meeting with the European Union with the view of finalising the final agreement,” he told reporters.

There were concerns negotiations had dragged on to long after about a decade and Pacific leaders were keen to get on with it, Mr O’Neill said.

Meanwhile negotiations for the Pacer Plus trade deal with Australia and NZ were going well and Mr O’Neill flagged June 2016 was the expected deadline.

The Pacific leaders hailed Australia’s recent increase to its seasonal workers program and hope NZ will also raise their quota.

Mr O’Neill said Tuesday’s meeting had backed many of the recommendations of a climate change declaration by six small island states released on Monday.

It had called for a global moratorium on new coal mining, polluter pays principles and the climate change temperature rise to be restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

NZ Prime Minister John Key is due to arrive in Port Moresby on Tuesday evening and Prime Minister Tony Abbott will fly in on Wednesday.

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Usually the minors, mainly teenage boys, complete their long journey from the Middle East, Africa and Asia by crossing the Oresund bridge from Denmark, and seek help in the first Swedish city they reach, Malmo.

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Staff at a Malmo transit centre, who care for unaccompanied children during their first few days in the country, describe how some arrive with head injuries or broken bones.

Often these are suffered when they fall from trucks on which they are trying to stow away.

But the injuries can also be inflicted by the very smugglers that their parents have paid to take them to safety in northern Europe.

Criminal gangs exploiting Syrian refugees 

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Some children, for example, suffer from hearing loss after they have been slapped over the ears during a journey which includes a lethally dangerous sea crossing to Europe on rafts or in boats, many of which are not seaworthy.

“We have also received many who came via Libya, including people who have been on the capsized boats,” said the centre’s manager Kristina Rosen.

One unaccompanied child saw his brother drown in the Mediterranean; staff at the centre estimate more than half the children need psychological care at some point. In proportion to its population, Sweden receives more asylum seekers than any other European nation and numbers are rising sharply, with many fleeing the civil war in Syria.

The country, which has welcomed refugees since the 1970s, also takes in around a third of all unaccompanied minors arriving in the European Union and their numbers are expected nearly to double this year to 12,000.

Officials say parents can often afford the cost of smuggling only one family member. So they send one child to Sweden, often to avoid recruitment as fighters by militant groups such as Islamic State, which has overrun large areas of Syria and Iraq, or Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Less than a third of the unaccompanied children are ever reunited with their parents.

Strain on the city

Malmo, just 35 minutes from Copenhagen by train, is the main port of entry into Sweden for minors.

Some are found wandering on the city’s streets by strangers who take them to the authorities. Others seek out police or social workers, or are dropped off by smugglers near the Migration Agency with directions to its offices.

By August, 9,383 unaccompanied children had applied for asylum in Sweden this year, up from 7,049 in all of 2014, with numbers accelerating sharply this summer.

They were mainly from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria, data from Sweden’s Migration Agency showed, and most were boys. Last year, 29 percent of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the EU came to Sweden, the agency says, putting the cost of care at 9.1 billion crowns ($1.1 billion) this year.

Children stay at the Malmo transit centre for just a few days before they go to other centres around Sweden, or move in with foster families if they are very young. Staff try to give the Malmo centre the atmosphere of a home rather than an institution.

Teenagers sit in what looks like a living room, playing computer games or browsing Facebook. When one Syrian boy, who said he was 12, arrived at the centre, he spoke very softly in basic English. He was wearing clean sweat pants and carrying a simple bag.

Staff said the younger children often arrive by train. But older children can come in a much worse shape, and are sometimes very dirty after hanging under a truck on the way to Sweden.

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“What is most striking on their arrival is that they are extremely tired and extremely hungry. They eat endless amounts of food,” Rosen said.

Around 92 percent of the unaccompanied minors seeking asylum are between 13 and 17 years old.

With 40 to 50 children arriving each day, the town’s resources are strained, Malmo Mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh said, listing overcrowding and difficulties in recruiting staff. Once settled, many do fairly well as they grow up.

A Stockholm University study of minors who had arrived between 2003 and 2013 found that their employment rate was lower than the Swedish average. However, proportionately more had found work than refugee children who arrived with their parents.

Aref Karami, from Afghanistan and now 21, came alone to Sweden when he was 16. He travelled through Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Germany and Denmark.

Between Greece and Italy he was with 34 people in a rubber dinghy for seven hours. “I had heard of Sweden, that it is the best country to study in, and it was my dream to study,” Karami, who is now at high school and dreams of becoming an architect.

Britain to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees 

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(Additional reporting by Mikael Nilsson in Malmo, Johan Ahlander in Stockholm; Editing by Sabina Zawadzki, Alistair Scrutton and David Stamp)

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dared Labor to explain why it opposes the China free trade deal.

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In a rare parliamentary move for a government, Mr Abbott on Tuesday used a motion that sought backing for the agreement in its negotiated form.

“It’s a deal that we either take or leave,” he told MPs, adding it would be “absolutely unconscionable” not to take it.

The “painfully-finalised” deal would give Australia unprecedented access to the biggest market in Asia and soon the biggest in the world.

It was a much better agreement than the one New Zealand cut with China five years ago, he said, that resulted in its exports quadrupling. Mr Abbott challenged Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to tell parliament why he was opposing the deal.

Otherwise the public would get the strong impression he was backing a xenophobic and racist “campaign of lies” being run by trade unions.

“Just for once, tell us where you stand,” Mr Abbott goaded the Labor leader.

“Just for once, stop playing politics.”

Trade Minister Andrew Robb warned of the monumental damage Labor risked by blocking the deal.

“If you dump this agreement this will affect our relationship not just economically, but in a wider sense.”

Mr Shorten said he supported the deal but wanted to get the right package by working with the government to protect Australian jobs and wages.

He dismissed the Abbott motion as a hollow stunt from the “ultimate hollow man”.

“(It’s) a national time-wasting resolution from the champions of national time wasting,” Mr Shorten said.

He accused the prime minister of pre-empting the deliberations of a parliamentary committee still looking at the deal and not due to hand down its report until mid-October.

“There is nothing for Australia to gain by entering a race to the bottom with our neighbours on wages and conditions.”

The government used its numbers to defeat opposition amendments that committed parliament to legislating safeguards for local jobs, wages and conditions, workplace safety and protections for overseas workers from exploitation.

Mr Abbott’s motion passed on the voices, after Labor declined to call a division that would have required all votes to be formally recorded.

Farmers have urged both sides to stop playing politics and work out a solution.

The National Farmers Federation said political point-scoring was distracting from improving the economy.

“Denying Australian exporters a double tariff cut for the sake of playing politics would be an unforgivably reckless move we can’t afford,” chief executive Simon Talbot said in a statement.

Australia needed only look at its New Zealand neighbours to see the huge benefits of preferential market access, he said.

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Open-cut mines can leave surrounding trees unable to withstand drought, according to research that may have implications for the controversial Shenhua Watermark coal project.

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Researchers have found that underground water tables can fall by up to 20m within two kilometres of an open-cut mine as miners pump out groundwater to keep it out of the mine pit.

Groundwater can fall by up to four metres more than five kilometres away from a mine because of the cone of depression that forms around the excavation site.

Dr Sebastian Pfautsch, of Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, said changes in groundwater supply affected how well trees grew and how well they could survive in a drought.

Even when trees are not directly tapped into groundwater they could at times use “capillary water” drawn up through the soil to survive when there was little or no rain.

The research was conducted on eucalyptus trees around the Hope Downs iron ore mine in Western Australia but Dr Pfautsch said it raised questions about the impacts of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine that has been approved to be dug next to rich farmland on the NSW Liverpool Plains.

“What we examined in this study is how these trees respond when nearby mine operations start changing underground water supplies,” he said.

The study found changes in groundwater levels affect how much water is used by trees.

“The tight connection between water use and the growth of trees implies that a reduction in water use will lead to a reduction in growth.

“In extreme cases trees will die of thirst.

“Even if the Shenhua situation might be very different, what remains the same is the trees need to access water in some way when the ground is very dry.”

Dr Pfautsch said it is not clear if tree roots are able to quickly “follow” underground water when groundwater falls rapidly.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the Watermark mine with strict conditions in July, sparking anger from his cabinet colleague Barnaby Joyce who called the project “ridiculous”.

A report from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) to Mr Hunt identified uncertainties and “information gaps” in the mine proponent’s water impact studies.

The IESC also said it was not satisfied with the robustness of proposed water monitoring for the mine project.

Dr Pfautsch said better monitoring to assess tree health was needed for mine projects.

“You can have no effect for 10 years,” he said.

“Then the eleventh year comes along where you have a bit of a drought and everything just dies instantly.”

Dr Pfautsch said he was not saying “that mining kills trees” but that “the headline should be that mining can kill trees if you are not using an intelligent groundwater management system around the site”.

Dr Pfautsch’s research was jointly funded by the Australian Research Council and Rio Tinto Iron Ore and was published in the journal Ecohydrology in June, 2014.

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