June, 2019

Sizzler a fizzer for Collins Foods

Sizzler, the once popular all-you-can eat family restaurant chain, has lost its sizzle.

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Its owner Collins Foods says it won’t be investing in the chain any more and will close a number of restaurants after deciding Sizzler was no longer a key part of the company’s future.

Collins, which also owns KFC stores, has written down the value of the Sizzler brand by $37.5 million amid falling revenue as it struggles to compete with an explosion of cheap family dining options.

Chief executive Graham Maxwell said the closures are expected to cost about $900,000, however he declined to say how many of its 26 Sizzler restaurants across Australia will go.

The Sizzler writedown dragged Collins into the red, with the company posting a $10.4 million loss for the year to March 3, compared to a $14 million profit a year ago.

However, Mr Maxwell said Sizzler was expected to generate positive underlying earnings in 2015/16.

“We believe we have taken the necessary course of action to allow the company to pursue attractive growth opportunities,” he said.

“There are a number of Sizzler stores that are very profitable so we will assess each one individually.”

He said the closure plans won’t affect Sizzler Asia, with Collins planning to open two new restaurants in Thailand and expand the restaurant chain further in China.

Shares in Collins Foods rose seven cents to $2.73 as investors focused on the group’s 37 per cent rise in underlying profit to $24.6 million, which excludes the Sizzler writedown.

Motley Fool Australia research analyst Scott Phillips said Sizzler – famous for its cheese bread and food buffets – was a huge hit when it burst onto the Australian dining scene about 30 years ago.

“Sizzler was at the vanguard of family dining when they came out but as other stores popped up they failed to remain relevant,” he said.

“It became too expensive. That’s not what families are looking for, and it has been something of a slow death for Sizzler.”

He said the key challenge for Collins was to create growth in its KFC chain.

“Its same store sales growth is good but they are going to have to demonstrate that there is sufficient opportunity for expansion and I think the market is waiting to see a little bit more success there,” he said.

KFC same store sales, which strips out store openings and closures, were up 4.8 per cent from a year ago, while Sizzler’s slumped by 8.5 per cent.

Collins operates 172 KFC stores and has 61 franchised Sizzler restaurants around Asia.

The company plans to open eight new restaurants and revamp another 18.

SIZZLER DRAGS COLLINS FOODS INTO THE RED

*Full year loss of $10.4m, vs $14m profit in 2014/15

*Revenue of $571.6 million, up 29.7pct from $440.6m

*Fully franked final dividend of 6.5 cents per share, up from six cents

Waratahs aiming to bring Highlanders down to earth

The Waratahs rode to their maiden title on the back of the most potent attack in the competition last year and will back their scoring prowess in Saturday’s semi-final, even if they have not hit quite the same heights this season.

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The Highlanders could not hope to be heading to the Sydney Football Stadium in better shape after beating fellow New Zealand side the Waikato Chiefs last weekend to win their first playoff match since 1999.

That match highlighted the dual threat posed by the Highlanders with their uncompromising forward pack subduing the twice-champion Chiefs before the Aaron Smith-inspired backline finished them off.

All Blacks scrumhalf Smith is in the best form of his career and with winger Waisake Naholo, centre Malakai Fekitoa and full back Ben Smith among those lining up behind him, the Highlanders have a backline that could trouble any defence.

The Waratahs will aim to nullify Smith’s threat by cutting off his supply of ball and, failing that, by slowing down the rate at which the Highlanders recycle.

The physicality of the Waratahs pack and their ability to dominate, or at least compete, at the breakdown has been the touchstone of their season so far.

When the forwards show up, as they did when they defeated the then unbeaten Wellington Hurricanes in April, the Waratahs look a very good side indeed.

When they do not, as in their home defeat to South Africa’s Stormers a week earlier, they can be seriously lacklustre.

Losing centre Kurtley Beale, who alternates at first receiver with flyhalf Bernard Foley, to a quadricep injury was definitely a blow but Wallabies fullback Israel Folau appears to be hitting form just at the right time.

At centre, Adam Ashley-Cooper will not want to draw down the curtain on his long Waratahs career yet, while right wing Taqele Naiyaravoro is further proof that Fiji builds powerful and pacy wingers like few other countries.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is a great believer that all 23 players in the matchday squad can have a major influence on the result and it might be his Wallabies-laden bench that ultimately swings a tight contest in the home side’s favour.

The Highlanders finished the regular season with one more point than the Waratahs but the conference system gave Cheika’s side a home advantage they will not want to waste in front of a crowd of around 30,000.

The Hurricanes host ACT Brumbies in another trans-Tasman clash earlier on Saturday to decide the other finalist.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Labor, coalition at odds over ASIO visit

Tony Abbott has rejected Labor claims he is using threats to national security for political gain, as debate rages over his visit to ASIO headquarters.

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The prime minister allowed television cameras and still photographers into a briefing with ASIO chief Duncan Lewis in Canberra on Wednesday.

Digital and paper maps relating to national security issues were clearly visible in the images, including a colour-coded map of extremist hotspots in Sydney and Melbourne.

ASIO Media initially told the Canberra press gallery in an email: “We are unable to provide the documents – they are for official use only. Appreciate if you do not publish.”

But Mr Abbott told parliament on Thursday the documents had been “carefully edited and unclassified”, and there was no problem in them being in the public domain.

“This government would never knowingly politicise national security,” he said.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus moved a censure motion in the lower house accusing the prime minister of putting politics before national security.

“The prime minister has been using national security for partisan political purposes,” he said.

Mr Dreyfus called on Mr Abbott to explain whether he or his office had facilitated the media event and what security considerations had been addressed beforehand.

The prime minister’s office said Mr Lewis had selected the documents and was satisfied no information concerning national security was visible.

The government used its numbers to defeat the motion in the lower house.

Mr Dreyfus was later suspended from parliament during a rowdy question time during which he again tried to pursue the issue.

But Liberal MP Dennis Jensen has called for a review into how the documents came to be in the public domain.

“Clearly it’s not something that’s positive and it’s something that obviously will have to be looked at in terms of what went wrong,” he told reporters.

Mr Lewis said the documents’ content did not compromise national security.

Mr Abbott accused Labor of impugning the professionalism of the spy agency, saying he had received a classified briefing after the cameras had left.

Stopping Folau vital in rugby semi: Smith

Ben Smith can’t speak highly enough of NSW Waratahs opposing fullback Israel Folau, who will be firmly in the Highlanders’ crosshairs throughout Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final in Sydney.

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The clash of arguably the world’s premier attacking No.15s is a crucial element of the game which pits the defending champions at home to a Highlanders team riding a wave of momentum.

The visitors have won five of their past six games, all by double-figure margins, and are one win short of booking their first appearance in a final since a lone failed visit in 1999.

It’s similar for the Waratahs, whose four wins from their past five games have all been sizeable.

Smith says analysis has highlighted the influence of former rugby league weapon Folau, who can prise open a defensive line in numerous ways.

“He’s massive for their game; they get a lot of momentum through him,” Smith told NZ Newswire.

“He can offload because he’s a big man but he can glide through defences just as easily.

“They try and run a lot of their plays off the back of him and why wouldn’t they? He’s one of the most-dangerous players in world rugby at the moment and we’ll have to stop him.”

Folau’s 1606 metres run is the most in this year’s competition, well clear of second-placed Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo (1310m).

That pair, and Smith, are also high in other categories such as clean breaks and defenders beaten, suggesting an open affair awaits.

The Highlanders will look for a similar inspirational moment to that produced by centre Malakai Falakai when the Highlanders beat the Waratahs 26-19 in March in Dunedin.

Falakai stripped Folau of possession in a jolting tackle, before sending Naholo clear for a long-range try as the hosts compiled 26 unanswered points during the middle stages.

Smith said the Waratahs had improved considerably since then, matching the form that carried them to a maiden title last year.

He said his team were only training lightly this week to rest weary bodies and would cross the Tasman a day out from the game, 24 hours later than usual.

That is in an attempt to improve a poor record in Sydney, where they feel they have suffered through poor preparation.

The Highlanders’ only two wins from nine visits have been by one point, while the Waratahs have pulled off big victories in their past three Sydney showdowns.

German and US researchers read brainwaves

Scientists have found a way to read the mind, analysing brain waves and interpreting them as words and even complete sentences of continuous speech without having to listen.

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The “reading” was done by way of electrodes fixed on the surface of the cerebral cortex, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) in Germany and the Wadsworth Center in the United States said.

Seven US epilepsy patients voluntarily participated in the study, reading aloud sample texts while an electrode array was attached to their cortices, the outer layer of the brain, which had been exposed for epilepsy surgery.

Observations of this kind are impossible with electrodes attached to the outside of the skull.

“For the first time we have been able to observe the brain,” says Tanja Schultz, professor of information technology at KIT and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The researchers were able to observe how the brain planned speech acts and then activated the muscles of the speech organs via the neurones in the cortex, a split second before the speech itself became audible.

Software was used to map the activity and show it on a screen the aid of colours.

“Red and yellow colours mean intense activity at this spot in the brain, and blue colours lower activity,” Schultz explained in a demonstration.

The patients were given set texts, such as a speech by former US president John F Kennedy or simple children’s rhymes, so that the researchers would know which sounds were being uttered and when.

They set up databases containing prototypes of around 50 different phonemes, or basic speech sounds.

Using algorithms from automatic speech recognition, it then became possible to understand what was being said purely from the brainwaves.

“We arrive at meaningful results that are still far removed from the accuracy of acoustic speech recognition, but are well above pure chance,” Schultz says.

The limited survey size of just seven patients with just five minutes of speech apiece in the four-year research program is a sticking point.

The Karlsruhe researchers are developing a technology they call Brain-to-Text, which could be a building block to develop a means of speech communication for patients with locked in syndrome.

Judge rules on Jehovah’s blood transfusion

A Brisbane hospital can perform a blood transfusion on a young Jehovah’s Witness boy despite his parents objecting on religious grounds, a Queensland judge has ruled.

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The seven-year-old was referred to the Brisbane facility from a regional hospital in 2008 over a case of jaundice, before his significant liver disease was uncovered.

He will require a life-saving transplant in the next two or three years and has been placed on a waiting list, however such a procedure is likely to involve administering blood products.

The boy’s parents objected to this on the basis that they believe blood is sacred and to agree to accept a blood transfusion would be to infringe a biblical injunction to abstain from blood referred to in the book of Acts.

“They are, however, obviously concerned about their son and for his health and are willing to agree to a liver transplant,” Supreme Court Justice James Douglas said in a written judgment.

“They are anxious in that context to receive an assurance that every appropriate and reasonable blood conservation measure be used before the doctors resort to the administration of a blood transfusion.”

Under Queensland’s Transplant and Anatomy Act, medical staff can administer blood products without the parents’ consent if they believe it would save a child’s life.

“The overwhelming majority of paediatric liver transplant patients have required blood product support, and performing liver transplants without blood products is exceptional,” Justice Douglas noted.

Therefore there was good reason for the issue to be resolved “before the procedure is anywhere near commencement”, he said.

Justice Douglas ordered that the hospital and its staff be authorised to administer blood products to the boy “according to good medical practice”.

It’s not too late for flu jab, say doctors

Australia could be in for its worst flu season on record but doctors say it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

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From January to the end of May, there have been 9132 laboratory-confirmed cases, up 47 per cent compared with the same period last year, which had the highest number since the current form of recording began in 2001.

“This year has all the hallmarks of a severe season,” Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) chairman Dr Alan Hampson told a media briefing on Thursday.

“Because we expect the season to peak in August or September, there is still a window of opportunity for people to be vaccinated, particularly groups at real risk of severe outcomes.”

He said there had been a high number of deaths and hospitalisations in the northern hemisphere after severe flu outbreaks over their winter.

There had previously been a delay in the vaccine’s supply because of a change in the formula, but the ISG’s Dr Rod Pearce said it was easily available in Australia now.

People at risk of flu complications, including Aborigines, pregnant women, those with existing medical conditions and over 65s, are eligible for free shots.

Dr Pearce also urged healthy people, who were just as likely to get the flu, to get a vaccination, which took up to 14 days to kick in.

As well as causing direct and indirect deaths, the flu has massive ramifications on hospital emergency departments, the overall health bill and on productivity in the workforce.

Dr Hampson said laboratory-confirmed cases were only the tip of the iceberg, and that up to 15 per cent of Australians were estimated to get the flu each year.

FLU FACTS:

* Causes up to 3500 deaths, 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 doctor consultations a year

* Most infectious in the two or three days before symptoms show up

* Can spread up to 2.5 metres through droplets from coughing, sneezing and even speaking

* Wash your hands often, and if you haven’t disinfected them, avoid touching your mouth and eyes

* Get vaccinated, the most effective protection.

Shorten, Abbott brawl over ‘lies’

Labor and the coalition have exchanged blows over issues of trust, after Bill Shorten apologised for lying about his role in the Rudd-Gillard leadership fiasco two years ago.

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The federal opposition leader has admitted he made a mistake when he told Melbourne 3AW radio host Neil Mitchell in June 2013 there was no question then Labor prime minister Julia Gillard would remain leader, he was not reviewing his support and had not been asked to do so by contender Kevin Rudd.

His admission came after ABC TV’s Killing Season documentary this week revealed that wasn’t the case.

“You can rest assured, I am kicking myself in hindsight,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“The Labor party was bitterly divided and certainly I didn’t want to put any more fuel on that fire.”

Mr Shorten dismissed as “ridiculous” suggestions his integrity would be a problem in the lead-up to the next election due in 2016 and denied his position as Labor leader had become untenable.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament it was astounding Mr Shorten had taken two years to correct the record.

“The only thing that goes down and down and down is the … credibility of an opposition leader who has been caught out again,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Shorten accused the prime minister of lying to the public before the election by promising to not cut schools and hospitals spending, while the 2014 budget papers showed an $80 billion cut.

Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne described Mr Shorten as a “dead political duck”.

Labor frontbencher David Feeney said no one should have expected a cabinet minister to reveal to the media details about any internal contests.

“I wouldn’t characterise it as lying,” he told reporters.

Mr Shorten told parliament the government was more focused on him than governing.

“Every day you talk about Labor, you talk about me, is another day that confirms you have nothing to say about the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, as parliament wrapped up for a six-week winter break, Mr Abbott dismissed talk of an early election.

Anyone thinking there would be an early poll should “have a Bex and a long lie down”, he said.

“This is a government that was elected to govern for three years,” Mr Abbott said.

The latest opinion polls have Labor leading the coalition 52-48 on a two-party basis, but Mr Shorten’s personal approval has been slipping.