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16 February
Comments Off on Woodside’s quarterly revenue almost halves

Woodside’s quarterly revenue almost halves

Weak oil prices have hit Woodside Petroleum’s third quarter revenue as the energy giant weighs up a takeover bid for Oil Search.


The company’s revenue for the three months to September 30 was $US1.086 billion ($A1.49 billion), down 44.6 per cent on the $US1.959 billion ($A2.68 billion) for the prior corresponding period.

“Sales revenue for the quarter was lower reflecting lower realised prices across the portfolio,” Woodside said.

Woodside also declined to address speculation about a potential increased offer for takeover target Oil Search, but said it will “continue to maintain a disciplined approach to business development opportunities”.

The company last month announced an $11.6 billion all-scrip bid for Papua New Guinea-focused Oil Search.

Woodside said sales revenue relative to the previous quarter was 20.9 per cent higher because of higher LNG and condensate sales volumes and higher oil sales volumes but this was partially offset by lower realised oil prices.

Woodside has revised its full-year production target range to 88 to 93mmboe from 86 to 94mmboe due to a strong performances at Pluto and Vincent and delays with its Canadian pipeline gas.

Production volumes increased 0.4 per cent to 25.3 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe), largely due to the Balnaves oil asset coming on line for Woodside in April 2015, while sales volumes decreased 1.6 per cent.

In August Woodside approved the front-end engineering and design (FEED) phase of its Greater Enfield Development in the Canarvon Basin off Northern Western Australia and it is targeting a final investment decision for the project in the second half of 2016.

The company said contracts have been awarded for subsea hardware, shipyard support and geotechnical and geophysical surveys as part of the FEED phase.

The company’s decision to enter the FEED phase came as the oil and gas industry experienced large discounts on the rates for rig and vessels following a slump in the oil price.

Woodside added that it had sold four North West Shelf cargoes to its LNG trading customers in the quarter and marketing activities for its key Browse development continue.

Woodside shares were seven cents, or 0.23 per cent, higher at $30.93 at 1058 AEDT.

16 February
Comments Off on Sydney Symphony Orchestra embarks on China, South Korea tour

Sydney Symphony Orchestra embarks on China, South Korea tour

For many, classical music never gets old.


This month, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will showcase their talent to a new audience.

“There is something exciting about going to certain places in China and knowing that you are performing a Beethoven Symphony for the very first time,” said chief conductor David Robertson.

Ninety musicians will soon travel to China and South Korea.

It will be the fourth time since 2009 that the orchestra has played in China. They last played in South Korea in 2011. This visit will be their second there.

“It’s always been so successful that they always say when can you come back next,” added Mr Robertson.

Concert master Sun Yi began his career in China. He said he has seen a difference in the genre since he last lived there.

“So it is quite exciting to see the change,” he added. 

Yin Nan is a journalist with the China Youth Daily.

She said the growing appetite for classical musical in China is finding appeal with a younger crowd.

“Our audience, especially the youth, not only enjoy the ancient famous work, but also the contemporary sophisticated music. Last year when the SSO came to China, their concert tickets sold out,” she said.

The tour will see musical equipment packed into 60 freight boxes, weighing 4.5 tonnes. 

But it is not just about music: cellist Rebecca Proietto says there’s a lot to learn from the countries they will visit.

“It’s great to develop cross cultural exchanges and that sort of thing. I guess music is the universal language,” she said.

Chief conductor David Robertson says there is something powerful about sharing music through a cultural exchange. 

“The soft diplomacy aspect is really important but you can’t necessarily draw a direct line so that when the orchestra goes say to China or to Korea, they kind of bring with them the kind of Australian spirit,” he added.

The tour kicks off in Beijing on October 26.

16 February
Comments Off on Law to give murder victim’s family justice

Law to give murder victim’s family justice

The family of murdered Adelaide school teacher Anthea Bradshaw-Hall has waited 20 years for justice.


Thanks to new legislation tabled in parliament on Thursday, they may soon get it.

The bill will allow police to investigate and prosecute the murder of an Australian carried out overseas and for which there has been no trial in the country where the crime has been committed.

It extends retrospective prosecutions to before 2002 which was the starting year for the original legislation that followed the Bali bombings.

It means police can investigate the person suspected of murdering Ms Bradshaw-Hall while she was visiting in Brunei two decades ago.

The suspect still lives overseas.

In a rare move, Attorney-General George Brandis and independent senator Nick Xenophon co-drafted the bill, which is expected to clear parliament before Christmas.

It also has the backing of cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, whose electorate of Sturt is home of the Bradshaw-Hall family.

“I would not describe today as a happy day, it’s not a celebratory day,” Mr Pyne told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“It’s an important day, an emotional day for the Bradshaws because it is going to allow some closure.”

Senator Xenophon said the bill was a tribute to the love Ms Bradshaw’s family had for her and congratulated them on highlighting an anomaly in the law.

“Her memory has been honoured by this campaign,” he told reporters.

If a person accused of a murder or manslaughter still lived overseas, Australia would need an extradition treaty with that country to return the suspect for prosecution.

The Australian courts could also not impose a penalty higher than the one the crime carried in the country it was committed.

“Obviously Australia doesn’t have the death penalty, so we wouldn’t go to the death penalty but everything below that would be available,” Mr Pyne said.

A person could also not be tried twice, ruling out the possibility of double jeopardy.

Ms Bradshaw’s brother Craig thanked the politicians for taking his constant texts and phone calls over the past few years.

19 April
Comments Off on Du Preez out to extend winning record against All Blacks

Du Preez out to extend winning record against All Blacks

Since winning the 2011 World Cup the All Blacks have lost only three, and drawn two, of their 52 games for a winning percentage of over 90 percent, and are in the high 70s throughout their history.


However, Du Preez is one of a very rare breed who has a winning record against them, tasting success in seven of his 12 games.

“He has always had big games against them,” assistant coach Johann van Graan told reporters after the team went through their paces at Twickenham on Saturday, a day before their World Cup semi-final showdown.

“He is awesome in every game. He is composed under pressure, he has belief in himself and the ability to see things others don’t see. A talent can hit a target nobody else can hit but a genius can hit a target no-one else can see. And that is Fourie du Preez.”

The scrumhalf is not one to talk himself up or give any insight into what it takes to beat the All Blacks but he exuded a calm confidence on Friday when discussing a match he said was probably the biggest of his career.

“We’ll have one or two tweaks and sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t,” said the 33-year-old who came into the tournament struggling with injury but has quickly reinstated himself as a key cog in the Springbok machine.

“Hopefully we’ll get into a position where we can execute those plays.”

Several other players in the side have experience of beating their biggest rivals — even if they have been on the losing side a lot more often. Bryan Habana has won eight but lost 14, while JP Pietersen (five from nine) and Schalk Burger (five from 15) all respect but do not fear them.

“In the times we’ve beaten them we probably created seven opportunities and used all seven,” said Burger.

“On the flip side for the Springboks, their 10-12-13 combination is a callow collection.

Flyhalf Handre Pollard and centre Damian de Allende each have one win from their three All Black meetings while fellow centre Jessie Kriel has faced them once, and lost.

Du Preez, however, is certain the young trio will step up to the occasion and help South Africa extend their World Cup record against New Zealand to three wins from four.

“All three of them are very confident players and all three are unbelievable talents,” he said.

“These guys have really stepped up and deserved to play in this game. I think they will embrace the pressure.”

Burger agreed.

“I think we’ve got a nice balance in our team, where we’ve got a couple of old hands with thinning hair and then we’ve got a couple of youngsters, and we draw from their energy and I think if we as the old guard do our job, all they have to worry about is playing rugby and doing what they’re good at.”

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

19 April
Comments Off on Prasad earns Sri Lanka lead over West Indies

Prasad earns Sri Lanka lead over West Indies

Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera provided good support by picking up the last three West Indies wickets to give the hosts a lead of 37 runs.


Sri Lanka lost opener Dimuth Karunaratne to the first ball of their second innings from paceman Jerome Taylor but recovered to reach 76 for two at stumps, stretching their lead to 113.

Kaushal Silva remained unbeaten on 31 and added 55 for the second wicket with debutant Kusal Mendis (39) before the latter fell to left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican, also playing for the first time for West Indies.

In the morning, play was delayed by 30 minutes due to a wet outfield and Prasad made full use of the overcast conditions, bowling an impeccable line and length to extract movement off the pitch.

After dismissing the hosts for 200 on the opening day, West Indies would have hoped for a solid start from their batsmen after resuming on 17-1.

Nightwatchman Devendra Bishoo (13) was the first to fall, edging a wide delivery from Prasad to wicketkeeper Kusal Perera.

West Indies’ batting mainstay Darren Bravo (two) then chopped Prasad on to his stumps to put the touring side in further trouble.

Opener Kraigg Brathwaite (47) tried to rebuild the innings in a fourth-wicket stand of 39 with Marlon Samuels (13) before the latter fell in the penultimate over before lunch.

All-rounder Milinda Siriwardana, who top-scored for his side with 68 in the first innings, got Samuels to edge to Angelo Mathews at slip off his left-arm spin bowling.

Siriwardana took his second wicket when Brathwaite fell shortly after lunch with the batsman unable to overturn the umpire’s decision to give him out caught behind.

Prasad returned for another spell and took out Jermaine Blackwood, who made 92 in the last test, for his fourth wicket of the innings.

West Indies captain Jason Holder (21) used his power and reach to hit a few boundaries and bring down the deficit but became Dilruwan Perera’s first victim of the innings.

The off-spinner dismissed Taylor (one) and Warrican (one) to finish off the innings.

Hosts Sri Lanka won the opening test in Galle by an innings and six runs to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ed Osmond)

19 April
Comments Off on Root defiant after Pakistan make early inroads

Root defiant after Pakistan make early inroads

Pakistan, playing in their adopted UAE home, were bowled out for 378 before lunch, some erratic slogging causing the hosts’ last five wickets to fall for 44 runs.


Pakistan pacemen Wahab Riaz and Imran Khan were given the new ball and captain Misbah-ul-Haq packed the slip cordon.

Wahab had Moeen Ali (1) caught brilliantly by Shan Masood at short-leg.

Skipper Alastair Cook was joined at the crease by Ian Bell (4) and the veteran No. 3 was again found wanting, feathering a full Khan delivery to the slips as England slumped to 14 for two.

Root and Cook — test cricket’s top two run scorers in 2015 — repelled Pakistan’s ferocious onslaught to reach 105-2 at tea, although England’s skipper was fortunate on 27.

Attempting to sweep Zulfiqar Babar, the ball struck pad and skidded on to the stumps but miraculously the bails stayed on.

Hundreds more Pakistan fans appeared after Friday prayers, the field masked in late-afternoon shadow at Dubai International Stadium as a crowd of about 4,000 looked on, England’s support a mix of expatriate residents and the travelling Barmy Army.

Misbah brought Yasir Shah to the fore as the light faded.

The leg-spinner, the fastest man to 50 test wickets for Pakistan, missed the drawn first test in Abu Dhabi with injury and initially did little, England’s batsmen scoring freely until Pakistan’s skipper positioned a leg-slip.

Cook tried to guide a Yasir (1-59) delivery round the corner but found only the hands of the newly-stationed fielder.

England’s skipper walked for 65, his partnership with Root worth 113 as the tourists stumbled to 130 for three.

Root was unbowed, however, claiming a 15th test half-century with a single through short-leg.

He will resume on 76 with Jonny Bairstow on 27 not out.


Pakistan had begun the day on 282 for four, Misbah and Asad Shafiq resuming their partnership of 104.

Mark Wood (3-39) partnered Stuart Broad as captain Cook opted for an all-seam attack, the quicks better able to sustain hostility in the relative cool of the morning.

Broad’s impact was immediate, trapping Misbah (102) lbw with the day’s fifth ball.

The skipper had anticipated a bouncer after a barrage of short deliveries and was deceived by Broad’s fuller ball which thumped into the 41-year-old’s front pad.

Shafiq brought up his 12th test half-century with a four through the slips as he and Safraz Ahmed put on 52.

Safraz (32) was caught at mid-on and Yasir, on 16 from 17 balls, miscued another attempted big hit to slip.

Zulfiqar (3) did not move as Wood’s inswinging Yorker caught him lbw, the ousted batsmen holding his head in shame.

Shafiq (83), who required prolonged treatment after Wood’s full toss thundered into his knee, was last out, caught at short midwicket.

Sharjah will stage the concluding test from Nov. 1.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

19 April
Comments Off on Group returns to Pacific in search of MIAs

Group returns to Pacific in search of MIAs

EDS: Reissuing to include edits.


ALBANY, New York, Oct 23 AP – A private Japanese organisation that has found the remains of World War II soldiers on Saipan is planning another excavation on the Pacific island in the hopes of finding more unmarked graves.

They include those of American servicemen still listed as missing in action for more than 70 years.

The leaders of Kuentai-USA told The Associated Press that a team of about a dozen Japanese and American volunteers plans to search an area of Saipan where the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division was hit by the largest suicide attack of the Pacific ground war.

The New York National Guard unit suffered hundreds of casualties, many of them New Yorkers.

The division’s 105th Regiment suffered nearly 1000 killed and wounded during what became known as the “banzai attack” on July 7, 1944.

Scores of New Yorkers were among the casualties. At least five New Yorkers, including three from the Albany area, are still listed as missing in action.

The Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the Pentagon arm in charge of recovering the remains of US soldiers from foreign battlefields, said this week that the remains of the fifth soldier are still being analysed.

Kuentai returned to Saipan in September 2014 to resume the search for MIAs.

Yukari Akatsuka, one of the group’s leaders, said via email that the group’s man Saipan excavation will be conducted in an area where 17 soldiers from the 27th Division could be buried in unmarked graves.

They’ll also excavate a nearby property where two US Marines listed as MIA may have been buried.

19 April
Comments Off on Sex workers ‘fined for not working’: court

Sex workers ‘fined for not working’: court

The head of a Melbourne prostitution syndicate would monitor the performance of her staff and hand out fines if they did not work enough hours.


Prosecutor Danny Holding said phone taps reveal Mae Ja Kim barking orders about the management of the sex workers.

“If you let them have their way when they’re sick, they will have time off,” Kim said in one conversation, the Victorian County Court heard.

Another discussion revealed Kim was angry that girls were being given breaks.

One worker, Coco, had swollen eyes after working for six days straight, the court heard.

Mr Holding said Kim would monitor the women’s performance “with a view to being able to impose a fine, sack or shift workers” if she was not satisfied.

“There is a level of exploitation that is obvious from the (telephone intercept) material,” Mr Holding said on Friday.

Kim recruited workers from Southeast Asia in 2013 and brought them to Melbourne to work in four licensed brothels.

She was not licensed to operate a sex worker business or take any of the earnings.

The 41-year-old has pleaded guilty to dealing with the proceeds of crime, in excess of $50,000.

Her sister, Moonja Kim, 58, Mae Ja Kim’s estranged husband Huan Ye, 34, and associate Zhe Fang, 27, have pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting dealings with the proceeds of crime.

They helped Kim run the day-to-day operations of the ring.

The group’s legal representatives said the crimes were not the most serious of their kind.

Barrister Anthony Lewis, representing Fang, said the brothels were licensed and the workers were not in the country illegally.

“There was a level of regulation,” Mr Lewis said.

Kim lived in a Southbank apartment at the time of the offending, visited a beauty parlour up to four times a week and dined on meals that could cost up to about $2000 a sitting, the court has been told.

She is now working as a kitchenhand and is on bail, with her three co-accused, until the matter returns to court on November 11.

19 April
Comments Off on McCaw ready to add to his Springbok scar collection

McCaw ready to add to his Springbok scar collection

McCaw will face the Springboks for the 26th time and, having notched up six wins over the All Blacks in the previous 25 games, they are statistically the most successful of his personal international opponents.


They are probably also the best team at inflicting physical damage on flankers who play on the edge of the laws, so McCaw knows exactly what to expect.

“There is a massive intensity between the teams and tomorrow will probably be another step up,” he told reporters after a run around Twickenham on Friday.

“The matches against the Springboks are some of the toughest you ever play. It will probably be another brutal game but they are the games I love. Being in that environment with that sort of opponent in that intensity is why you play.

“Picking up the odd scar is part and parcel of it and if we do the job I’ll take any extra scar that comes along.”

McCaw won the first of his 146 caps 14 years ago and though he has obviously developed hugely as a player and leader, he said it was also helpful to try to recall his attitude when he first broke into the team.

“I sometimes wonder how I managed to function at all back then but you do it on energy and excitement I guess,” he said.

“I think when I made my debut I was just running on pure instinct, and I didn’t want to stuff it up. I think as you gain the experience, and with the captaincy role, you realise you have got more than just playing yourself, it is about helping the men around you.

“I think that is a good reminder that you probably over-think the game at times when you have been around a while. So if you play with a bit of instinct, using the knowledge you have picked up, you can do a pretty good job.”


He can certainly do that. Four years ago to the day, playing on virtually one leg, McCaw dragged New Zealand past France to finally reclaim the World Cup after a catalogue of painful near-misses.

They won that nervous finale 8-7 and though a higher scoring affair is likely on Saturday, McCaw said the winner would still be the side who get the basics right under the most intense pressure.

“What counts is being able to do the things that mean you can get across the advantage line,” he said.

“The subtleties of the guys who are able to put guys in space can look flash, but it is often the result of getting the basics right.”

Pressed on his favourite memory from his quarter-century of games against South Africa, McCaw ran through his mental box set and settled on an encounter from seven years ago.

South Africa had just won in Dunedin for the first time and were on a roll but found themselves shut out on home soil in a 19-0 reverse.

“The one that sticks to mind is the one we played in Cape Town in 2008 when we managed to keep the Boks scoreless,” he said.

“That was a pretty cool performance. We’d had a rough start to that year. I wouldn’t mind if you asked me that question on Monday, and I would say ‘Saturday’.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

19 April
Comments Off on UK Anti-Doping in jeopardy over cuts – chairman

UK Anti-Doping in jeopardy over cuts – chairman

UKAD chairman David Kenworthy told the BBC that they had been warned to expect cuts of up to 25 percent, which could result in an end to testing.


“UKAD would be in jeopardy if we had large cuts like that because the purpose for which we’re here, I’m not sure we could fulfil it properly,” he said.

“We’ve got to have the time and means to try to make up that income if we’re to survive, if we don’t the integrity of UK sport is at risk.

“That would be desperate. With the amount of money invested in the integrity of sport over the years, to get it to where it is, that would be a huge blow to UK plc.”

Doping is becoming an increasingly contentious issue with a number of high profile sportsmen and women facing doping claims in the past year.

UKAD conducted more than 8,000 tests across 40 sports last year.

“Something’s got to give so the testing would certainly go,” Kenworthy added.

“Tests are very expensive. The standard urine sample to be tested costs 371 pounds ($568.45), the athlete biological passport costs 439 pounds for each test.

“I think we’d be almost dead in the water frankly, you can’t function on that basis. It would be an appalling cut and appalling waste of our experience that we have built up.”

The BBC quoted a government spokesperson saying that decisions on future funding would not be announced before a spending review on Nov. 25.

“We have also been clear that all parts of the public sector will be required to find savings through efficiencies and reforming the way things are done so that we deliver more with less,” the spokesperson added.

(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Tony Jimenez)

19 April
Comments Off on ANZ & NAB add to mortgage pain

ANZ & NAB add to mortgage pain

The majority of Australian home owners will be hit with higher mortgage repayments after the country’s big four banks hiked their interest rates.


ANZ and the National Australia Bank announced on Friday that they will follow Westpac and Commonwealth Bank and increase their standard variable interest rates next month.

Many home owners face an extra $27 to $46 in monthly repayments on an average home loan of $300,000.

ANZ will lift its variable home loan rate by 0.18 percentage points to 5.56 per cent, while NAB will increase its rate by 0.17 percentage points to 5.6 per cent.

The Commonwealth Bank announced on Thursday that it will jack the rate up 0.15 percentage points to 5.6 per cent.

This comes about a week after Westpac announced it will hike its rate 0.2 percentage points to 5.68 per cent.

All four banks have defended the increases as necessary to offset costs linked to new requirements to hold more capital against home lending.

“There are a range of factors that come into consideration in interest rate decisions. The home loan market is dynamic, with multiple changes being seen across the industry,” NAB group executive for personal banking Gavin Slater said.

“Today’s decision has not been easy, but we believe this is right decision for the long term.”

The rate hikes are expected to put more pressure on the Reserve Bank to cut the official cash rate at its next monetary meeting due on Melbourne Cup day.

St George Bank, part of the Westpac group, will also increase its standard variable rate by 0.15 percentage points to 5.69 per cent.

NAB’s rate hike will come into effect on November 12, while the other big three banks and St George will introduce their hikes on November 20.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said banks were entitled to make their own commercial decisions.

“That is entirely a matter for them to explain to their customers about why they’re doing this,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

“There’s no mandatory requirement on behalf of the government to pass on costs to consumers.

“At the end of the day, customers can choose where they want to bank and shop and buy their milk.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was somewhat stronger in his view, describing the rate increases as “nothing but a rip-off”.

He said the banks see Treasurer Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as a “soft touch” and borrowers are paying the price.


* Westpac: up 0.2pct to 5.68pct

* CBA: up 0.15pct to 5.6pct

* NAB: up 0.17pct to 5.6pct

* ANZ: up 0.18pct to 5.56pct

19 March
Comments Off on Voges slams pink ball

Voges slams pink ball

The pink ball has found another critic in Adam Voges, with the veteran batsman saying it looked 40 overs older than it should’ve during the Prime Minister’s XI clash with New Zealand on Friday.


The match in Canberra, which the Black Caps comfortably won by 102 runs, was being used as somewhat a dress rehearsal for next month’s inaugural day-night pink-ball Test in Adelaide.

While Trent Boult and Tim Southee managed to find some movement on the traditionally slow, flat pitch at Manuka Oval, players from both sides said the ball deteriorated quicker than they expected.

“To be honest, it didn’t hold up very well tonight,” said Voges, vying for a Test spot ahead of the series opener in Brisbane on November 5.

“Both balls got chewed up pretty quickly.

“There wasn’t much pink left on it by the end of the game.

“The one that got hit on the roof and didn’t come back was sort of 28 overs old and it looked like it was 68 overs old.”

He said the ball stopped swinging after about 10 overs and, although not out fielding at night, reckoned its condition would’ve restricted visibility.

“It looked as though the lacquer had come off basically, and it was turning green,” he added.

“There were bits of pink left, but there was probably more green than pink by the end.

“The older it gets, I can’t see it being any easier to see.”

The Kiwis had a couple of days to test the pink ball in Hamilton last week.

But opener Tom Latham, who finished on 131 after a 196-run opening stand with Martin Guptill (94), said he had a little bit of trouble judging the ball early and found it difficult to spot square on while fielding.

“The ball deteriorated a little bit more than what we’ve seen,” he said.

“If we can keep that ball in good knick, then hopefully that’ll be one of our weapons the reverse swing.”

Australia’s Test stars will be given an insight into what lies ahead when they play the opening round of the Sheffield Shield season, which starts on Wednesday.

It will be their only pink-ball match practice before the Test opener at the Gabba.

Cricket Australia remain confident the Test will be a success, having produced a million-dollar carrot to convince players on either side of the Tasman.

19 March
Comments Off on What is the secret to being good at maths?

What is the secret to being good at maths?

Steson Lo, University of Sydney and Sally Andrews, University of Sydney

There is a common belief that Asians are naturally gifted at maths.


Asian countries like Singapore and Japan lead the ranks in first and second position on maths performance in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tables – an international survey that ranks education systems worldwide – while Australia sits around 12th.

What is the secret to being good at maths? Are you simply born clever, or is it the result of a lot of hard work?

To understand the reasons behind exceptional maths performance, I travelled to Japan to see how Japanese children are able to instantly multiply three- or four-digit numbers together in their head.

How children are taught maths in Japan

From the age of 7 or 8, all Japanese children are taught the times table jingle kuku.

“Ku” is the Japanese word for “nine”, and the title reflects the final line of the jingle, which is simply “nine nine (is) eight-one”.

Children rote learn the jingle and are made to recite it with speed in class and at home.

Local competitions pitch second-graders against each other to see how fast they can rap all 81 lines of the kuku.

This takes lots of practice with a stopwatch. The constant association between the problem and the correct answer eventually allows the child to know the answer to the problem as soon as they see it.

As the popular science writer Alex Bellos noted, Japanese adults know that 7×7=49, not because they can remember the maths, but because the music of “seven seven forty-nine” sounds right.

Some Japanese children also attend after-school maths programs. In May, I visited a school in Tokyo specialising in abacus instruction for primary and high school students. This was one of about 20,000 schools operating independently throughout Japan.

Here, the students start by learning how to use a physical abacus to perform arithmetic calculations. They then progress to using the mental abacus by simply imagining the movement of the beads.

Children at the abacus school dedicate a phenomenal one to two hours on two to four evenings a week to practising arithmetic drills on pre-set worksheets at speed.

This is on top of the four 45-minute maths lessons per week allotted by the Japanese government.

After a couple of years at the school, the very best students can multiply seven- and eight-digit numbers in their head faster than Australian children can say the solution to 7×8.

Why Australian schools are against rote learning

Despite the impressive performance of these Japanese children, the intensive “drill and kill” approach used by abacus schools is derided in countries like Australia where educators explicitly discourage such practice.

In Victoria, schools have recently been encouraged to throw away textbooks and old worksheets, teachers discouraged from teaching mathematical formula, and children warned against learning their times tables by rote.

These recommendations follow from the ideas of American psychologist Jerome Bruner who argued that learning is most effective when children actively discover concepts for themselves.

Since then, rote learning methods in which children spend most of their time memorising facts, following prescribed formula and completing drills are widely perceived to contribute poorly to deep understanding of mathematics.

However, research suggests that memorisation and rote learning remain important classroom techniques.

According to cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, children cannot appreciate the relationship between mathematical concepts if all of their mental resources are used to execute simple arithmetic operations.

As problems become more difficult, practice and rote learning are essential in speeding up some of these operations so they become automatic. This allows the child to devote more of their cognitive resources towards higher-level understanding.

Unfortunately, repetitive practice is not always fun.

One reason educators shy away from rote learning techniques is because they undermine children’s engagement and motivation.

The drive to succeed

But Japanese children at the abacus school enjoy performing calculations at speed.

Many treat mental calculation like a sport and participate in various local, regional and national competitions. These are not restricted to boys. I attended a regional competition for young girls while I was in Japan.

This contrasts with an increasing avoidance of competition in Australia, where children are cocooned from the realities of failure as well as the rewards of success.

In junior Australian Football League sporting policy, for example, children under 10 now play football with no points, no scoreboards, no awards and no recognition of individual performance.

Removing these objective benchmarks of performance leaves children with nothing to strive for.

When passion breeds talent

Stars are made, not born. Research shows it takes at least 10,000 hours of intense training to become expert in a particular area. High achievers in maths sustain these hours because they are motivated to excel.

But deliberate practice is hard work. From ever faster times in kuku recitation to increasingly longer mental arithmetic problems, my observations in Japan show that Japanese children use competition to fuel their passion for maths.

Such competition is lacking in Australia.

Discovery-based methods for maths instruction might be more enjoyable, but they are also less effective at producing fast and accurate performance at an elite level.

How can we encourage Australians to share the Asian love of competitive maths?

In China, the television game show Super Brain attracted 22 million viewers in March as contestants battled to solve increasingly difficult arithmetic problems.

So given the recent success of The Great Australian Spelling Bee in generating renewed interest in spelling, perhaps what we need now is The Great Australian Times Tables to motivate children to achieve the same levels of maths performance as our Asian neighbours.

Steson Lo received funding from the Australian Government and the University of Sydney to conduct research in Japan.

Sally Andrews receives funding from Australian Research Council.