Government gives up on streetlight sale, looks to private sector to reduce costs

AUGUST 29 2016 – 12:00AM

Christopher Knaus

Flag of Australia.svg

The government has given up on selling its ageing streetlight infrastructure, and is instead trying again to find a private company to upgrade and manage the costly and inefficient network.

The 79,000 streetlights in Canberra are currently publicly owned and managed, but the government first flagged a potential sale in the 2014-15 budget, when the network was listed as a saleable asset alongside ACTTAB, public housing, car parks, and government office blocks.

Canberra's 79,000 streetlights will no longer be sold by the government, which is now only seeking a private firm to ...
Canberra’s 79,000 streetlights will no longer be sold by the government, which is now only seeking a private firm to manage the network.  Photo: Marina Neil

Last year, Chief Minister Andrew Barr outlined plans to either sell the streetlights or outsource their management, and experts predicted the opportunity would be “hotly contested”, particularly among foreign firms looking to move into the Australian market.

During the tender process in November, the sale of the network was deemed a possibility, although it was not expressly committed to by government.

A sale would have given the ACT a 15 per cent bonus on top of the sale price under the federal government’s asset recycling scheme.

But the November tender process was unsuccessful.

The government now no longer sees a sale of the streetlight network as desirable, and has again gone out to tender, this time looking only for a private company willing to manage the streetlight network.

The government said it wants someone who can improve energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve reliability.

It also wants to piggy-back its public Wi-Fi on the streetlight network, and use it to create a “smart city backbone”, which would support smart parking, traffic management and environmental monitoring.

The street light network represents the ACT’s largest ongoing electricity cost.

Streetlights currently account for 25 per cent of the government’s electricity use and about 18 per cent of its total greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2014-15, power costs topped $5.5 million and a further $1.3 million in the first quarter of 2015-16.

An audit by Ironbark Sustainability last year found that more than half of the streetlights in Canberra were 30 years or older.

The government has begun to upgrade some of the lights with newer LED technology, which is more efficient and allows for easier monitoring and wider use – it can carry Wi-Fi, for example.

The idea of outsourcing management or selling the streetlight infrastructure was first pursued by then Liberal Chief Minister Kate Carnell in the late 1990s.

Mr Barr’s office issued a statement calling for expressions of interest.

“The ACT government currently owns and manages one of the nation’s largest portfolios of 79,000 lights on streets, footpaths, arterial roads and in various public parks and open spaces around Canberra,” the statement read.

“The chosen provider will be responsible for the complete management of the streetlights, including operations and maintenance, the implementation of an energy efficiency upgrade that delivers guaranteed energy savings to the territory, and the establishment of a flexible ‘smart city backbone’.”


Source : The Canberra Times

Hobart Council owed $7.7 million from unpaid parking fines and traffic infringements

August 28, 2016 11:00am

alt text for flag

HOBART City Council is owed more than $7.73 million in unpaid parking fines and traffic infringements – an increase of almost $300,000 over the past year.

The council is chasing unpaid debts from motorists around the country but concedes some of the money will never be recouped.

New statistics show that last financial year council staff were issuing an average of 340 infringements a day – 124,287 for the year.

But less than two thirds of fines issued in the city throughout the 2015-16 year had been paid by June 30.

HCC parking inspectors issue on average 340 infringement notices a day.

Infringements issued include parking fines and traffic fines for offences such as parking in disabled zones, no parking or no stopping areas and loading zones.

Hobart Lord Mayor Sue Hickey said parking restrictions encouraged the regular turnover of spaces in high demand areas.

“We want as many people to come into the city as possible but that can mean car parking spaces need to be turned over,” she said.

“We appreciate that no one wants to receive a parking fine but they are a way of ensuring safety and provide a deterrent for people to misuse parking facilities.

“It is not about catching people out but rather about averting genuinely disruptive or poor parking behaviour.”

As at June 30 this year, there were 166,971 outstanding parking fines across the city, with 94,000 owed directly to the Hobart City Council and the rest owed to the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service.

Infringements that are not paid to the council within the designated time frame are referred to the Tasmanian Collection Service.

If the Tasmanian Collection Service is unsuccessful in collecting the fines they are then referred on to the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service.

Fines referred to the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service attract additional penalties which are not passed on to the council.

The $2,147,167 owed to the Hobart City Council includes infringements being pursued interstate, under payment arrangements, or debts that have been written off.

The remaining $5,586,187 is owed to the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service.

About 20 per cent of infringements being pursued by the Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service were under payment arrangements, however the council said money being paid under the arrangements would not be reflected in the data until the debt had been paid in full.


Source : The Age

High-rise apartments are bad to live in and bad for society, says respected architect

AUGUST 29 2016 – 9:35AM

alt text for flag

Australia is building too many poor-quality high-rise apartment towers that are alienating to live in and have low environmental performance, one of the nation’s most widely respected residential architects has warned.

It comes as an author of a new book on planning in Melbourne warns the city’s concentration of high-rise towers in the city centre is going to lead to a “city that is unliveable within a generation”.

Architect Kerry Clare, pictured in 2013.
Architect Kerry Clare, pictured in 2013.  Photo: Dean Osland

Sydney-based architect Kerry Clare, who designed Melbourne’s award-winning Docklands Library, has warned that sky-high living is harming the nation’s urban fabric.

“High-rise living has a number of drawbacks including social isolation and diminished public realm amenity,” said Professor Clare, who with partner Lindsay Clare won the 2010 Gold Medal for Architecture, the nation’s highest honour from the Australian Institute of Architects.

A proliferation of apartment towers in central Melbourne has damaged the city's urban fabric, a new book on planning has ...
A proliferation of apartment towers in central Melbourne has damaged the city’s urban fabric, a new book on planning has found.  Photo: Craig Abraham

“Current high-rise building practices in Australia make for poor environmental performance and reduced liveability,” Professor Clare has told a conference staged in Sydney by Architecture Media,Housing Futures.

Professor Clare questioned why Australia was building so many apartment towers that saw residents living as high as 60 floors above ground.

“Why are we turning to this solution when there is so much evidence that this is not needed or desirable?” she asked.

Chance encounters reduced

Professor Clare argued that building apartments in high-rise towers meant more people were “detached from street life”.

The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, designed by Kerry Clare and partner Lindsay.
The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, designed by Kerry Clare and partner Lindsay.  Photo: John Gollings

Living in a high-rise building radically reduced the sort of chance encounters that lower-rise dwellings ensured were inevitable, as residents were on the street more often, she said.

“High-rises diminish people’s participation in public spaces,” she said, citing the work of another architect, Taz Looman , who has argued towers “create silos – physical, social and psychological”.

Kerry Clare and partner Lindsay, in 2010 after they were awarded the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, ...
Kerry Clare and partner Lindsay, in 2010 after they were awarded the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, their profession’s highest award.  Photo: Brendan Esposito

An economic bubble?

Professor Clare said high-rise towers were largely “built during economic bubbles”, and many were empty, investor-owned properties.

She said while there were many types of housing, what was appropriate in each context was different, and was affected by “finance, politics, design and market”.

Melbourne is experiencing an unprecedented high-rise apartment construction boom.
Melbourne is experiencing an unprecedented high-rise apartment construction boom.  Photo: Penny Stephens

“My concern is that high-rise living is a model too easily adopted by finance and politics,” she said.

There was also a question over whether high-rise construction was leading to a greater divide between the haves and have-nots, with luxury units in higher end developments aimed at global investors.

RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton.
RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton.  Photo: Pat Scala

In Melbourne, the phenomenon has had the knock-on effect of drastically inflating the price of adjacent CBD and city fringe land in particular.

Not so green after all

High towers were less environmentally sustainable than was believed, because they needed constant air conditioning and heating. High wind velocities meant windows could often not be opened above certain heights.

Professor Clare said the widespread use of glass curtain wall systems on Australian skyscrapers meant they heated up too easily in the hot climate. “The vast majority pay lip service only to environmental design,” she said.

High-rise apartment towers also used more energy due to central plants, pools and spas, while the embedded energy in concrete was far higher than timber, which could be used for lower-rise housing.

Tall buildings also created large shadows, wind tunnels and poor street environment, which in turn made activities such as jogging or cycling “much less enjoyable creating less amenity, life and activity”, Professor Clare said.

Call backed by local experts

Professor Clare’s damning comments on the nation’s high-rise construction phenomenon was mirrored by a group of RMIT planners who recently released a book on the city’s growth.

The book, Planning Melbourne, found Melbourne was building too many central-city high-rises, while its suburbs continue to sprawl outwards. Meanwhile, not enough medium density was being built in the middle-ring suburbs.

“It is really going to lead the city to a classic case of the city failing,” said one of the book’s authors, Professor Michael Buxton.

“Much of the high-rise that is being constructed, we think is going to be unliveable within a generation,” Professor Buxton said, because the standard of construction was poor and came with high energy prices.

Not family friendly

He said too many Australian apartments suited only singles or couples with no children.

“It’s not that apartments aren’t suitable for families – it’s that the model Melbourne has adopted of small, poorly constructed apartments aren’t suitable.”

These apartments were being lived in by short-term visitors, students or those staying only months in one spot.

“That’s a very poor model for long-term city sustainability,” he said.

The book identifies Melbourne as one of the top 10 locations worldwide for construction of high-rise towers.

Landscape architects concerned too

The landscape architecture industry has also voiced its concerns over the large numbers of high-rise apartment projects being built in Melbourne. One member of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architect’s advocacy committee said the group supported Melbourne moving to become a higher density city.

“However, we are concerned by the recent proliferation of low quality residential developments that have poor internal amenity, fail to cater for larger families, and negatively impact the public realm,” said the group’s Mark Skiba, a landscape architect.

Stronger controls on apartment design in Sydney – in place since 2002 – meant that Melbourne had damaged its reputation as a liveable city, he said.

Mr Skiba said there needed to be more green infrastructure – large parks and natural landscapes, and quality public streets and urban spaces – adding to features in apartments like communal rooftop and private balconies.

Commentators unhelpful: developers

But groups representing the development sector said that commentary like this was unhelpful, because the market was already moving away from poor quality housing.

Asher Judah, acting Victorian executive director of the Property Council, said Melbourne was experiencing solid demand for high-rise apartments locally and internationally. He argued there was no apartment bubble. “Just a high degree of supply which is being absorbed.”

Developers had delivered some good and some bad apartments, he said, and was now working with the Andrews government to lift design standards without adding drastically to costs.

There has been discussion about imposing minimum size standards on apartments in Melbourne. Mr Judah said that this was not the answer.

“Good design can be both big and small. The community is growing tired of housing commentators claiming to have a monopoly on good taste.”

More demand for boutique apartments

Another developer group, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, argued that new developments were largely next to existing services and infrastructure, meaning they were positives for society.

Danni Addison, the institute’s Victorian chief executive, said the apartment market was seeing more boutique and better designed developments built. She said it was crucial for the health of the property market that apartments kept being built “at affordable prices”.

“This often comes down to the time and cost spent through our planning system,” she said.


Source : The Age

NSW Police superintendent defends cop who pulled gun on driver in ACT

AUGUST 29 2016 – 12:10PM

Flag of the Australian Capital Territory

A NSW Police superintendent has defended the actions of a Queanbeyan highway patrol officer who pulled a gun on a suspected drink-driver.

The driver’s lawyer is pushing for the senior constable to face charges, lodging a formal complaint with police on grounds he used unnecessary force, hadn’t logged the incident properly and failed to reveal the full truth of the arrest in court.

A NSW Police superintendent has defended the actions of a Queanbeyan highway patrol officer who pulled a gun on a suspected drink-driver.

The driver’s lawyer is pushing for the senior constable to face charges, lodging a formal complaint with police on grounds he used unnecessary force, hadn’t logged the incident properly and failed to reveal the full truth of the arrest in court.

Dramatic police dash cam footage revealed by Fairfax Media last month shows Senior Constable Steven Hilhorst running towards the driver’s side window with his firearm drawn and pointing it at the driver’s head at Harman in the ACT after a short pursuit.

He tapped the driver’s side window twice with the gun before the man got out of the car in surrender and laid down as the police officer holstered his gun, kneed him forcefully in the back as he handcuffed him, and then punched him in the back.

Footage of the January 2015 arrest aired at a hearing of the man’s drink-driving charge in the ACT Magistrates Court last month.

That charge was later dropped on a technicality after it emerged the driver had been breath-tested with a device that wasn’t approved in the ACT.

A NSW Police spokeswoman confirmed it was looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

In a letter written for a separate court matter, Monaro police commander Superintendent Rod Smith said an initial internal review had made no adverse finding against Senior Constable Hilhorst for use of excessive force.

He said in the letter, dated July 15, the “short snippet” of dash cam footage revealed publicly showed only a small portion of the incident.

“I can confirm that shortly after the incident, a debrief was conducted by an inspector of the Monaro local area command.

Dash cam footage shows Senior Constable Steven Hilhorst pointing a gun at a driver.

“There was nothing identified during this pursuit debrief that was adverse to Senior Constable Hilhorst or any other officer.

“I can also confirm that this pursuit was subject of a review by the Monaro Safe Driver Panel, which is standard practice.

“Again, the panel found nothing adverse against Senior Constable Hilhorst.”

He said Senior Constable Hilhorst was a “highly competent officer with an exemplary record” and indicated police would consider appealing the court’s decision.

But his comments did little to allay concerns held by the driver’s solicitor, Adrian McKenna, a senior associate with Ben Aulich and Associates, who said his client had surrendered during the arrest.

In complaints lodged with NSW and federal police, Mr McKenna said the police officer’s use of the gun and physical force were unnecessary and “clearly assaults of my client”.

Mr McKenna cited Senior Constable Hilhorst’s “untruthful” evidence about the lighting of the area where the cars stopped, his refusal to tell the whole story of the arrest and failure to make a use of force entry in the COPS database.

He complained the officer didn’t log the use of the pistol in the system, which is required under police guidelines, or mention it to officers who attended the scene or in his initial court evidence.

“I am very concerned, not only by Senior Constable Hilhorst’s conduct, but also his lack of understanding that his conduct was unnecessary and wrong, as demonstrated by the evidence he gave in court,” Mr McKenna said.

“The officer’s conduct not only risks bringing the NSW Police force into disrepute, but also amounts to criminal acts.”

NSW Police told Mr McKenna it would handle the “non-criminal aspects” of his complaint, but any potential criminal investigation would need to be handled by federal police, given the incident took place in the ACT.


Source : The Canberra Times

Sydney’s new metro line builders consider standardised stations for Bankstown section

AUGUST 29 2016 – 5:00AM

alt text for flag

The project team charged with converting Sydney’s Bankstown Line to take driverless metro trains is considering pre-fabricating standardised stations at factories before shifting them to their final locations to “bolt together”.

The conversion of the 110-year-old Bankstown Line presents one of the larger challenges for the project builders because of the need to close it for more than six months, forcing tens of thousands of commuters onto buses.

The 13.5-kilometre line from Bankstown to Sydenham also services freight trains, while heritage buildings are located alongside it.

Tim Parker, the project director for the second stage of Sydney’s $20 billion-plus metro line, told a transport conference on Friday it was looking at standardising the 11 stations.

Commuters travelling on the Bankstown Line will face significant disruptions.
Commuters travelling on the Bankstown Line will face significant disruptions. Photo: Simon Alekna

“We have got a great opportunity,” he said. “We have got 11 stations. What we are looking at is ‘how can we standardise’?

“In other words, instead of having a [station] concourse [where] one is 5.4, one is 5.6 and one is 5.7, let’s make them all 5.7 and let’s just build that in a factory, bring it to site and bolt it together.”

Mr Parker said the project team had been looking at taking a leaf out of the book of Victoria where construction during track closures on successive weekends “actually isn’t [seen as] the best outcome” for customers.

“We are talking now about options: do we close the line for slightly longer? They’re the type of things we are looking at,” he told the Australian Transport Summit in Sydney.

“It would be lovely, if we do have a longer possession [of the Bankstown Line] … wouldn’t it be great when people come back and they have a brand new station to use.”

Government statistics show more than 25,000 people travel on the Bankstown Line during the morning peak between 6am and 9.30am on weekdays.

The conversion also presents a challenge for engineers becausecurved platforms at the existing 11 stations will have to be straightened to accommodate the single-deck metro trains.

It is part of the second stage of the metro line, which will run from Chatswood to the CBD, and onto Sydenham and Bankstown.

The Baird government has estimated the cost of the second stage at between $11.5 billion and $12.5 billion. That is higher than forecasts two years ago of between $9.5 billion and $11 billion, which the government has blamed on the addition of stations at Barangaroo and Waterloo.

A spokesman for Sydney Metro said “everything was on the table” for the line, and it was looking around the world to find the best ways to build it.

“The Bankstown Line is more than 100 years old and requires significant work to get it to metro standards,” he said.

“With Sydney Metro, services on the Bankstown Line will almost double from today, at least 15 trains an hour compared with eight suburban trains an hour in the peak currently.”

The environmental impact statement for the Bankstown Line conversion is not expected to be released until next year, while its temporary closure for construction is still several years away.

The first stage of Sydney’s metro line – from Rouse Hill in the city’s northwest to Chatswood – is scheduled to be completed by 2019 at a cost of $8.3 billion.


Source : Sydney Morning Herald

Neill Wagner fined for landing helicopter at Downey Park

AUGUST 29 2016 – 11:55AM

alt text for flag

One of Queensland’s richest men has been slapped with a $1000 fine for landing his chopper in a Brisbane park.

Millionaire Neill Wagner faced Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday after being charged by the Brisbane City Council with undertaking a prohibited activity.

Millionaire Neill Wagner diverted to a nearby park when he discovered he couldn't land on a field at Ballymore.
Millionaire Neill Wagner diverted to a nearby park when he discovered he couldn’t land on a field at Ballymore. 

The charge related to an incident in which Mr Wagner, one of four brothers in a family that owns a multimillion-dollar Toowoomba-based construction company and an airport, landed his helicopter at Downey Park, in March 2015.

The court heard Mr Wagner was told to land immediately by air traffic control and given permission but when he got to the spare field at Ballymore, in Brisbane’s inner-north, there were people on it so he made the decision to land at the nearby park instead.

Neill Wagner's business empire includes an airport.
Neill Wagner’s business empire includes an airport. Photo: Robert Rough RNR

The businessman pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined $1000 plus $845 in court costs.

He did not speak to waiting media as he left the court precinct.


Source : Brisbane Times

Former chief minister Terry Mills still in hunt to claim seat of Blain

August 28, 2016 7:12pm

alt text for flag

Former chief minister Terry Mills is still waiting on a result for the seat of Blain. PICTURE: Helen OrrFormer chief minister Terry Mills is still waiting on a result for the seat of Blain. PICTURE: Helen Orr

WHILE former chief minister Adam Giles looks in danger of not just losing government but also his seat, the man he deposed to get to the top is poised for a political resurrection.

With three of six booths counted in the seat of Blain, neither Labor’s Damian Hale nor ex-CLP chief minister turned independent Terry Mills has claimed victory.

While Mr Hale is ahead in the primary vote, the preference flow is expected to swing the election in favour of the axed chief minister.

A 20 per cent swing against Mr Giles in his electorate of Braitling has given a razor-thin two-party preferred lead to Labor candidate Dale Wakefield. Should Mr Giles lose the seat in the CLP’s heartland of Alice Springs, it will be the first time it’s ever been held by Labor.

Mr Mills said the swing against the man who rolled him while he was on a trade mission two years earlier was evidence of the level of anger voters felt towards the CLP.

“There’s a real disconnect there and it’s a reflection on the what happens when political parties – in this case the CLP – become more enamoured with personality than with quality of process and gaining the respect and forging connections within the community,” he said.

Mr Mills said while he took no joy in the annihilation of the party he served as the Member for Blain for 15 years, he was happy to leave the soul searching and navel gazing to others.

“It’s disappointing to see what has occurred, but I’ve made a clear break in my feelings and emotions. I’ve already done more than most to try to renovate and refresh the conservative cause in the NT,” he said.

Mr Mills said the party now stood at the same crossroads it did when the CLP was almost wiped out in 2005.

“When there was only four CLP members left and I was the only one left north of Katherine, we asked the question ‘is this the end for the CLP?’.”

“If the CLP was a car, would you take it off to the panelbeaters to be repaired, or would you write it off?

“At the time, we decided to take it to the panelbeaters and bring it back out. “

Perhaps this time, it was time for a trip to the wreckers, he said.

The only seat where the CLP appears assured of victory is Spillett, where sitting Drysdale member Lia Finocchiaro has a clear lead.

Mr Mills said Ms Finocchiaro was an example the party should try to emulate.

“She’s an example of how they should operate. She’s always maintained her connections to the community and that’s why she has been successful,” he said.

Being free of a large party room and the big personalities that go with it could be a positive thing for Ms Finocchiaro.

Adam Giles arrives in Darwin with partner Phoebe Stewart and son Robert after Saturday’s election defeat. PICTURE: Katrina Bridgeford .

“In some ways it can be quite liberating – to be able to respond directly to the community, rather than first having to respond to the party and then to the community,” Mr Mills said.

Mr Giles didn’t want to speak to the NT News yesterday when he arrived in Darwin from his defeat in Alice.

It looks likely any meaningful opposition in the 13th NT Legislative Assembly will have to come from independents.

Ex-CLP members Kezia Purick and Robyn Lambley are on track to be returned in Goyder and Araluen respectively.

Independent Gerry Wood won a convincing victory in Nelson, while Karama is on a knife edge, with former Labor leader Delia Lawrie and the ALP’s Ngaree Ah Kit almost level in first preference votes.


Source : NT News

Xenophon team opposes same-sex marriage plebiscite

August 29, 2016
alt text for flag


The Nick Xenophon Team may stymie a planned plebiscite on same-sex marriage, saying it is opposed to the proposal and believes the issue should instead be decided by Parliament through a free vote.

NXT, led by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, released a statement this morning saying it wished to make clear its position on the proposed national poll: “We do not support it”.

“In our representative democracy we are paid to make decisions on behalf of Australians who have voted us into office,” it said. “This is a decision the Parliament should make now.

“The plebiscite, which in any event could be disregarded by the Parliament, could be in the order of $160 million or more. We believe this money could be better spent.”

The statement said NXT’s four elected members – Senator Xenophon, Senator Stirling Griff, Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie – all supported marriage equality and were “ready to vote accordingly”.

That puts increased pressure on Labor to support the plebiscite or risk having no progress on the issue for three years.

Leader Bill Shorten has said caucus will consider it once the Opposition has the details, but he has also ramped up his rhetoric against the plebiscite, calling it the “second-best option”.

Shorten told a meeting of Labor’s shadow ministry this morning that the Government hadn’t made the case for the plebiscite.

“The quickest path to resolving this issue would be a vote in the parliament and that’s what we will be seeking to do in coming days and weeks,” he said.

Labor intends introducing a private bill legalising same-sex marriage.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said any delay in legalising same-sex marriage was on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s head.

“We could legislate marriage equality by the end of the week … if Malcolm Turnbull allowed it,” she told reporters today.

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong accused Mr Turnbull of lacking the courage to dump the policy.

She called on “fair-minded Australians” to continue campaigning for marriage equality and put pressure on Coalition MPs, “all those so-called moderates who are now not having the courage of their own convictions”.

Despite Labor and crossbench reluctance, the Government remains positive, with cabinet minister Mathias Corman saying it wasn’t a given that parliament would block a plebiscite.

Colleague Simon Birmingham said if the plebiscite was blocked, there wouldn’t be a same-sex marriage vote in parliament.

Government backbencher Warren Entsch, a long-time advocate for same-sex marriage, said if parliament blocked a plebiscite that should be the end of the matter until the next election.

“I’m not going to sit here and fiddle around year after year because somebody doesn’t get exactly what they want,” he told ABC radio, noting he’d copped a lot of flak for his stance over the years.

He also told The Cairns Post the $160 million price tag was the “cost of democracy”.

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson said a plebiscite should be held at the same time as the next election to save money

-with AAP


Source : NT News

WA government link to wealthy businessmen angers West Australians

AUGUST 29 2016 – 6:34AM

Flag of Western Australia.svg

Many West Australians were angry last week when it emerged that six wealthy businessmen had commissioned their own poll on Premier Colin Barnett to apparently destabilise and end his leadership after eight years.

Talkback radio fielded calls from West Australians who remember well the WA Inc 1980s scandal and were unhappy that business interests were again interfering in a democratically elected government.

People know that the rich and powerful donate money to political parties and buy influence, but last week it was thrown in their faces.

Notre Dame University senior politics lecturer Martin Drum said he could not recall ever before seeing such an obvious example of businesspeople trying to influence public debate.

“I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse than people donating large sums of money, which is already done quite frequently, or mining companies opposing a mining tax with a public campaign,” he said.

The men named so far – WA financier John Poynton, property developers Nigel Satterley and Greg Poland and chemicals entrepreneur Vikas Rambal – are all big Liberal Party donors who have fallen out with Mr Barnett and lost financially in recent years due to policies under him.

The Reachtel poll of more than 10,700 people across 11 marginal Liberal-held Perth seats was damaging for the government, indicating Labor winning the 10 it needs for government.

The ill feeling is now obvious with an angry Mr Barnett referring the matter to the Public Sector Commissioner and publicly accusing the businesspeople of trying to interfere or influence decisions of government.

A prominent Perth businessman has accused accusing Mr Barnett of being happy to accept donations when he ran for Premier.
A prominent Perth businessman has accused accusing Mr Barnett of being happy to accept donations when he ran for Premier. 

Mr Poynton hit back over the weekend, accusing Mr Barnett of being happy to accept $35,000 he raised when he ran for premier in 2008.

He blamed Mr Barnett for what he dubbed a “witch hunt” in which his and Mr Satterley’s emails would be examined for evidence of favours with ministers, such as Dean Nalder, who has been linked to the businessmen who handed the poll results to him.

WA Inc was a political scandal in Western Australia when the state was lead by Brian Burke.
WA Inc was a political scandal in Western Australia when the state was lead by Brian Burke. 

Mr Barnett’s office denies ordering emails be examined.

During the week, several senior ministers including Treasurer Mike Nahan and Health Minister John Day recalled WA in the 1980s when the government lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and politicians, including premier Brian Burke and Ray O’Connor, were jailed.

“We have in WA a history repeatedly of commercial interests getting too close to government. We called it WA Inc, mark I and II,” Dr Nahan said.

Regardless, the Liberal National government look divided heading towards the polls next year.


Source : WA Today