Central Australia sees first signs of recovery as tourists flock to the Red Centre




The area is becoming such a popular destination there’s concern there may not be enough staff to cater for the influx of travellers. Isabel Moussalli reports.

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Asia-Pacific sees 3.9% growth in deal activity in February 2021


The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region saw a 3.9% month-on-month growth in deal activity (mergers & acquisitions, private equity and venture financing deals) from 1,126 deals to 1,170 deals in February 2021, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Aurojyoti Bose, Lead Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “The COVID-19-hit 2020 remained a roller coaster ride for the global deal landscape and APAC was not an exception. The market conditions are expected to remain volatile as the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 in some of the key markets is likely to affect the investor sentiments.

“However, the growth witnessed in February, albeit bit slow, can be a positive sign for the revival of deal-making in the APAC region as investor cautiousness is likely to prevail for some more time.”

Aurojyoti Bose, Lead Analyst at GlobalData

An analysis of GlobalData’s Financial Deals Database reveals that the APAC markets such as India, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Singapore witnessed growth in deal volume by 22.8%, 47.3%, 59%, 31.8% and 12.8%, respectively, while China and Malaysia witnessed decline in deal volume by 25.3% and 31.3%, respectively.

M&A deals volume saw a growth of 19.8% in February 2021 compared to the previous month while private equity and venture financing deals volume declined by 9.7% and 7.5%, respectively.

Source : GlobalData

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Finance Department sees issues with Facebook’s digital currency, documents show


Internal Finance Department documents show officials have deep concerns about the effect of Facebook’s planned digital currency on Canada’s financial stability.

Officials wrote in the briefing note last summer that they believed the social media company had yet to address multiple concerns and risks its digital currency posed to the financial system.

The July briefing note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, also says the government was working on options to ease the risks.

Officials appeared less concerned about rivals like Bitcoin — which the briefing note says has not played a large role in everyday transactions in Canada for various reasons.

Unlike Bitcoin, Facebook’s offering would be a “stablecoin” whose value would be less volatile and could easily be used by hundreds of millions of the social media giant’s users upon release.

The ease of use and stability of value are among the reasons governments and central banks like the Bank of Canada have taken a keen interest in the currency.

The underlying worry for policymakers has to do with loss of control in the event a private digital currency becomes accepted globally and used without a bank as an intermediary, said Moon Jerin, CEO of Doctrina, which provides advice to financial and insurance companies on blockchain technology.

The association behind Facebook’s digital currency — first named Libra and now Diem — has backed it with cash and government securities to stabilize its value, linked it to various digital platforms so it can quickly and easily increase its reach, and designed it to have a low transfer cost.

The association has also said it wants to follow a regulated path into countries. Facebook’s stablecoin has gone through changes during its two years of development; officials writing the briefing note said they believed the changes had started to address government concerns but had not fully eased them.

Among their concerns were “money laundering and terrorist financing, sound governance, stability of the reserve, and monetary policy transmission for reserve currencies,” reads the briefing note to then-finance minister Bill Morneau.

Jerin said concerns from multiple jurisdictions also revolve around how to manage inflationary risks with the stablecoin, given how quickly the price of Bitcoin has risen recently.

BoC working on a digital currency

The Bank of Canada has been working on what it is calling a “digital loonie.” The bank has legislative authority from Parliament only to design, issue and distribute printed bills — not to offer a digital currency

The central bank has accelerated its work on its own digital currency, but Jerin said she expects the country to watch what other countries do first before making any big decisions.

“Canada, being already a little bit on the conservative side, is going to take a lot longer than other countries. I think they’re really trying to see what’s happening around the world first,” she said.

A group of federal agencies and departments has been reviewing stablecoins as officials consider how to address their concerns through existing or new regulations or legislation.

Addison Cameron-Huff, a lawyer who specializes in blockchain and digital currencies, said domestic stablecoins already face multiple layers of regulation.

He noted that hundreds of virtual currency dealers have to register federally. They may fall under provincial consumer protection laws if they are selling digital currencies to the public. Business-to-business transactions would fall under federal anti-money laundering laws.

“It’s often the case that companies in this sector have to deal with multiple different laws that overlap and create different obligations for them, and then there are also laws that affect the uses of them,” Cameron-Huff said.

The sector for stablecoins is relatively small, he said. Companies have slim margins and high legal costs, and overall revenues in the sector are only several hundred million dollars annually, Cameron-Huff said.

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Cabinet reshuffle sees new, bigger focus on women, so who has ended up where?


The main theme out of the latest Cabinet reshuffle is that women should be, and will be, embedded in all areas.

The idea, Minister for Women Marise Payne says, is that for the first time ever women’s issues are going to be treated as a whole-of-government priority.

That means their safety and economic security, among other things.

In essence, it sounds like the government is going to start applying a gender lens — where it looks at how a law will affect women specifically — to its policies, something advocates have long been calling for.

So, how’s it going to do that exactly? Here’s what’s changing.

Minister for Women’s Safety

The changes outlined by Scott Morrison on Monday come in the wake of ongoing scrutiny and attention at the way women are treated not only in politics, but around the country.

To firm up his commitment to keeping women safe, a new portfolio has been created within Cabinet called Minister for Women’s Safety.

Anne Ruston stands in front of a mural responding to journalists' questions
Anne Ruston will now also be the Minister for Women’s Safety.(

ABC News: Nick Haggarty

)

Anne Ruston, who’s also the Social Services Minister, will take this on given, as the Prime Minister says, she’s pretty much responsible for it already.

Senator Ruston is also joining the leadership team in the government — the 10 most-senior ministers who meet on a regular basis.

‘Cabinet taskforce’

As well as a new portfolio Mr Morrison also announced he was creating a new “Cabinet taskforce”

“To drive my government’s agenda in response to these key issues involving women’s equality, women’s safety, women’s economic security, women’s health and wellbeing,” he said.

It’ll be co-chaired by himself and the Minister for Women Marise Payne.

Marise Payne looks into the distance with an Australian flag behind her
Marise Payne will co-chair the new taskforce along with the Prime Minister.(

ABC News: Nick Haggarty

)

Exactly how the taskforce will operate isn’t totally clear, but at the table will be every woman in the government’s ministry.

The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham will also be on the taskforce.

Senator Payne says the taskforce is a way of putting these issues right in front of — literally — the leaders in the government on a regular basis.

Women take on senior ministries 

As well as getting everyone in the same room, the Prime Minister has elevated some to the highest ranks in the government.

Michaelia Cash will become the Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister, replacing Christian Porter.

Karen Andrews will be the Home Affairs Minister, as Peter Dutton moves to the Defence Ministry.

A blonde woman in a tigerprint jacket speaks standing in the House of Representatives
Karen Andrews will become the first woman to be the Home Affairs Minister.(

AAP: Lukas Coch

)

Linda Reynolds is staying in Cabinet, switching to Government Services and the NDIS, while Stuart Robert takes Senator Cash’s former employment roles.

“The big change here is this — previous governments, previous Cabinets have had a Minister for Women who is expected to cover every single issue that relates to challenges confronting women in the government,” Mr Morrison said.

“I don’t think that, from experience, is a very constructive way to get outcomes and results for women. The whole government needs that.”

Other extra roles

Continuing in the ‘put women across government’ idea, there are a few other positions that’ve been created to put a greater focus on women’s issues at a portfolio level.

Jane Hume, who’s currently the Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy — but isn’t in Cabinet — will also take on a new position as Minister for Women’s Economic security.

A woman with brown hair mid-sentence
Liberal Senator Jane Hume is one of many women being given extra responsibilities.(

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

Despite the closing gender pay gap, women retire with considerably less superannuation than men and no doubt this role will see a renewed focus on the issue.

Amanda Stoker, who is the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, adds Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations.

‘Prime Minister for Women’

As well as co-anchoring the task force, Senator Payne will be what the PM dubbed “the Prime Minister for Women”.

In short, she’s going to be the ringleader for the women now in Cabinet and those that’ll be consulted more broadly as part of the taskforce.

“It is her job to bring together this great talent and experience across not just the female members of my Cabinet team and the outer ministry and executive, but to draw also on the important contributions, especially in areas such as health and services and aged care,” Mr Morrison said.

Senator Payne, who would remain the most senior woman in the government, said the PM was right that women’s issues touched across every portfolio.

One more woman in Cabinet

The Prime Minister said he was pleased that, once again, the representation of women in Cabinet was the highest it had ever been.

But overall the number of women will grow by one — Melissa Price moves back into Cabinet while staying in her Defence Industry portfolio.

Melissa Price speaking in Parliament.
Melissa Price will become the seventh women in Cabinet.(

AAP: Lukas Coch

)

As for the other promotions, they’ve all been given to the women already in assistant minister or outer ministry positions, meaning there’s no total increase to the number of women across the teams.

It means the ministry will stay at 27 per cent female. In the federal parliament, 23 per cent of Liberal members are women.

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Victorian health alert over Brisbane coronavirus case sees Lions fans told to leave AFL clash with Geelong


Queenslanders who travelled down to Geelong to watch the Lions’ clash with the Cats on Friday night were told to leave the stadium after news of the latest Brisbane COVID case came through.

The instruction came after a Brisbane landscaper tested positive to coronavirus, with genomic testing linking his case to a previous cluster involving two overseas travellers and a doctor at the city’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Victoria’s Department of Health ordered anyone who had entered the state from the Brisbane or Moreton Bay areas to be tested and isolate until they received a negative result.

Anyone in Victoria who visited a list of high-risk locations in Queensland must contact the health department and follow instructions from Queensland Health.

The alert was issued less than an hour before Friday night’s AFL clash in Geelong.

At quarter-time, an alert flashed up on the scoreboard at Kardinia Park telling people who had travelled from Queensland to leave the ground and follow the health advice.

Supporters in the ground groaned as the notice was read out by the venue announcer.

Luke Hodge and Wayne Carey, who were commentating for the Seven Network, were asked to leave the venue and self-isolate.

The AFL released a statement on Friday evening saying Lions players had been given government approval to play the match in Geelong.

“The AFL confirms the Brisbane Lions players, coaches and officials obtained an exemption from the Victorian government from orange zone permit requirements as players, coaches and officials have all been living and abiding by approved AFL protocols,” the statement read.

“We encourage everyone in the community to follow the advice of the government that anyone who has entered Victoria from the City of Brisbane and Moreton Bay Region since 12 March must immediately self-isolate, get a coronavirus test within 72 hours, and stay isolated until they receive a negative result.”

The Lions players and staff have been tested in recent days.

The club arrived in Melbourne on Thursday in preparation for the round-two game against the Cats.

The Lions AFLW team are due to play Melbourne at Casey Fields on Saturday.

AAP/ABC

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Dumaresq River flood sees farmers go from drought to deluge, destroying first good crop in years


Flooding inundated farms and decimated millions of dollars worth of crops on properties beside the Dumaresq River along the Queensland and New South Wales border.

Farmers are also accusing the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) of failing to provide accurate or timely flood warnings and river height data.

Mr Cleeve lives at Mascotte, 10 kilometres from the border town of Texas. He he said on Wednesday the flood destroyed his entire 300-hectare crop.

Mr Cleeve’s crop, based on current prices, would be worth between $1 million and $2 million, and he said it was the first decent crop he had grown after years of crippling drought.

The area where the Cleeves farm on the Dumaresq River is part of the Goondiwindi Regional Council.

The region has been drought-declared since 2014 and experienced its last major flood back in 2011.

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Salmonella outbreak at Rockhampton Zoo sees 40 birds euthanased


It began with a few birds falling dead in their enclosure in December 2020. But Rockhampton Zoo keepers soon realised something more sinister was happening.

Tests uncovered salmonella bacteria had spread within the zoo’s 20-metre-tall aviary enclosure.

After consulting veterinarians and aviary specialists from across Australia, the staff of Rockhampton Zoo and the Rockhampton Regional Council decided to euthanase all 40 birds and close the aviary indefinitely.

“We grew cultures to find out exactly what strain we were dealing with,” Liz Bellward, director and curator of Rockhampton Zoo, said.

“Unfortunately, the decision that we’ve had to come to, for the greater good of the birds in the aviary, as well as the other animals in the zoo, the public, the keepers and the volunteers, is to let those birds remaining there go.” 

All 18 bird species inside the enclosure had been exposed to the salmonella strain, but zoo staff remained confident the spread had been contained and other animals were safe.

The cause of the outbreak was under investigation.

“The zoo backs onto a lagoon and there are a lot of wild birds down there. Often they land on top of the dome aviary.

“If they defecate, and if they have salmonella, it could have spread that way.”

Staff decided treating the birds individually was not a viable option.

“The way we had to treat them would involve catching all the birds twice a day and manually medicating them, which for birds is incredibly stressful,” Ms Bellward said.

“Those birds are not used to being handled, so there would be a high chance that a lot of those birds would actually die under treatment just out of stress and shock.”

Ms Bellward said she had never seen an outbreak of this scale in her time as zoo director.

“We are hesitant to put birds in there again,” she said.

“Whereas if we have a mammal of some sort that we put in there they give you warning signs and you’ve got time to treat them.”

Ms Bellward said a lengthy decontamination process would be carried out before staff considered putting animals back into the enclosure.

“We need to bring in diggers, remove a lot of soil, treat underneath, replace fresh clean soil on the top, we need to cut back trees, and sterilise everything in the aviary,” she said.

“There is a lot of work to do beforehand, but if we do that we’re confident we’d be able to avoid this from happening again.”

The zoo will continue to operate other smaller aviaries, housing Australian and exotic birds, including the macaws and the southern cassowary. The salmonella was contained and did not affect these aviaries.

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Ontario budget sees years of red ink to come, as Ford government targets expansion over austerity


Ontario will not balance its budget again until 2029-30, when its ‘recovery plan’ projects a $900-million surplus

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The Ontario government may not run a balanced budget for nearly another decade, at least according to Premier Doug Ford’s latest financial blueprint, as the economic and fiscal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canada’s most populous province are set to linger for years.

Ontario’s 2021 budget, tabled Wednesday at Queen’s Park by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, forecasts the provincial government will run a $33.1-billion deficit for its coming fiscal year, following a $38.5-billion shortfall for its 2020-21, which ends March 31.

The province then projects a deficit of $27.7 billion in 2022-23 and $20.2 billion in 2023-24. A return to a “pre-COVID-19 deficit” won’t happen until 2027-28 under the province’s planning projections, which also show Ontario will not balance its budget again until 2029-30, when its “recovery plan” projects a $900-million surplus.

“Significant uncertainty still remains about future economic growth, which may impact these projections further,” the budget states.

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Bethlenfalvy and Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government say they are counting on economic growth to help keep the province’s finances sustainable, rather than trying to do so by hiking taxes or slashing public services.

The budget includes scenarios for both faster and slower growth, but its baseline planning projections show Ontario’s real gross domestic product contracted by an estimated 5.7 per cent in 2020. The same forecast predicts the economy will grow by four per cent in 2021, 4.3 per cent in 2022, 2.5 per cent in 2023 and two per cent in 2024.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy.
Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy. Photo by Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press files

Yet the considerable deficits that the province will run for the foreseeable future are further signs of the severe toll that COVID-19 has taken on government finances. The arrival of the pandemic has prompted the public-sector to ratchet up spending to support people and businesses at a time when tax revenues are also under pressure, creating significant shortfalls that governments are bridging with debt.

Future governments may find their finances facing greater scrutiny and criticism as borrowing costs increase. For the moment, though, Ontario is focused on fighting the pandemic, not the deficit.

“As the pandemic has continued to unfold, people have been very clear that they expect us to focus on two vital priorities,” Bethlenfalvy, a former co-president at credit-rating agency at DBRS Ltd., which is now DBRS Morningstar, told reporters. “First and foremost, they expect us to protect people’s health. And second, they expect us to protect our economy. That is exactly what this budget does.”

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Commitments in the 2021 budget, the province says, will help add another $6.1 billion to its plan to fight COVID-19, pushing the projected total for the response to $51 billion over four years. Among other spending items, there is more than $1 billion earmarked to support the province’s vaccination campaign and more than $3.7 billion that’s to be spent over two years on a “comprehensive” COVID-19 testing strategy.

Ontario parents will get a third round of the province’s COVID-19 child-benefit payments, which will be doubled this time around to $400 per child and to $500 per child with special needs. A temporary 20 per cent enhancement to a child-care tax credit this year is proposed as well, boosting the average level of support for a family to $1,500 from about $1,250. Another $2.8 billion is being set aside to improve internet connectivity in the province.

Also in the budget is a new jobs-training tax credit for 2021, which would provide up to $2,000 per person for 50 per cent of eligible costs. A second round of small-business support grants are to be automatically sent out as well, providing firms with an additional $10,000 to $20,000 in support.

To try to attract new business investment, the Ontario government is committing $400 million over four years to create a fund that will support its new agency, Invest Ontario, and try to spur spending in the advanced manufacturing, technology and life sciences sectors.

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Still, the province’s net debt is predicted to hit $439.8 billion this year, with its net debt-to-GDP ratio forecast to rise to 47.1 per cent in 2020-21, up from 39.6 per cent for the prior year. Net debt-to-GDP will then climb to 48.8 per cent for 2021-22, although Ford’s government says it is aiming to slow the rate of the ratio’s increase and to try to keep it from exceeding 50.5 per cent over the medium term.

Borrowing costs will climb higher, with interest on debt as a percentage of revenue to reach 9.8 per cent for 2027-28. Interest on debt expense is still Ontario’s fourth-largest one following health care, education and social services, the budget noted, and is set to rise from $12.5 billion in 2020-21 to $14.6 billion by 2023-24.

“We’ve got a war against an invisible enemy,” Bethlenfalvy said when asked by the media about the red ink. “This is what responsible governments do.”

Ontario’s total spending will fall by approximately $4.2 billion this year, to $186.1 billion, and hover around that level for the following two years, according to the budget. That prompted comments from the opposition that the Ford government is not spending enough.

“This budget doesn’t even mention the third wave, let alone help people through it,” Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath told reporters.

However, the government doubling the small-business support grants was “hugely welcome,” said Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, as firms aren’t looking to take on more debt to survive.

Rossi also gave the Ford government credit for providing as much financial guidance as they have.

“Unless you know the exact date that the pandemic ends, you can’t give absolute certainty on the numbers,” he added. “But there are real programs to help us confront the pandemic for some time and build some key foundation stones for a strong recovery.”

• Email: gzochodne@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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Toyah Cordingley murder investigations sees Indian extradition request signed for person of interest


The Federal Attorney General’s office has signed an extradition request to India for a person of interest in the murder of Cairns woman Toyah Cordingley.

Ms Cordingley’s body was discovered on a beach, north of Cairns, in October 2018.

No charges have been laid over her death despite a police investigation spanning more than two years.

In a statement, the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Senator Amanda Stoker, said a formal extradition request was approved and would be sent to Indian authorities.

“I can confirm that I have signed an extradition request to India with respect to a man wanted by Queensland Police in relation to the murder of Toyah Cordingley near Cairns in 2018,” Senator Stoker said.

“Extradition requests vary considerably in complexity and can depend on a number of factors including the criminal offences, the criminal conduct underlying those offences and the volume of documentation required to make a valid extradition request to another country, as well as the relevant country’s own legal processes.

Far North Queensland MP Warren Entsch said the signing of the extradition request was a major step forward in getting justice for Ms Cordingley and her family.

“The family and the the broader community have been very frustrated with the timeframe on this but it has been necessary, unfortunately, to make sure that we get it right, to give us the best shot,” Mr Entsch said.

Mr Entsch said he had spoken with Ms Cordingley’s mother and supporters of the family since the extradition request had been signed.

“[They’re] very, very relieved that we’ve passed this major hurdle,” he said.

“As I said to Toyah’s mother this morning, there’s a sense of ownership of the grief, the frustration and this beautiful young girl; she’s all of our daughters.

“We’re never going to give up on this one until we see justice for Toyah.”

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Shark sees simple solution to playing Suaalii at 17


“The hardest thing for me was actually trying to contain my excitement because I was playing with guys who were my heroes. Guys like Luke Lewis, Tony Puletua, Rhys Wesser, guys who played in the 2003 grand final, then I was playing with them in 2008. My second game I played against Darren Lockyer.”

As for surviving the physicality of the game, Graham said: “Even at 17 I was bigger and heavier than some of the other halves in the NRL. And if you look at Joseph, he already weighs more than me and has a tall frame. It’s not the one, two or three weeks, it’s when you try to back up every week.

“Having said that, I’m now 30 and if you look at me at the end of the year I’m beaten up.”

Graham said Roosters coach Trent Robinson would not rush The King’s School Year 12 student. When Graham debuted for Penrith in 2008, Suaalii was just four years of age.

Now in his 14th season in the top grade, Graham is eager to keep playing and potentially close in on 300 NRL games. His contract with Cronulla expires at the end of next season, and while it remains to be seen if he chases another season in the Shire, the backrower has already indicated his wish to finish up in the Super League.

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Graham is a proud Penrith boy who is now regarded as Shire royalty and known as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s favourite player. Morrison once told the Herald: “Simply, Wade is a good leader … he brings the players with him.”

While Graham’s parents Mark and Debbie will present him with his jersey before Sunday’s clash against Canberra at Nestrata Jubilee Stadium, the country’sd leader will be in contact.

“He’ll send me a message,” Graham said. “He’s a good man, he loves his footy, he ran the water for us over in Fiji for the Prime Minister’s XIII game with no shoes on, and he came to our season launch the other day, I sat with him and had a good discussion and he was so excited to have the season back.”

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