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News Digests

Stay abreast of what’s happening internationally with developments in corporate public affairs. Here is news that you may find useful and interesting:

Trump announces ‘incredible’ trade deal with MexicoND

BBC News, Tuesday August 28 2018

US President Donald Trump announced an apparent breakthrough in renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Tuesday, saying the agreed terms would make for an “incredible” deal that was “much more fair”. The treaty has been being reviewed for the past year, but in the last five weeks, Canada – the third country in the pact – has not been part of the discussions. "We will see whether or not we decide to put up Canada or just do a separate deal with Canada," Mr Trump said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had spoken with President Trump after the breakthrough with Canada, saying the pair had had a “constructive conversation”. A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the country is “encouraged” by the progress made by the US and Mexico but did not comment on the specific terms. “We will only sign a new NAFTA that is good for Canada and good for the middle class. Canada’s signature is required,” spokesman Adam Austen said.

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Greece emerges from Eurozone bailout programmeND

BBC News, Monday August 20 2018

For the first time in eight years, Greece is now free to borrow money on the financial markets, after successfully completing a three-year Eurozone bailout programme designed to help it cope with the fallout from its debt crisis. Greece’s freedom to manage its own economic affairs will be somewhat tempered by enhanced surveillance from the European Union’s executive, the European Commission, however. This is designed to ensure Athens does not backtrack on reforms agreed with its lenders. Eventually, the bailout loans will have to be repaid. "For a political system to have gone through these years of austerity, this depth of economic hardship, and maintained a functioning society, a functioning democracy, is testament to the robustness of Greece as a modern state. Greece has saved the euro,” said Professor Kevin Featherstone, director of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics.

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Tech surveillance laws proposed by Australian Government 'aggressive', critics sayND

Ariel Bogle, ABC News, Monday August 20 2018

Security experts have labelled new laws that would compel global technology companies to assist Australian spy agencies and police “aggressive”. If passed, the assistance and access bill would introduce expansive new powers to help law enforcement officers investigate criminal activity online. Australia's proposed laws represent a significant step up in the fight against the criminal use of encrypted communications, according to security researcher Christopher Parsons of The Citizen Lab in Toronto, Canada. Among other provisions, the bill proposes three key ways for technology companies, software developers and others to assist spy agencies and police: a technical assistance request, where a company can choose to voluntarily help, such as give details about the development of a new online service; a technical assistance notice, where a company is required to give assistance if they can; and a technical capability notice, where a company must build a new function so it can assist police, as long as it does not force encryption to be broken.

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Saudi Arabia suspends Toronto flights in row with CanadaND

BBC News, Tuesday 7 August 2018

Saudi Arabia’s state airliner has suspended its direct flights to Toronto following Canada’s call for the release of detained activists for women’s rights and civil society. It has also frozen all trade and expelled Canada’s ambassador over what it calls “interference”. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “deeply concerned” by the diplomat’s expulsion, but added that “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world.” In what appeared to be a further sign of deteriorating Canada-Saudi relations, a verified Twitter account with reported links to Saudi authorities shared an image of a plane flying towards Toronto’s famous CN Tower. The image was overlaid with text, including a quote which read “he who with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.”

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Transurban doubles profit as toll revenue soars to $2.34bND

Patrick Hatch, The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 7 August 2018

Higher road-user fees have helped to more than double Tollroad giant Transurban’s annual net profit to $468 million, the company revealed on Tuesday. Its revenue grew 8.7 percent last financial year to $2.34 billion, off the back of traffic growth of 2.2 percent acros its network of tollroads across Australia and North America. Growth was most significant in Melbourne, where revenue from CityLink jumped 13.4 per cent to $780 million. Traffic grew 1.4 per cent in total on that road, with some disruption due to works on the Tullamarine freeway, but the number of trucks using the road grew almost 9 per cent. That, along with higher truck fees, resulted in the jump in revenue, Transurban said. In North America, where Transurban earns almost ten percent of its revenue from roads in the Greater Washington Area, revenue grew 7.1 percent on traffic growth of 1.9 percent. The company also received a little help from President Trump’s corporate tax cut in the shape of a $105 million boost from a deferred tax asset.

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Apple, Facebook and YouTube Remove Content From Alex Jones and InfowarsND

Jack Nicas, The New York Times, Monday 6 August 2018

Alex Jones, founder of Infowars – a right-wing site that has been a leading peddler of false information online – found most of his posts and videos deleted by technology firms on Monday. Apple, Google, Facebook and Spotify severely restricted Mr Jones’ reach, in one of the tech companies’ most aggressive efforts against misinformation yet. Some of Mr Jones’ dark and bizarre theories spread online include that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that Democrats run a global sex ring. Apple was the first to make its move, removing content on Sunday, with the others following the day after. Deleting content is a tricky business for tech companies, who have long desired to combat misinformation online but have been reluctant to become arbiters of truth. On the move, an Apple spokesperson said “Apple does not tolerate hate speech.”

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Missing evidence base for big calls on infrastructure costs us allND

Hugh Batrouney, The Conversation, Tuesday July 10 2018

When the case for big transport projects is made without due analysis, we risk building the wrong projects, robbing ourselves of the infrastructure our booming cities need to be more liveable. Given how fast our big cities are growing, decisions cannot continue to be made based on limited or misleading information. Two stark examples – proposed rail links to Western Sydney and Melbourne airports and road congestion charges – illustrate the problem in different ways. These proposed rail links show how governments continue to make huge taxpayer commitments to projects before they fully understand the costs, benefits and risks. In the case of the recently announced multi-billion dollar investments in airport rail in Western Sydney and Melbourne, neither project has a business case. Despite this, both sides of politics were keen to commit to their building. Regarding Melbourne airport rail, the project’s route still has not been resolved, nor have its costs, ticket pricing structure or potential benefits. Too many big infrastructure calls in Australia are based on misleading information or wafer-thin evidence. We need to do better.

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The Brexiteers are defeating BrexitND

David A. Graham, The Atlantic, Monday July 9 2018

On Monday, Johnson, the British foreign secretary, resigned from the government rather than back Primer Minister Theresa May’s proposal for British departure from the European Union. He is the second minister in two days to leave May’s cabinet, following David Davis, the secretary in charge of Brexit. After a weekend working out an offer from Britain to the EU, May’s pitch to cabinet members was to toe the line or leave. That line was not ‘hard’ enough for Johnson, who wrote in his resignation letter that he did not believe the UK was likely to achieve the independence and autonomy that voters demanded in the Brexit vote. “We are truly headed for the status of colony – and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantages of that particular arrangement,” he wrote.

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Ex-News Corp exec Peter Tonagh in line to head public broadcaster efficiency reviewND

Max Mason, The Australian Financial Review, Friday July 6 2018

Former Foxtel chief executive Peter Tonagh could lead the efficiency review of the ABC and SBS, according to sources. Mr Tonagh left News Corp earlier this year, which has led some to be concerned about his eligibility to run an efficiency review into public broadcasting. The sources said however that Mr Tonagh was well respected, had experience in running TV stations and had admiration for the ABC and SBS’s missions. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield declined to comment on who would lead the efficiency review, but made clear it would not consider changes to either the public broadcaster’s charter, the editorial policies of the national broadcasters, allowing advertising on the ABC, charging for digital services, privatisation or a merger of the two channels.

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Scientists create new building material out of fungus, rice and glassND

Tien Huynh and Mitchell Jones, The Conversation, Wednesday June 20 2018

Would you live in a house made of fungus? It could be the key to a new low-carbon, fire resistant and termite-deterring building material. Known as mycelium composite, this material uses fungus to combine agricultural and industrial waste to create lightweight but strong bricks. It’s cheaper than synthetic plastics or engineered wood, and reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill. Making the fungal bricks is a low-energy and zero carbon process, and their structure means they can be moulded into many shapes. In more good news, rice hulls and glass waste, which make up much of the material, are easy to find. In Australia alone, we generate about 600,000 tonnes of glass waste a year, and rice has an annual global consumption of more than 480 million metric tonnes. Usually, the rice hulls and glass waste are incinerated or sent to landfill, so the new material created by the authors offers a cost-effective way to reduce waste.

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Telstra slashing 8,000 jobs to cut costs, but shares still slammedND

Michael Janda, ABC News, Wednesday June 20 2018

Thousands of Telstra employees will lose their jobs as the company has announced an overhaul, but investors remain concerned by falling profits, sending the telco’s shares to a seven-year low. Telstra said its targeting a further $1 billion in cost-cutting by the 2022 financial year, taking total cost reductions to $2.5 billion. Telstra said that the lost jobs would largely be drawn from management, with one in four executive and middle management positions to go. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the announcement as ‘heartbreaking’ for the workers involved, saying he had spoken with Telstra CEO Andy Penn last night and he was confident Telstra would support its former workers in the transition to other jobs. “When one company reduces its workforce, there are other companies and new companies, including other telecommunication companies, creating new opportunities and jobs,” he said.

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General Electric dropped from Dow after more than a centuryND

Matt Phillips, The New York Times, Tuesday June 19 2018

General Electric was dropped from the blue-chip index late Tuesday and replaced by the Walgreens Boots Alliance Drugstore chain. It was the last remaining original member of the Dow Jones industrial average. Over the last year, G.E.’s shares have fallen 55 percent, compared with a 15 percent gain for the Dow. G.E., which closed Tuesday at $12.95, has the lowest share price of any of the index’s 30 components. The removal of G.E., which will formally occur on June 26, reflects a shift in the economic composition of the United States, which long ago moved away from heavy industry toward services such as technology, finance and healthcare.

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As the shaky US-North Korea summit is set to begin, the parties must search for common interestND

Benjamin Habib, The Conversation, Monday June 11 2018

US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un will meet on Tuesday for their much talked about summit in Singapore. For the event to be productive, the negotiations will need a base line shared interest that both parties can agree on. Given the long standing trust deficit between the two nations, it is worthwhile asking exactly what the two countries have to offer each other. Short of denuclearisation, North Korea can offer goodwill gestures, a nuclear freeze and testing moratorium. Trump has hinted that he might offer a formal treaty between North and South on ending the war. In terms of negotiating leverage, both parties have strengths and weaknesses, but the strategic importance of Seoul means that any attack on the South Korean capital would be devastating for the US. Summits are symbols that act as markers in a much broader process of relationship-building. This summit could be part of a process of a gradual evolution in the US-North Korea relationship.

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Italy’s new government wants to deport 500,000 peopleND

The Economist, Thursday June 7 2018

No sooner had Italy’s new Prime Minister Matteo Salvini been sworn in than he was proclaiming his eagerness to kick the 500,000-600,000 immigrants who are supposedly living without authorisation in Italy. “The good times for illegals are over,” he said. “Get ready to pack your bags.” Mr Salvini branded the NGOS who save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean and land them in Italian ports (with the permission of Italian authorities) as “substitute people smugglers, and announced that migrants who are refused humanitarian protection will be shut into closed encampments from here on in. One reason that this cannot already happen is that most of the countries of origin of migrants refuse to have them back, but Mr Salvini said that he intends to negotiate more repatriation commitments.

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There's One Thing Uber Hasn't Disrupted: Work.ND

Sarah Holder, City Lab, Friday June 8 2018

The big takeaway from a new report out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that the gig economy is not the future of work. Gig work only makes up 6.9% of the U.S. workforce, and it’s getting smaller, down from 7.4% in 2005. When taking into account vehicle maintenance, Uber booking fees and commission, Uber wages average about $9.21 an hour. That’s more than the federal U.S. minimum wage of $7.25, but 29 states have implemented local minimum wage laws of more than $10, and Uber drivers don’t get healthcare, sick leave or any of the traditional salary benefits. The report suggests then that economists really need to re-evaluate the importance of the gig economy, and refocus efforts on improving the quality of full time work in the U.S. It seems that the future of work does involve people working full time after all.
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Robots creating a wages and employment 'death spiral' warns IMF ND

Stephen Letts, ABC News, Wednesday May 23 2018

According to an International Monetary Fund research paper, the future of automated work appears to be a dystopian march to rising inequality, falling wages and higher unemployment. The research looked at a range of scenarios, from modest substitution of labour by robots and AI to a world where they take over all traditional technologies. In call cases, “automation is good for growth and bad for equality,” the study found. “In scenarios where the traditional technology disappears and robots take over the automatable sector, the economy either ascends to a virtuous circle of ongoing endogenous growth or descends into a death spiral of perpetual contraction," the IMF report said. "Unfortunately, the odds strongly favour the death spiral."

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Smart traffic lights which always turn green to be trialled on Britain's roadsND

Francesca Marshall, The Telegraph, Wednesday 23 May 2018

New smart traffic lights that will always turn green are to be trialled on Britain’s roads, it has been announced. The smart lights are designed to put an end to stop-go driving, and will advise motorists of the speed they should drive at in order to arrive at the next set of lights when they turn green. Part of the desired outcome of the lights is to help create roads for driverless cars, and the concept is one of five shortlisted entries into a competition by the National Roads Commission, Highways England and Innovate UK to this end. The scheme, designed by engineering firm AECON, will be tested using a simulation model of the A59 in York. It is hoped it will cut congestion and reduce emissions through more efficient driving. “We are excited and are eager to get started so we can better understand the potential impact of vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies on our local road network in York,” Heather Hawkings, AECOM principal consultant, said.

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Netflix partners with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce 'inspiring' films and TV showsND

Alle McMahon, ABC News, Tuesday May 22 2018

Netflix has signed a mammoth deal with Former US president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to produce a series of films and TV shows for the worldwide, on-demand streaming service. The former first couple say they’re looking forward to producing ‘inspiring’ content, but critics say the deal is just further evidence of the liberal propaganda prevalent on ‘Leftlix’. While not specifying exactly how long the deal is set to last, the official statement described it as a ‘multi-year agreement’ which could include scripted and unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features. "Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world's most respected and highly recognised public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better," Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos said.

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That summer food stand job is no longer just for teenagersND

Kim Severson, The New York Times, Tuesday May 22 2018

The kinds of summer food memories many of us had from summer jobs selling churros or hot dogs are fading fast, with more and more of these jobs going to temporary workers from other countries or local adults trying to make the gig economy work for them. Although youth employment in the US still spikes in the warmer months, the number of teenagers in the summer labour force fell to 43 percent in 2016 from almost 72 percent at its peak in 1978. There are many reasons for this. School started going for longer, employment laws became more restrictive and scooping cones over summer was no longer considered a worthy CV builder. At the same time, demand for summer workers rose. And as vacationers started arriving earlier and staying later, employers began making use of workers from other countries with H-2B visas, which are granted to business that have specific kinds of seasonal work. But under the Trump administration, changes have been made to these visas in order to protect American jobs. Such changes may mean that some business relying on foreign seasonal workers will be unable to open this summer.

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A new policy at Starbucks: people can sit without buying anythingND

Jacey Fortin, The New York Times, Sunday May 20 2018

Last month, Starbucks was at the centre of a scandal caused by an employee who called the police on two black men who would not leave the café after being denied use of the restroom as they hadn’t bought anything. Starbucks’ actions prompted boycotts, protests and accusations of racism. Now, Starbucks has changed its policy, saying that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.” The men who were arrested at the Philadelphia store, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting for another mean, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, for a business meeting on April 12 when the officers arrived. Their arrest was captured on video, now viewed millions of times on social media. “What did [the police] get called for? Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?” Mr Yaffe asked in the video. The company said it had reached a “confidential financial settlement” with Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson, and the men also made a deal with the City of Philadelphia, with each man accepting a symbolic $1 and accepting a pledge by the city of $200,000 to help young entrepreneurs.

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