The Christmas crime wrap

DECEMBER 16 2016

John Silvester

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As we enter the festive season proper, the general view of the community is that rather than Santa coming down the chimney with a sackful of toys your next drop-in guests will be baseball bat-wielding Apex gangsters about to knock off the family saloon.

And if Santa does pop in after dark, rather than being greeted by Christmas cake (who doesn’t like Christmas cake?) he will be confronted by a crazed home owner armed with a Taser he bought on the dark web from an American hunting store that specialises in zapping elk.Bad Santa might not drop in with toys, but rather be wielding a baseball bat with intent to knock off the family saloon.

If the headlines are to be believed the gangs will beat you senseless, steal your presents, grab your singing Christmas polar bear from the front garden nativity scene and escape in your German coupe that has been tastefully decorated with imitation reindeer horns.

Today Frosty the Snowman is a coke dealer, The Nutcracker is an outlaw bikie debt collector and Santa’s elves are unemployed because they didn’t apply for working-with-children certificates.Premier Daniel Andrews has gone all Dirty Harry, with a truckload of law-and-order initiatives that include an increase ...

The expression “Ho, Ho, Ho” at the office Christmas party will have you in front of Human Resources and if you dream of a white Christmas you will be punched in the mouth by a refugee activist.

This time of quiet reflection is the perfect moment to look back on the year and examine the seedy side of life.

We have always been fascinated by crime, but usually as a spectator sport. During the Underbelly Gangland War we became so aware of many of the main characters they were recognised by one name, such as drug dealer Tony Mokbel, killer Carl Williams and hitman Andrew Benji Veniamin.

This year it is different, and we have all become potential players with the rise in home invasions and carjackings that has led to widespread community concerns. Many (not all) of the offenders are juvenile and many (not all) are migrants, with African kids overrepresented in the stats.Premier Daniel Andrews and Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp. More police will be assigned as first responders and more ...

Normally crime trends emerge slowly, giving police some chance to get in front of the game. But the jump in angry, violent and plain nasty young criminals has caught everyone by surprise.

While the number of juvenile offenders has dropped, there is a core (fewer than 200) who commit serious crimes as soon as they are bailed.

Mainstream publicity on Apex-like gangs acts as recruiting drives for kids looking to "belong" to something.

Mainstream publicity on Apex-like gangs and social media bragging act as recruiting campaigns, attracting kids (usually unemployed, poorly educated and alienated from their families) looking to “belong” to something.

Many of the crimes they commit are almost certain to result in arrest, and yet police say some simply don’t care. Perhaps we are seeing an element of the haves and have-nots, where these groups head to so-called “nice” suburbs to steal items they believe they will never be able to afford.

Proof of this new anger-fuelled recklessness is the number of police cars that are rammed – up from 30 last year to 140 this year. Offenders who commit minor offences risk their lives and those of others by driving off at high speeds, often on the wrong side of the road with their lights off – as if they are part of a real-life video game.

Crime gangs, notably stolen-car rings, have recruited some of these menaces, realising they are usually bailed and back on the streets ready to re-offend.

To counter this, the Andrews government will introduce a so-called Fagin law, which will leave adults who recruit kids to commit crimes facing up to 10 years’ jail. We applaud this measure (in fact we recommended it in this column in July).

Certainly Premier Daniel Andrews has gone all Dirty Harry in the past month with a truckload of law-and-order initiatives that include an increase in police of 2729 officers over four years and introducing new DNA powers.

More police will be assigned as first responders and more will be rostered to work nightshift – when many of the crazies come out to play.

It was not that long ago that one mature-age police recruit informed his bosses at his first station that he would much prefer to work during the day, and when informed he needed to be a little more flexible on rostering matters he produced a doctor’s certificate stating he was frightened of the dark.

There is a commitment to buy new police helicopters (we called for that in July) and a police hotline to take the pressure off triple zero (we called for that in September).

Consider this: At least 600 calls a day, or about 220,000 a year, to triple zero are non-urgent, and this pushes out response times. As it stands, Victoria is the only state that does not have a police advice line to triage calls, an anomaly Premier Andrews is committed to fixing.

Juvenile offenders who trashed the Parkville Youth Justice Centre have been sent to Barwon’s adult prison and the government has introduced a mandatory life sentence for murdering a police officer.

The law will be retrospective – for it is designed to keep Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue in jail. Minogue is the last of the gang that in 1986 exploded a car bomb outside the Russell Street police station, killing Constable Angela Taylor and injuring another 21 people.

He was sentenced to life with a minimum of 30 years and expected to be eligible for parole in a few weeks’ time. Minogue also killed notorious inmate Alex Tsakmakis and was given a concurrent sentence – meaning he effectively got away with murder.

Police believe he organised the payback murder of Prue Bird, 13, who was related to a prosecution witness in the bombing case, but it is a theory only.

When Minogue was given a minimum sentence, there was no real outrage and no appeal to a higher court. Today there is no doubt he would be sentenced to die in jail, which shows the theory that courts are becoming softer is just nonsense.

Minogue says he has changed and has devoted himself to study – managing to gain his PhD. He has few friends on the outside, and the move to slam the cell door on him makes political sense.

But our system works because even the most detestable have rights. Minogue should have been able to argue his cases before the Parole Board and if he remains a risk he would remain inside, because his maximum sentence remains life. Being eligible for parole does not make you entitled to it.

Which leads us to our next theory. Labor governments tend to be tougher on crime than conservative ones. The Liberal/Nationals are seen as pro police, which means the ALP has to go a little further to hold law-and-order voters.

Our profound hope is that having committed to a $2 billion-plus law-and-order boost, the government and opposition will start to get serious about the cause rather than the consequence of crime.

There are innovative programs from Glasgow to Texas that are reducing crime rates and prison numbers. We need to tap into their successes rather than repeat their mistakes.

In the world of counter-terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther and his team, working closely with federal agencies, have done a super job foiling several plots, but as even the best goalies know eventually one will get through to the back of the net.

In the past few days, the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (what a stupid name) released a report on three separate investigations involving police taking and trafficking illicit drugs.

It is a small sample and entirely unsurprising for no occupation is immune from drugs, but it is worrying nonetheless. A few years ago, then chief commissioner Ken Lay said some members were using body-building steroids – hardly a good mix when carrying a gun and making life-and-death decisions.

IBAC recommended that more work be done in recruiting to weed out those inclined to get on the gear. Certainly the New York Mollen investigation into police corruption found those who went bad had questionable histories before joining the force.

We are about to embark on an unprecedented recruiting drive to employ 2729 extra police, which means in real terms the figure is closer to 4000 to cover resignations and retirements.

And it will be the decisions on who enters the Police Academy in the next four years that will impact on the force for the next 30.


Press Escape

If you are looking for a Christmas gift I suggest former colleague Shaun Carney’s autobiography: Press Escape (MUP $29.99).

It is not so much a book on journalism but one that takes you from his Frankston childhood to the corridors of political power. His columns have always been reasoned, as he prefers analysis to advocacy.

Shaun and I started on the same day in 1978 at the Herald and Weekly Times as the only two male university graduate cadets. He had wanted to be a journalist for years; I applied on a whim. He aced his job interview; I got into an argument with the interviewer.

An executive later tipped that one of those graduates would become an outstanding journalist. Clearly that was Shaun.

Naked City will return in February.


Source : The Age

Melbourne’s high-rise nightmares taking a tall toll on residents and investors

SEPTEMBER 25 2016 – 12:15AM

Aisha Dow

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We have watched them sprouting up all over Melbourne, transforming our streets and skylines with the promise of solving the housing affordability crisis. But many of those closest to the booming industry say they wouldn’t buy one.

All across Melbourne, new apartments riddled with faults have been sold to investors and residents. Some of the problems are so costly to fix that it would be cheaper to build the apartments again.

High-rise apartment blocks have transformed Melbourne's skyline.
High-rise apartment blocks have transformed Melbourne’s skyline.  Photo: Leigh Henningham

There are cracked and leaking buildings, glass that falls out of high-rise dwellings, diluted paint, windows that are not quite square, sinkholes and car-park fumes funnelled directly into living areas.

Often these cases play out behind closed doors or, quietly, in the courts. After all, who wants to tell the world that they’ve bought a disaster?

Water leaks through defective sliding door during high winds.
Water leaks through defective sliding door during high winds. Photo: Supplied

Many people involved in the strata industry say faults in Melbourne’s proliferating apartment buildings are common, blaming poor enforcement of construction standards and an influx of cheap materials.

Almost 3000 complaints about defective and unsatisfactory workmanship were made to Consumer Affairs Victoria during the past financial year, an annual increase of 13 per cent.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Strata Community Australia (which represents Victoria’s body corporate managers) is aware of at least 58 apartment buildings in Melbourne with defects, valued at a total of about $49 million.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” the group’s Victorian general manager, Rob Beck, said. “It is rare for buildings to be defect-free.”

In Caulfield North, sinkholes developed in a basement car park. At a Collins Street apartment tower, rain was coming through the roof. In Brunswick, 34 unit owners were told it would be easier to pay $1.4 million out of their own pockets to fix problems with water seeping into the complex, rather than pursue a deregistered builder in court.

Strata Community Australia is calling for a new system, where developers have to put aside a “bond” worth 2 per cent of the cost of their residential development.

Mould on a ceiling caused by a leaking membrane lining a shower.
Mould on a ceiling caused by a leaking membrane lining a shower. Photo: Supplied

“Within two years of being built, they have to fund a defects report. If there are defects in the building, there is money in the kitty,” Mr Beck said.

“It may not be enough in a lot of cases – but it’s a very good start.”

An attempt to seal a leaking window in a Melbourne apartment.

An attempt to seal a leaking window in a Melbourne apartment. Photo: supplied

‘If it has a balcony, it will leak’

Waterproofing (or the lack of it) is considered a leading and systemic problem for apartment buildings in Melbourne today, with many who manage the city’s apartment towers saying “if it has a balcony, it will leak”.

Some apartments have become uninhabitable through water damage caused by poor construction methods, with water seeping through multiple levels where proper waterproof membranes have not been installed.

Phil Dwyer, president of the Builders Collective of Australia, has no doubts about the damage poor waterproofing can wreak.

“What might happen is that the water gets into walls or the structure of the floor, and it starts to rot the timber,” he said. “It can do a lot of damage in a short period of time.”

An air gap between a wall and a window frame.

An air gap between a wall and a window frame. Photo: Supplied

Windows have fallen out of high-rise apartments

Another key problem in Melbourne is windows and glazed balconies leaking, falling out, warping or cracking when installed incorrectly or used for the wrong purpose.

Express Glass managing director Adrian Grocott said glass installers were not licensed as a trade and mistakes were not being picked up by building surveyors before new residents moved in.

“There is really nothing stopping anyone bringing in a container of product from overseas, installing it in a building and having that installer hand over a piece of paper saying this product complies with the building code in Australia,” he said.

“That’s the end of it until something goes wrong. There is no policing of work that is being installed on a construction site.”

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Australian Window Association chief executive Tracey Gramlick said that when problems occurred they could cost many millions of dollars to fix, especially if the window faults caused water to leak into the walls and ceilings of apartment buildings.

She said there was a growing national trend of cheaper imported glass and glazing being substituted during the design process to save money.

Owners are left carrying the can

But it is what happens when thing go awry that is perhaps the greatest cause for alarm.

Consider the case of Amanda Frazer, a first-home buyer who bought in Ormond off the plan in 2012. When she went to inspect her two-bedroom home, she discovered something different to what she had signed up for. The developer had squeezed another unit into the building and significantly reduced the size of her property’s balcony.

Ms Frazer contacted her lawyer, who told her to settle on the property or risk being sued.

She called the council. The council inspected the building and declared it illegal; because of the extra apartment jammed in, the complex no longer complied with the planning permit.

Ms Frazer said an inspector found further breaches in the building code: the floors weren’t level, the stairs were too steep and the ceilings too low. “It was a shoddy finish. You could see the lack of care,” she said.

Amanda Frazer says she has been so scarred by her experience she will never buy another home.

Amanda Frazer says she has been so scarred by her experience she will never buy another home. Photo: Justin McManus

Although the property had been approved by a private building surveyor following construction, her home remained “illegal” for three years, meaning it could not be sold. Ms Frazer said she would probably still be in the same situation if Mr Dwyer had not volunteered his time to help the owners get retrospective approval.

“I would call the Victorian Building Authority and they would say call Consumer Affairs. Consumer Affairs would say call the Law Institute, and the Law Institute would say contact the surveyor or the council and it would just go round and round for months,” she said.

“I just think it’s disgusting that in Australia you can buy a property and when it turns out to be illegal, it’s the owner’s responsibility.

“Isn’t this why we have councils? Isn’t this why we have surveyors? They should just do their job properly. Because when I don’t do my job properly, I get held accountable.”

Ms Frazer received no compensation from the developer and there was little point pursuing him for the lost value in her home and repairs (estimated to be up to $100,000) as his businesses went into administration.

This is not unusual. Many apartment owners choose to fix thousands of dollars’ worth of defects themselves, because the developer has gone bankrupt, or it would be too expensive to take them to court.

What about insurance?

Although domestic building insurance is mandatory for all Victorian homes up to three storeys, high-rise dwellings are exempt.

Construction law expert Andrew Whitelaw, of TressCox Lawyers, said this meant if a builder went bankrupt, home owners and investors might have no choice but to pay substantial bills to fix building defects.

“A purchaser who buys a lot for $350,000 might be looking at contributions to multimillion-dollar rectification projects that they had little or no knowledge of at the time they purchased,” Mr Whitelaw said.

“It’s a fundamental flaw in the system.”

He said that while the “overwhelming majority of builders” did the right thing, things did still go awry, and when that happened “complicated and complex circumstances” needed to be worked through.

The Andrews government is considering making changes to domestic building insurance arrangements before the next election, while a new body called Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria will have the power to compel builders to fix problems, finish work or pay for the rectification – part of a range of recent reforms in the sector.

“We’re strengthening consumer protection to avoid costly disputes and, if disputes do arise, [to] resolve them quickly and without the personal cost and financial stress of the old system,” Planning Minister Richard Wynne said.

The  jury is still out on whether these changes will significantly help the home owners lumped with major defects, or prevent them in the first place.

“I’m worried that they won’t,” Mr Dwyer said.

While the new laws prohibit builders from appointing the building surveyors who are meant to check their work, Mr Dwyer said builders would still ask their clients to appoint their preferred building surveyors.

“It remains exactly the same – nothing changes – so that’s a waste of space,” he said.

Mr Dwyer is also concerned the new dispute resolution system would not involve enough people with building industry expertise.

“It might be better, but I don’t think it will be good,” he said.


Source : The Age

Family tracked, forced into hiding for Oorloff investigation, court hears

SEPTEMBER 20 2016 – 6:21PM

Jane Lee

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A family was forced into hiding for six weeks while police investigated a Melbourne chiropractor who was planning to have one of them kidnapped and killed, a court has heard.

Adrian Oorloff, 48, has pleaded guilty to inciting an undercover police officer to kidnap Richard Macko, his fiancee’s ex-partner and his former patient.


Photo: Scott Barbour

Police told Mr Macko and his siblings they had 15 minutes to pack their bags and leave their home last July, the County Court heard at a pre-sentence hearing for Oorloff on Tuesday. They later learnt that Oorloff was under investigation over the kidnapping plot.

Prosecutor Amina Bhai said Oorloff had revealed his plans to an undercover police officer posing as a kidnapper for hire.

He told the police officer he had placed tracking devices on the siblings’ cars so he could keep track of their movements on his mobile phone at all times. Oorloff also said he was familiar with their home, where they worked and their daily routines.

Oorloff, who was arrested at his Keysborough chiropractic clinic last August, had offered to pay the undercover policeman $5000 to kidnap his fiancee’s former partner after which he would incinerate him in a crematorium unit, Ms Bhai said.

He told the officer that he had a medical background, and understood that his victim’s DNA would be untraceable after his body reached a certain temperature, saying: “Essentially [Mr Macko] is going to disappear without a trace, 100 per cent.”

Mr Macko said in a victim impact statement that he felt sickened and betrayed when he learnt of the allegations against Oorloff.

He and his siblings had had to move 14 times over a six-week period, and were later separated when police later decided it was too dangerous for them to continue living with him.

Mr Macko said he felt guilty for the impact this had had on his family. He often struggled to sleep at night, and suffered migraines and muscle pain for days, which were triggered by stress.

He and Oorloff had shared two Christmas dinners together, and he did not know what could have motivated him to plan to kill him.

Defence counsel Tony Lavery said that Oorloff had been driven by comments his then fiancee had made about Mr Macko. There had been “no animosity” between the two men beforehand, he said.

Oorloff had already gained a lot of information about the siblings from his partner and from socialising with Mr Macko himself, but took further action as part of his “compulsive” nature, Mr Lavery said.

Judge Michael Bourke said that Oorloff had undertaken “painstaking” surveillance measures: “It’s difficult not to attach the word sinister to it.”

Oorloff, who appeared in court, also pleaded guilty to possessing vials of various drugs without a licence, possessing a cartridge of ammunition without a permit, and possessing viagra without a prescription.

The judge remanded Oorloff until October 5, when the plea hearing continues.


Source : The Age

In the designer latte age, sheep results still matter at the Show

SEPTEMBER 18 2016 – 7:23PM

Carolyn Webb

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Hannah Badcock, 7, of Tasmania in the Livestock Pavilion at the Royal Melbourne Show on Sunday, with a champion ...

Hannah Badcock, 7, of Tasmania in the Livestock Pavilion at the Royal Melbourne Show on Sunday, with a champion Southdown ram owned by her father Chris Badcock, right rear, and grandfather Frank Badcock, left. Photo: Jason South

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

The 2016 Royal Melbourne Show has been a splendid outing for the Badcock family, of Tasmania.

Breeder Chris Badcock’s decision to bring six animals over on the Spirit of Tasmania to compete in the sheep competition paid off on Saturday when one of them won champion Southdown breed ram. On Sunday, he came third in the all-breed ram contest.

In some ways the 2016 Royal Melbourne Show is very 21st century, with stalls selling body piercings, electric bikes, and $4.50 barista-made lattes.

But it’s still important for farmers, with competitors from as far as outback NSW gathering to show off their rams and ewes.

Mr Badcock, from Hagley, near Launceston, said although stock sales are no longer held on the Showgrounds after competition, it’s still good promotion if you do well.

“We have a sale at home in Tasmania in November, selling about 170 rams of different breeds, so the fact that we’ve been to Melbourne and had some success, that won’t hurt.”

Of the winning Southdown ram he said “people might recognise his pedigree now as being a Melbourne champion so that might mean something to someone and his progeny might be more sought-after”.

Mr Badcock’s great-grandfather Frank Badcock first exhibited at Royal Melbourne in 1925, winning champion ram, and Chris’s grandfather, Vern, and father, Frank, also regularly brought small flocks to the show.

Chris’s father Frank, 69, said that when he first went to the Show in 1966, the sheep came from Tasmania by freight plane. The Show had three sheep pavilions, near the Showgrounds train station, whereas today there is one.

Graham Day, 78, from Bordertown, South Australia, who first exhibited sheep at the Show with his father, Allen, in 1955, said graziers still pick up hints on breeding and raising sheep. “We’re learning all the time, even at my age.”

He said that today animals are all scanned for weight and muscle depth, width and area, and judges give detailed comments for their decisions – in the old days little was said. He said a good competition result could lift a ram’s value by up to $3000, meaning it could sell for over $10,000.

Over the past four days, Chris Badcock’s daughter Hannah, 7, has helped feed the sheep, and so she has decided the ram’s prize ribbon will hang in her bedroom in Tasmania.

In Melbourne, Hannah took her first tram and taxi ride with Dad and her grandparents, while mum and two siblings stayed home.

She’s eaten fairy floss and lollies and bought a toy-filled showbag called Girls Only. “Pretty exciting” is her take on the Show trip, but she most enjoyed riding a rollercoaster. ”It swirled and swirled and daddy felt sick after.”


Source : The Age

Wyndham councillor Intaj Khan faces probity, conflict, branch stacking allegations

SEPTEMBER 18 2016 – 12:30AM

Royce Millar & Ben Schneiders

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Intaj Khan leaves the red Ferrari in the garage these days. For an aspiring Labor politician from Melbourne’s battling outer west, the car was generating too much fuss.

The 43-year-old Wyndham councillor attracts plenty of attention anyway.

In a few years he has built a $70 million fortune, his wealth coming from a controversial private training college and contentious, large-scale property speculation in his own fast-growing municipal patch.

And then there’s the house.Khan has unveiled plans for a $10 million Tarneit mansion – probably the largest private residence in Melbourne’s west – to feature 16 bedrooms, two swimming pools, a tennis court, a 30-seat home theatre, a seven-car garage and a helipad.

His critics say the “Intaj Mahal” is a monument to excess from a man who is almost certainly Victoria’s richest local councillor.

Khan says it’s a celebration of migrant achievement in Australia. And after all, he could have built in Brighton or Toorak. “If the area is disadvantaged or poor you stay there when you make some money. If you love it, it’s like your mother; you stay with it.”

Khan is eyeing the Wyndham mayoralty and has been accused in state parliament of bankrolling a small army of dummy candidates at next month’s council elections to help secure it.

Wyndham Councillor Intaj Khan in Tarneit.
Wyndham Councillor Intaj Khan in Tarneit. Photo: Jason South

He readily acknowledges he also wants a seat in parliament.

Khan’s impatience for wealth and power has increasingly put him on the radar of those who could frustrate such ambitions.

Khan has unveiled plans for a $10 million Tarneit mansion.
Khan has unveiled plans for a $10 million Tarneit mansion. Photo: Jason South

He has endured investigations of his Western Institute of Technology, which has been criticised over mistreatment of workers employed on 457 visas and a highly critical report on its teaching standards by a federal regulator.

Then there is an ongoing ALP probe into branch stacking which could cause Khan further headaches after a surge in new, mostly Indian-background members, out west and elsewhere.

Khan with Julia Gillard.
Khan with Julia Gillard. Photo: Supplied

Now inquiries by the Sunday Age have uncovered repeated failures by Khan to properly declare property and commercial interests, as required by the Local Government Act, including large swathes of farmland.

The failures raise serious probity concerns for a fast-growing urban fringe council that works closely with state governments to turn humble farmland into housing estates, generating vast riches for landowners.

Khan accepts the thanks of Daniel Andrews.
Khan accepts the thanks of Daniel Andrews. Photo: Supplied

His problems also highlight the challenges for migrants grappling with a new political culture that, publicly at least, eschews ostentatious displays of wealth.

But so too do the challenges of brash newcomers like Khan to a system already struggling to live up to its own claims to good governance.

Khan with Anthony Albanese.
Khan with Anthony Albanese. Photo: Supplied

In a corner of a McDonald’s outlet in the far western frontier, Intaj Khan looks both in place and out of it.

Indian born and raised, he arrived in Australia in 1998. His fine black suit, scarf and Rolex contrast with the scene beyond – bulldozers turning paddocks into neighbourhoods for a young, mostly migrant, community.

Khan with Tania Plibersek.
Khan with Tania Plibersek.  Photo: Supplied

After gaining a bachelor in engineering technology from the University of Central Queensland, Khan founded the Western Institute of Technology (WIT) in 2008.

It specialised in building courses for both local and international students from three campuses: Maidstone, South Melbourne and Dandenong. The company website claims a campus at Caroline Springs but this is not accurate.

Khan, right, with Bill Shorten.
Khan, right, with Bill Shorten. Photo: Supplied

By 2012 the institute would boast a turnover of $14 million and was ranked 14 on the BRW list of the 100 fastest-growing companies in the country.

Important to the business has been Victorian government grants of up to $5 million a year, funding that is now in jeopardy as the Andrews government undertakes greater scrutiny of a heavily-rorted sector.

Councillor Intaj Khan's $9.5 million mansion to be built in Tarneit.
Councillor Intaj Khan’s $9.5 million mansion to be built in Tarneit. Photo: Supplied

Khan says state ambivalence to private training colleges means this business will suffer. It has helped firm his view that it’s time to move on.

“I enjoy real estate more,” says Khan. “There’s too much regulation in education.”

Illustration: Matt Golding
Illustration: Matt Golding  

The cash flows from his training business has allowed Khan to borrow and invest in property, mainly speculation on farmland.

It has paid off in spades. He now claims a $40 million property portfolio. Title searches show several substantial, multi-million dollar land purchases around Wyndham.

Such investments by a local councillor – he has the council’s economic development portfolio – with privileged access to planning intelligence are legal, but highly sensitive.

Under local government laws, checks and balances intended to prevent misuse of information by councillors and staff include the requirement to twice-yearly declare property and corporate interests andto declare conflicts of interest during council decision making.

Khan has repeatedly failed to fully declare his property and corporate holdings in his register of interest returns. The Sunday Age has pieced together a list of the properties Khan and related companies have owned since he was elected to council in 2012.

Matched against his twice-yearly register of interest returns, the analysis points to at least 25 breaches, each breach subject to a fine of more than $9000. Tallied, it points to a total of more than $200,000 in fines if action were taken by authorities.

“It’s all declared, all declared,” insists Khan when the Sunday Agefirst raises the gaps in his returns. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

But over coffee at McDonald’s, Khan’s beaming smile turns down and his shoulders begin to slump as is unable to explain why he failed to declare property interests identified by the Sunday Age.

So too has Khan repeatedly failed to declare directorships in companies. For one six-month period – late 2013 to early 2014 – Khan failed to lodge any returns at all.

While councillor obligations are complicated in some areas of their work, the requirements for register-of-interest returns are simple. “It’s ABC really,” says local government law specialist, Terry Bramham. “It’s a straightforward matter of transparency and accountability.”

Bramham, from Macquarie Local Government Lawyers, says accountability is especially important in areas like Wyndham where councillors are managing urban growth and their daily decisions and advice to the state government can generate massive windfalls for landowners and developers.

Khan eventually acknowledges he has probably failed to declare property and other interests. “My intention has never been to hide things. Just an error I would say.”

Chief municipal inspector David Wolf said it “routinely” reviewed council register of interests, and said it has required details to be updated and issued warnings to councillors for failing to disclose conflicts.

Wyndham’s manager council and community relations, Emily Keogh, said it was the “responsibility of the individual councillor to ensure compliance” by declaring their interests.

Khan insists he has always appropriately declared conflicts when they have arisen in council meetings. He called for a modernising of councillor disclosures so that the register is on line and publicly accessible.

Asked if he wants to be mayor, Khan says he doesn’t, explaining he is too busy.

But if his colleagues called upon him? “I would consider it. If I was to be mayor I’d change the city to business progressive city. We need jobs here.”

To become mayor you need first to win the election and then to gain the support of your fellow councillors. It helps if they are friendly.

Liberal backbencher Bernie Finn, in parliament last month, claimed Khan was set to run dozens of candidates in the upcoming council elections.

He called for the local government inspectorate to “keep a very close eye” on Wyndham and in particular on Khan.

While Khan skirts the issue of dummy candidates, he acknowledges he is encouraging and helping young friends contest next month’s council election. (Nominations for candidates across the state opened on Thursday and close this Tuesday.)

Already several candidates linked to Khan have nominated. As for state politics, Khan openly acknowledges a keen interest in the seat of Tarneit, currently held by veteran MP and speaker Telmo Languiller.

“Once Telmo retires it would be good to serve the people where you live.”

But to win preselection means having the numbers. When former prime minister Julia Gillard retired from local federal seat of Lalor in 2013, ALP membership in her seat was around 120. Membership has exploded and is now upwards of 500.

Hundreds of applications are now under a cloud as the ALP investigates in what appears to be a massive branch-stacking exercise – in the west and elsewhere – involving the electronic signing up of members of predominantly Indian background.

Khan – who joined Labor in 2010 and is loosely aligned with the left faction – denies being involved.

As for his mansion, Khan is confident work will start soon.

There have been delays due to getting approval for the helipad; there have been some minor hold ups over Aboriginal heritage and there is a “small” dry stone wall that has raised some concerns.

“But it’s on track. We’ve done everything by the rules.”


Source : The Age

Parks Victoria boss forced to stand down over ‘inappropriate behaviour’

SEPTEMBER 14 2016 – 6:49PM

Benjamin Preiss and Richard Willingham

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The head of Parks Victoria has been forced to stand down over “inappropriate behaviour” which the state’s anti-corruption watchdog is to investigate.

The Parks Victoria board forced Bradley Fauteux’s hand after he had served less than a year in the job.

Bradley Fauteux has been forced to resign as CEO of Parks Victoria.
Bradley Fauteux has been forced to resign as CEO of Parks Victoria.  Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

The case is to be referred to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.

Minister for Environment Lily D’Ambrosio said while the matter was under investigation, the behaviour had breached public service standards.

“That’s a matter that’s under investigation at the moment, but certainly one that has breached the various standards of the public service board, and also behaviours that are appropriate to a CEO of such an important organisation,” she said.

Parks Victoria confirmed Mr Fauteux’s employment had “concluded” on Wednesday.

Parks Victoria chairman Andrew Fairley said the termination resulted from “unacceptable conduct” that breached Parks Victoria’s values and ethics policy and the Victorian public sector code of conduct.

“We are determined that this matter will not interrupt the excellent progress that Parks Victoria has been making,” Mr Fairley said.

Mr Fairley, however, praised Mr Fauteux as an “outstanding communicator” of the importance of Parks Victoria.

Mr Fauteux  began work as chief executive in November last year, having served as managing director of Ontario Parks.

Ms D’Ambrosio declined to reveal details about the “serious allegations” Mr Fauteux was facing.

“They are matters that go to the undermining of certain standards that are required of members of the public service.”

She said Parks Victoria was also conducting its own investigation.

However, Ms D’Ambrosio said a fair process must now be followed.

Ms D’Ambrosio said her office became aware in mid-August that the board had concerns about Mr Fauteux’s conduct and learnt yesterday of the final decision to “terminate his employment”.

When asked if Mr Fauteux would be paid out, Ms D’Ambrosio said the Parks Victoria board was required to give him four weeks’ notice under his contract, but as of Wednesday he had no further involvement with Parks Victoria.

Mr Fauteux told Fairfax Media in December that Parks Victoria could almost be described as the “department of fun”.

At the time he said he believed being active in nature was “core to who I am”.

He was reportedly paid an annual salary of $242,000 at Parks Victoria.

Parks Victoria’s chief legal counsel Margaret Gillespie has been appointed acting chief executive. The search to find a replacement for Mr Fauteux will begin immediately.

Fairfax Media attempted to contact Mr Fauteux.


Source : The Age

Court told no-show conwoman Belle Gibson had no reason to think she had cancer

SEPTEMBER 13 2016 – 12:17PM

Beau Donelly

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Cancer conwoman Belle Gibson had “no reasonable basis” for believing she had terminal brain cancer, a court has heard.

Ms Gibson failed to appear before the Federal Court in Melbourne on Tuesday morning to answer questions about her global health scam and fundraising fraud.

Consumer Affairs Victoria alleges Ms Gibson falsely claimed that she had healed herself of terminal cancer and run unlawful fundraising appeals to promote her top-rating app and cookbook, The Whole Pantry.

The action is in response to her claims of beating cancer by eschewing conventional medicine and of failing to hand over thousands of dollars raised in the name of charity in 2013 and 2014.

Disgraced author and blogger Belle Gibson appeared  on '60 Minutes' last year.
Disgraced author and blogger Belle Gibson appeared on ’60 Minutes’ last year. Photo: Supplied

Barrister Catherine Button, for Consumer Affairs, on Tuesday said Ms Gibson had “no reasonable basis” for believing she had brain cancer.

The court heard that Ms Gibson’s medical records from The Alfred hospital, after she was supposedly diagnosed by an alternative practitioner, do not mention the terminal disease.

Ms Button said there was also “no evidence” Ms Gibson had suffered a stroke, as she had claimed during her rise to fame, or that any suggestion she had been treated for cancer with chemotherapy and radiotherapy was true.

Penguin has supplied the court with raw footage of a recorded interview with Ms Gibson from a media training session it conducted with her ahead of the release of her book in October 2014.

Belle Gibson failed to appear at the Federal Court in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Belle Gibson failed to appear at the Federal Court in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photo: Erin Jonasson

Ms Button told the court there was a “fairly stark contrast” between the claims Ms Gibson made about her fundraising endeavours and what was actually given to charity.

The consumer watchdog will use Ms Gibson’s medical records, last year’s 60 Minutes interview, correspondence from tech giant Apple, and various social media posts form The Whole Pantry accounts as part of its evidence against her.

Consumer Affairs launched an investigation into Ms Gibson’s fundraising activities after Fairfax Media revealed she had stolen thousands of dollars raised through charity fundraisers and lied about giving $300,000 from her business profits to charity.

The disgraced wellness blogger has refused to appear at a case management hearing or file a defence in the civil case brought against her earlier this year.

But Consumer Affairs is not backing down from pursuing Ms Gibson and her company, Inkerman Road Nominees Pty Ltd, which is in liquidation.

The Whole Pantry founder faces penalties of up to $1.1 million.

Ms Gibson rose to prominence in 2013 with the launch of The Whole Pantry app. She partnered with tech giant Apple and, with Penguin, published a book containing dozens of false claims.

Penguin has since been ordered to pay $30,000 over its role in the scandal and will be forced to include “prominent warning” notices on all future books containing claims about natural therapies to explain they are not evidence-based.


Source : The Age

Drunk learner driver heads wrong way down city street

SEPTEMBER 10 2016 – 1:01PM

Benjamin Millar

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A learner driver has been nabbed drink-driving after being caught travelling the wrong way down a one-way city street.

Police saw the Avondale Heights man drive a Mazda 3 the wrong way down Little Bourke Street from Russell Street about 5.15am Saturday morning.

Police saw the driver heading the wrong way down Little Bourke Street.
Police saw the driver heading the wrong way down Little Bourke Street. 
Photo: Jason South

Leading Senior Constable Kendra Jackson said that when police pulled over the 28-year-old after a three-point turn on the narrow street, he returned a positive breath test.

He was later breath tested at Melbourne West Police Station, and returned a reading of .101 per cent.

The man was slapped with a $661 ticket for exceeding the prescribed concentration of alcohol and his licence was cancelled for 10 months.

He is likely to receive further fines for other offences at a later date.


Source : The Age

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

AUGUST 29 2016 – 9:35AM

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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

Melbourne’s community gardens could save the city’s foodbowls

Christina Zhou,Kirsten Robb

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Like many parents, Christine Murray struggled to get her three children to eat their vegies. But after seeing them sprout in the community garden just a few doors down from their house, the children eat them without complaint.

“There are things they won’t eat from the supermarket; but when they watch it grow, they want to see what it tastes like,” the kindergarten educator said.

The family bought into the new housing estate of Katandra Rise in Doreen two years ago and are part of a growing trend of Melburnians who produce their own food.

Katandra Rise residents Georgia Ramsey and Christine Murray with their children, Lyla ,Isla , Rhys, Arley and Jensen, love eating the food they produce in the community garden.Katandra Rise residents Georgia Ramsey and Christine Murray with their children, Lyla ,Isla , Rhys, Arley and Jensen, love eating the food they produce in the community garden. Photo: Pat Scala

From large-scale community collectives to the humble backyard vegie patch, Melbourne’s plot culture has gained considerable traction in the past decade, with more and more people discovering the humble pleasure of GIY (grow-it-yourself).

But the future is not all ripe. Experts warn Melbourne will face a “perfect storm” in coming decades that will take suburban fresh food production from pastime to necessity.

By 2050, Melbourne will need 60 per cent more food to feed its estimated-seven million population, but the city’s foodbowl capacity will fall to an estimated 18 per cent, a report released last December by Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab showed.

Melbourne's traditional food producing areas, such as Clyde in the city's south east, are being met by urban sprawl.Melbourne’s traditional food producing areas, such as Clyde in the city’s south east, are being met by urban sprawl. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Urban sprawl is paving over much of Melbourne’s fertile food producing land, while climate change will continue to drain Australia’s traditional agriculture heartlands, such as the Murray-Darling Basin.

“We have this perception of ‘Australia has heaps of land, so we don’t have to worry about it,” urban expansion academic and consultant Ian Sinclair said. “But there is a very small amount of land that is usable for food production, and we as a community tend to think it can be used for other things, such as residential housing.”

The suburban effort will need to be significantly increased to take up that slack, University of Melbourne planning professor Brendan Gleeson says

Melbourne is leading the charge with collective gardening initiatives in the country.Melbourne is leading the charge with collective gardening initiatives in the country.Photo: 3000acres

“Certainly people are voting with their feet and going back into domestic food production, but there is a long way between that and any idea of self sufficiency,” he said.

“It’s mainstream Australia watching the food shows, the cooking shows, and getting more interested in understanding the providence and the source of food … The groundswell is definitely there, but it won’t amount to terribly much more unless we’re prepared to take it to another level.”

And taking it up a notch — through policy or community-led initiatives — is a complex task, with farming knowledge, personal time and available resources all scarce within suburban communities.

There is a groundswell of support for urban farming initiatives in Melbourne, reaching as far as new communities in Doreen.There is a groundswell of support for urban farming initiatives in Melbourne, reaching as far as new communities in Doreen. Photo: Pat Scala

One recent response to the increasing consciousness of food production is a rise of developer-led initiatives.

Brendan Condon, developer of one of Victoria’s most sustainable communities, The Cape, is undertaking what will be the largest urban food project in a Victorian greenfield housing estate when complete. The 500-square-metre, $800,000 garden is expected to generate $130,000 in annual produce for residents.

“If developers put in this green infrastructure in, people love it and they will get a return on it,” said Mr Condon, pointing to a New York study that showed property values are uplifted by millions of dollars within 300 metres of community gardens.

People are voting with their feet to support domestic food production, but there's still a long way to go before self-sufficiency, experts say.People are voting with their feet to support domestic food production, but there’s still a long way to go before self-sufficiency, experts say. Photo: 3000acres

Mr Condon said if designed correctly, new technologies such as self-watering wicking beds will help remove some of the barriers to scaling up green initiatives. Producing locally will also significantly reduce “food miles”, the journey from producer to consumer, and save money on food bills, he said.

“With urban sprawl, climate change and more mouths to feed, we’ve got a potential perfect storm coming … But we have these huge opportunities to transform cities into food producing areas.”

A new urban village at Jewell Station in Brunswick is one of a growing number of apartment projects offering “urban farming”, where clusters of vegie patches will be dotted throughout the development. Shared social infrastructure such as urban farming provided a bond between people living in that community, Neometro director James Tutton said.

The urban food gardens at The cape in Cape Paterson will be the largest urban food project in a Victorian greenfield housing estate when complete.The urban food gardens at The cape in Cape Paterson will be the largest urban food project in a Victorian greenfield housing estate when complete. Photo: Brendan Condon

Even city fringe housing estates like Katandra Rise are using food gardens to differentiate themselves in the market.

“There’s a town centre 500 metres away with a big supermarket and a fruit shop, but if we can encourage people to grow their own produce, then not only are they saving on living expenses, but also encouraging their children and families to have a healthier lifestyle,” developer Five Squared Property Group’s Ashley Lewis said.

Michael Hands, of 3000 acres, a Melbourne-based not-for-profit organisation that promotes urban agriculture, is working with developers to help establish communal gardens in projects.

“We’re not going to create an entire food supply from communities gardens in the city anytime soon, but it’s a good supplement and it gets people thinking about what to grow and how to grow it, and it builds community at the same time, and it makes cities better places to live.”

And for the urban farmers themselves, such as Suse Scholem and Theo Kitchener — who are part of gardening collective Gnomes, which links up gardeners and private land owners — it’s about the satisfaction.

“It’s really nice to get our food from the garden and to know that we’re helping to change the world just that tiny bit,” Ms Kitchener said.

“You see it’s sustainable for us to grow food in our suburbs, and not just be reliant on the Safeways and the Coles,” adds Ms Scholem.

“They aren’t as joyful and satisfying places to go visit either, with their fluorescent lighting, as opposed to getting your hands in the dirt with other people.”


Source : The Age