Victorian building industry takes $370 million hit from international student crisis


Victoria’s building industry took a $370 million hit last year as the COVID-19 crisis locked international students out of Australia, causing cash-strapped universities to stop building, and apartment projects to stall.

The Property Council of Australia said the knock-on effects from the absence of overseas students had cost the state’s economy more than $1 billion and kept 13,000 Victorians out of work.

Raymond Mah of DKO Architects says the student accommodation building business has dried up.Credit:Jason South

The Master Builders Association of Victoria has added its voice to calls from business, the education sector and local government for the state and Commonwealth to find a way to get Victoria’s $13 billion international education trade moving again, saying its absence is hurting the economy.

Monash University cut $100 million from its capital works program in 2020 across its four campuses, and private developers across the city walked away from the previously lucrative business of building student accommodation.

Data published this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show how some of those decisions hit the construction industry, with the value of building commencements in the private education sector falling from more than $466 million in the first three months of 2020, to about $94 million in the last three months of the year, a plunge of nearly 80 per cent.

The Property Council’s Victorian executive director, Danni Hunter, said it was vital to the property industry and the entire state economy that governments came up with a plan to “fast-track the return of international students, and for putting Melbourne’s education sector back on the map.”

“This will have positive flow-on effects for the Victorian economy, and will help drive a property-led economic recovery,” Ms Hunter said.

But the state and federal governments cannot agree on the best way to get international students back into the country, with Victoria wanting to make space for a limited number of them within the existing arrivals cap, while Canberra wants caps increased to accommodate students.

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Emirates Airbus A380 superjumbo takes off with all passengers and crew vaccinated against COVID-19


Middle-East airline Emirates has flown a special Airbus A380 superjumbo flight with almost 400 passengers on board, all of whom had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Flight EK2021 took off on Saturday, aimed at drawing attention to the success of the UAE’s vaccination program and encouraging confidence in travel.

Along with the vaccinated passengers, all flight and ground crew were also vaccinated. The UAE has administered nearly 9 million vaccine doses thus far to its population of 9.7 million residents, the vast majority of whom are expatriates. The UAE has one of the world’s highest rate of vaccinations at 90.22 doses per 100 people.

“Today’s flight is a showcase of the combined efforts and dedication of all stakeholders in supporting the vaccination programme, and the implementation of protocols in the past 12 months to ensure a safe travel journey, stimulate passenger traffic and set the groundwork for the ramp up of air travel in the near future,” Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman said.

Passengers were able to check-in and board using contactless technology introduced last month, including biometric facial recognition and the ability to control the check-in kiosk from  their mobile devices. They also received rapid COVID-19 tests.

Maggie and Simon Neil, who have lived in the UAE for 20 years, were among the passengers who paid Dh2000 ($A717) each for their business class seat on board.

“We hadn’t been on a plane for over a year and we really wanted to be a part of it. We are both vaccinated which we believe is important for safe travels and to top that, our fare will go towards helping those in need,” they told Dubai’s Khaleej Times.

Proceeds from the flight went to the Emirates Airline Foundation, a non-profit charity that supports projects for disadvantaged children around the world.

The Emirates flight follows a similar trip by Qatar Airways last Tuesday, the world’s first flight to carry a full-vaccinated complement of passengers and crew. The Qatar Airbus A350 took off from and returned to Doha’s Hamad International Airport after a three-hour scenic flight.

Qatar Airways’ chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the airline’s special flight “demonstrates the next stage in the recovery of international travel is not far away.”

Both Emirates and Qatar are trialling the International Air Transport Association’s Travel Pass, which will allow airlines to confirm passengers have tested negative for COVID-19 or been vaccinated against the disease before they fly.

Qantas is trialling a similar vaccine passport app and also has plans to trial IATA’s version.

See also: What you need to know about the new ‘OK to travel’ pass airlines are adopting

See also: The last A380 superjumbo takes off on first flight



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Rugby Australia takes the pragmatic approach to Super expansion


Last year, there was an almighty scuffle when New Zealand Rugby sought to establish, and effectively run, a trans-Tasman/Pacific rugby competition. NZ Rugby said that in its preferred model one, two, or three Australian sides would have to go.

For Rugby Australia, newly re-wedded to the five team concept, this was almost an existential threat, as it would kill off the national growth of the game. In either the greatest bluff of the past decade, or a sign of genuine exasperation, the Herald understands Rugby Australia presented NZ Rugby with a six-team Australian competition – including the Fiji Drua – that it would start up rather than cut the Force or the Rebels.
NZ Rugby effectively blinked, and at that stage Rugby Australia was happy. It felt that it had secured its five teams and was looking forward to a 10-team trans-Tasman competition.

It was only after that stage did NZ Rugby come back to Rugby Australia with its plans to add the two Pasifika teams, which RA agreed to (with oversight conditions) as part of progress towards a Super Rugby commission that would eventually run the new competition.

The Herald understands the introduction of that commission remains firmly on RA’s agenda, even though the time frame is very tight for it to be set up in time for the 2022 season.

That series of events explains why, outwardly at least, NZ Rugby has been ‘excluding’ RA from the Pasifika process. It’s true that the Kiwis have been running the show, and perhaps RA would have liked more say into the criteria for the new teams, but the business plans of Moana Pasifika and Fiian Drua have been shared across the ditch.

The whole process also reflects the different political landscapes in both countries. In short, the Australian Super Rugby franchises probably carry more clout than their Kiwi counterparts. For example, the Kiwi Super Rugby sides don’t get a vote on the Silver Lake/NZ Rugby private equity proposal. Instead, the 26 provincial unions do. Also, Super Rugby players in New Zealand are NZ Rugby employees. That’s who pays them. Australian Super Rugby franchises probably wish they had more say, but they have more weight than across the ditch.

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And, if the Australian Super Rugby sides – running on a smell of an oily rag – were more concerned about their own sustainability than Pasifika expansion, it would be a logical – if unromantic – position, and most likely communicated to RA.

The path for Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua still has some hurdles despite this week’s announcement. Both franchises still need millions of dollars. There is still a lingering suspicion – although decreasing – that cold, hard rugby economics could derail the plan in the coming months. In that case, NZ Rugby would wear the blame for it, as it is currently carrying all the risk.

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Queensland Health to audit COVID masks and PPE after nurses union takes industrial action


The Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) took Queensland Health to the state’s industrial relations commission yesterday, over concerns that stemmed from three nurses and a doctor being infected with COVID-19 at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Queensland Health’s high priority hospital and health services, including Metro North, Metro South, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Torres and Cape York and Cairns must be audited by April 19.

The state’s remaining hospital and health services will need to be audited by April 22.

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) also recommended that if deficiencies were found, an action plan to fix them would need to be provided.

Queensland Health is due to report at a second conference on April 27.

In a statement, QNMU secretary Beth Mohle said she welcomed the commission’s assistance and looked forward to progress being made.

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Not everyone has what it takes. Roman Anin, whose home and newsroom were raided by federal agents last week, explains the challenges of investigative journalism in Russia today




Roman Anin says part of his job is knowing to expect a visit from the authorities at any moment. When federal agents showed up at his Moscow apartment last week, however, he wasn’t immediately sure why they’d come. Officials searched his home for almost seven hours, working until midnight, before questioning him for a few hours more. It was only the next day when he learned that a separate team had also raided the iStories newsroom on Friday. The searches are part of an investigation into a case of alleged privacy invasion “committed through abuse of office.” Anin is currently listed as a witness, but he believes he could face felony charges himself. The trouble stems from an investigative report Anin wrote in 2016 when he was still a reporter at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where he revealed that Olga Sechina (then Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin’s wife) owned one of the most expensive luxury yachts in the world. Meduza spoke to Anin about the raid on his home, why this case has suddenly returned, and what it means for other investigative journalists in Russia.

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Ajay Seth takes over as new Economic Affairs Secretary


Newly appointed economic affairs secretary, Ajay Seth, took charge of the department of economic affairs on Friday, the finance ministry said in a Twitter update.

The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had approved the appointment of the 1987-batch Karnataka cadre IAS officer earlier this month, replacing Tarun Bajaj.

Prior to this, Seth was posted in his cadre state as the managing director of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited since July 2018.

The new position marks Seth’s return to a central posting after a gap of 13 years and will be his second stint in the department of economic affairs, where he previously served as a director.

Apart from heading the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation, Seth held various positions in the Karnataka government including additional chief secretary of health and family welfare and commissioner of commercial taxes.

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Zarif: Iran Reserves Right to Do Whatever It Takes To Protect Its Citizens After Natanz Incident



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NCAA takes on student-athletes in U.S. Supreme Court compensation dispute



FILE PHOTO: Mar 20, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; A detailed view of the March Madness logo at center court as Gonzaga Bulldogs and Norfolk State Spartans players run by during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

March 26, 2021

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the annual U.S. ritual of the “March Madness” college basketball tournament unfolds, the Supreme Court is poised to hear the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s bid to preserve its limits on education-related compensation for student-athletes.

The justices next week are set to hear oral arguments in an appeal by the NCAA, the major governing body for U.S. intercollegiate sports, of a lower court decision last year that deemed the organization’s rules anticompetitive under a federal law called the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Although the case does not involve direct payments to athletes, the broader question of player compensation has increasingly become a point of contention. College sports rake in billions of dollars in revenue but players remain tied to what critics call a fiction of amateurism.

During the current March Madness tournament, some players have protested on social media using the #NotNCAAProperty hashtag. Much of the focus is on a push to allow student-athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness rights.

The case before the Supreme Court concerns non-cash payments related to education, including benefits such as computers, science equipment and musical instruments.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year rejected the NCAA’s argument that its limits on education-related compensation were needed to preserve the amateur character of college sports, and thus competition in the market between amateur and professional sports. The 9th Circuit did find that the NCAA could limit non-education-related compensation.

The nine justices will hear a scheduled one-hour oral argument via teleconference on Wednesday, with a ruling due by the end of June.

“It’s another dent in the armor of this amateurism model that the NCAA has constructed,” Michael Rueda, a sports lawyer who represents athletes, said of the litigation.

The case involves students who are players in the highest-level of college sports: NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball and those in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Football and basketball represent the major revenue-generating sports at the college level.

Joining the NCAA in defending the rules are major college sports conferences including all of the big-money so-called Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference and Pac-12 Conference.

Lawsuits filed by college athletes in 2014 and 2015 were consolidated in a federal court in California. The players have argued that NCAA compensation limits represent a form of unlawful restraint of trade at a time when the leading intercollegiate conferences are bringing in billions of dollars in revenue.

“If they are not subject to the same antitrust rules as other businesses then they can do whatever they want. They can exploit the athletes as far as they like,” said Jeffrey Kessler, one of the lawyers representing the players.

Lawyers for the NCAA said in court papers that there is precedent allowing it to maintain a distinction between college and professional sports and that, in order to retain that distinction, athletes must be genuine students and not be paid.

If education compensation is allowed, it is likely that colleges would use such payments as “vehicles for disguised pay-for-play,” the lawyers said.

Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, said in a statement that the case will determine whether the organization can “continue to have the ability to maintain the critical distinction between collegiate and professional sports, or whether a single federal judge will determine the rules for college sports.”

Georgia, joined by eight other states, filed a brief backing the NCAA, saying that allowing the compensation would lead to some colleges having to increase fees or cut some sports. Eight other states and President Joe Biden’s administration back the players.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)



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Caroline Wilson takes aim at “compromised” and “off-putting” AFL broadcasts


Caroline Wilson has taken aim at footy broadcasters scheduling club directors to commentate on their own teams.

The likes of Luke Darcy (Western Bulldogs), Mark Ricciuto (Adelaide) and Jimmy Bartel (GWS) have already been forced into the compromised situation, Darcy most notably during the Dogs’ win over West Coast in Round 2.

Wilson believes it frustrates viewers and puts the club staffers in difficult positions.

“There is just no excuse for TV networks and radio stations putting footy club directors behind the microphone to call their own footy teams, cost restrictions don’t cut it,” she told Footy Classified.

“Suggestions that the media is so cash-strapped or commentators so reliant on paying gigs that they have to rely on it is just excuses.

“Excuses for what is frankly a compromised call.

“This is nothing against Luke Darcy who called yesterday’s Western Bulldogs game, or Jimmy Bartel or Mark Ricciuto to name the current crop, but there is just no way their calls are not compromised when they’re so personally and sometimes professionally invested.

“Commentators like these calling their own footy clubs have to be acting even when their calls sound impartial. It’s off-putting for the audience, it compromises the callers and in the case of yesterday’s wonderful Bulldogs win, it was a case of poor scheduling by the Seven Network.

“It lacks integrity and it’s largely off-putting for the audience.”

Former Essendon captain Matthew Lloyd agreed with Wilson’s arrow.

“I reckon it’s unfair to Jimmy, Luke and the guys. Just don’t put them on those games,” Lloyd said.

The AFLW competition had a similar issue on the weekend, with current GWS player Nicola Barr on commentary for Fox Footy’s coverage of the Giants taking on Carlton.

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As Canadian Pacific Railway bulks up, rival Canadian National takes a few attention-grabbing measures of its own


Kevin Carmichael: CN is getting serious about ESG and it’s looking beyond just climate change

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Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.’s plan to purchase Kansas City Southern will vie for business story of the year, but its long-time rival, Canadian National Railway Co., also has been doing some things that could help it down the road.

The former Crown corporation has recognized that it’s no longer sufficient for big companies to focus exclusively on maximizing profits. The public, including a growing number of investors, now demands more. So, while CP was bulking up, CN was getting serious about ESG, the emerging force in markets that demands a commitment to the environment, social concerns and enlightened governance in return for access to a pool of capital worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

A couple of days after CP announced the KCS takeover on March 21, CN revealed that it was on track to join its Calgary-based rival as one of only a handful of big Canadian corporations that has significantly diluted the influence of older white men in their board rooms.

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CN said it had nominated Denise Gray, president of South Korean lithium-ion battery maker LG Chem Ltd.’s North American unit, to join a board that will be reduced to 11 directors from the current 14. Gray, who is Black, would ensure that Montreal-based CN will be overseen by a set of directors that more closely mirrors the larger population, one of the objectives of Bay Streeter Wes Hall’s BlackNorth Initiative, an effort inspired by the global backlash that followed the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last year.

A minor reshuffling of directors will strike some as insignificant, and others as slavishly faddish. Another way to think about it: embarrassing. Only about 30 per cent of directors and 18 per cent of executives at S&P/TSX companies were women in 2019, according to Catalyst, an advocacy group. Visible minorities filled about six per cent of board seats, according to a review by Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, a law firm.

Regardless, leadership diversity is fast becoming a tenet of modern governance. Scholarship shows that companies that are dominated by older white men have too many blindspots. They lose out on young talent that’s adamant about working only for employers that reflect their values. They risk alienating customers, politicians and regulators.

“At the heart of the CEO agenda, is the imperative to build and maintain trust,” Nicolas Marcoux, head of consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc.’s Canadian unit, said at a virtual event sponsored by the Toronto branch of the Canadian Club on March 23. “ESG is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.”

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To be sure, CN chief executive Jean-Jacques Ruest’s senior management team remains entirely white and mostly male. (The roster of vice-presidents is less monochromic).

But Ruest will be the only CN executive on the docket when shareholders vote at the company’s virtual annual meeting on April 27. The independent nominees are an even split of men and women, the same as CP. That matters to investors who decide where to deploy their money based on ESG assessments. CN is betting that its rivalry with CP and American railroads such as CSX Corp. will be decided by more than shipping costs and arrival times in the future.

CN chief executive Jean-Jacques Ruest.
CN chief executive Jean-Jacques Ruest. Photo by Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg files

“Our longer-term goal is to be at the leading edge of ESG best practices across North America and globally,” Ruest and Robert Pace, the boar chair, said in a letter to shareholders ahead of next month’s annual meeting.

Achieving that objective is going to take some more work. CN tends to say the right things, and often backs up its words with action: the company has cut the greenhouse gas emissions spewed by its locomotives by 40 per cent since 1993, earning high marks from at least one outfit that tracks companies’ commitment to fighting climate change.

Still, it’s unclear that CN has put much distance between itself and its competitors when it comes to ESG. Sustainalytics, a unit of Morningstar Inc. that does ESG research, says CN and CP are both “low risk,” so an ethical investor could buy either stock without violating her or his principles. The firm currently rates CP slightly higher — 30th out of 335 transportation companies (1,611th out of a universe of 13,676 companies), while it ranks CN 34th (1,683rd overall).

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“With respect to ESG, the whole world is moving that way,” Pace, who has led CN’s board since 2014, said in an interview earlier this month. “The trend is wide. It’s deep. We just have to make sure our goals and aspirations are real and we can deliver.”

Too often, companies’ ESG initiatives emphasize what they are doing about the environment. Perhaps the most interesting part of CN’s recent efforts is that its focus is wider than climate change. It said last month that the tenure of independent directors will be limited to 14 years and that they will be allowed to serve on a maximum of three public boards including CN.

More importantly, the company also said that it would create an advisory council of Indigenous people, a recognition that CN tracks cross some 110 First Nations communities. Pace said the decision was partly inspired by the protests that disrupted rail traffic ahead of the pandemic, but that it also reflects an admission that Indigenous voices had been ignored for too long.

“The whole country has taken a long time. We all have to do our part,” Pace said. “We had to step here and make some changes. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Financial Post

• Email: kcarmichael@postmedia.com | Twitter: carmichaelkevin

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that CP’s board it entirely white. We regret the error.

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

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