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Peak-hour users may pay higher road tolls

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“Pricing will have to be introduced to fund infrastructure” … CEO of Transurban, Scott CharltonNEW types of road tolls that could include paying more for driving at peak hour are inevitable in Sydney, the biggest operator of toll roads in the city says.
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”In the not-too-distant future we will see variations of network pricing in Australia in order to better utilise our transport infrastructure,” the chief executive of Transurban, Scott Charlton, told an industry conference in Melbourne yesterday.

”Whether it’s corridor charges, congestion charges, demand pricing or distance-based tolling – network pricing will have to be introduced to fund infrastructure, manage demand and promote public transport alternatives,” said Mr Charlton, whose company operates the M2, M5, the Eastern Distributor, the M7 and the Lane Cove Tunnel.

”Just take a look at our major motorways and it’s obvious: we need new capacity – and we have to find better ways to utilise our existing assets,” he said.

Mr Charlton’s comments come amid heightened interest in new versions of road tolls following the NSW government’s release of the state’s draft transport master plan this week.

The Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, said the government was examining distance-based tolling, where motorists using motorways were charged per kilometre.

The master plan endorses distance-based charging as ”a way of raising revenue for new infrastructure and/or lessening congestion” and says the government will ”investigate, develop and test a distance-based tolling regime for Sydney’s motorways” in consultation with private sector tollway operators.

In announcing the master plan, the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, said tolling based on distance ”is something that we’d like to achieve, particularly if we can achieve it on a cost-neutral basis”.

But Mr Charlton went further and proposed charging more at peaks to free space on existing roads. ”If you look at just one of our Sydney motorways – the Eastern Distributor – you can see the peaks in the am and pm periods,” he said.

”You can also clearly see the motorway has excess capacity during other parts of the day. The question is – could peak pricing change this profile? Or could discounts during the off-periods produce a better transport outcome?

”One key fact in the road pricing debate is that a significant number of motorists do have an option of when they travel. Some studies suggest as much as 40 per cent of travel in the afternoon peak is discretionary.

”We are asking people to consider their travel more deliberately, and question the time of day they really need to travel or by what mode. Pricing restrictions on travel will be a bitter pill to swallow for a country that prides itself on high standards of living.

”Avoiding difficult initiatives will result in uneconomical decisions on infrastructure delivery and the further build out of existing roadways that are only fully utilised for a small number of hours a day.”

The chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Brendan Lyon, praised Mr Charlton’s speech.

”Our historic approach has been to add new roads to address congestion, but there are natural limits to a supply-only approach,” Mr Lyon said.

”Australia cannot endlessly build its way out of trouble, and that means we need to begin a national dialogue about how pricing can better manage congestion and help to fund the huge backlog of public transport and road infrastructure.”

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Keeping it niche and simple: small bars serving up a treat

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CHEZ DEE is a cosy bar dominated by a dining table and seemingly decorated by an eccentric and well-travelled grandmother.
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Charlie Parker is on the stereo. A deer’s head gazes over a bowl of chestnuts sitting between two Moroccan candle holders.

“We wanted to create a lounge room feeling for all the people in the area who live in studio [apartments],” says Byron Woolfrey, co-owner of the Kings Cross bar.

The drinks are brought out from behind a delicatessen fridge. Customers can choose from simple and elegant menu items: marinated octopus, cheese plates and pickled carrots.

The rise of small bars where food as much as cocktails are the drawcard is a trend identified by the co-editor of the Good Food Guide Terry Durack: “It’s just taken off,” he said.

Chez Dee, which opened about two months ago and started cocktail service last week, was too new for inclusion in the 2013 Guide, on sale today.

The Guide identified Sydney’s best ”good food” bar as 121 BC Cantina and Enoteca in Surry Hills, where the daily menu offers everything from smoked eel puree to ricotta and chilli crumbs.

Durack attributes the rise of bar cuisine to another trend – dining out has become more commonplace and lost some of its sense of special ceremony.

“In the old days you ate out hardly ever; you expected all the trimmings; you expected an event,” he said. ”Now the act of eating out can be on all stages.”

Bars taking over the fine food market is a natural consequence of the hospitality market opening up, says the Sydney architect Eoghan Lewis. When the market was dominated by large pubs with expensive licences, they had to ensure their cuisine had broad appeal and turned a profit.

”If you’re spending 300 grand to sell beer … you’ve got to keep it middle market,” he says.

That gave small bars with a niche clientele a clear run at moving into fine food.

Fraser Short, one of the city’s most successful hospitality entrepreneurs, made his name with Cargo Bar, but his latest project is a small bar-restaurant combination. He converted the site of the old Brooklyn Hotel in George Street into three wine and oyster bars under the name The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room.

”It’s a re-engineering of an old school [design] into what I see as a more contemporary upbeat and in-demand model which incorporates great food, wine and cocktails.”

It also makes economic sense.

By serving food, small bars are widening their reach beyond pencil moustached hipsters.

Martin O’Sullivan, who runs the Grasshopper bar-restaurant in a laneway off George Street, served a couple in their 70s this week. ”We’re making more money out of the food,” he said. ”We’re just giving the community what they want: intimacy.”

——-Just $10 this Saturday

The Sydney Morning Herald 2013 Good Food Guide, presented by Vittoria and Citibank has been unveiled. With more than 600 reviews of NSW’s best restaurants by the Herald’s esteemed food critics. Best of all, this Saturday, it’s just $10 when you buy the Herald, a saving of $15. Plus subscribers can reserve a copy at their newsagent now.

Only with The Sydney Morning Herald this Saturday.

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City streetscape losing charm as old beauties get bulldozed away

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Heritage … 78-78a Campbell Street, Surry Hills.SHORTLY after I was elected to council in 2008, I attended an exhibition opening in the Queen Victoria Building. During her speech, the lord mayor Clover Moore gestured to the magnificent surroundings and berated the Labor councillors of the 1960s who had voted to demolish the old beauty and replace it with some nice skyscrapers. I hid behind the ornamental wrought iron in embarrassment. But at least I felt my term on council would be spent saving lovely old buildings, not pulling them down.
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At the past two council meetings, we have voted to demolish two century-old terraces in Botany Road, Alexandria, a 100-year-old shop front in Chinatown, which had been the headquarters of the Chinese Republic Newspaper & Trading Company, and most shockingly, an 1850s hotel in Devonshire Street, formerly known as the Madeira Inn.

During debate about the Madeira Inn, I was told it was all OK because we were going to send in an archaeological team to see what could be saved from 150 years of our history. When I suggested that saving the actual building was a good start, I was stared at in amusement. “It was all right,” I was told, “the new building will mimic the form of the old building.”

This penchant for ripping down the genuinely old and replacing it with ”pretend old” has to be fought.

I often joke that the present Sydney council, made up of Liberal, Labor, Greens and Clover Moore parties will vote to pull down anything as long as it is replaced with a 5-star building with grass on the roof and bicycle racks out the front. It is certainly a green council but not one interested in preserving old buildings.

Sydneysiders believe old buildings are protected by heritage legislation. Certainly those buildings that achieve a heritage listing are safe, but heritage listing is hard to get.

One good example is Bathurst House in the city centre. It was considered a marvel of modern construction in 1910 when it was built, and was called a fine example of “Chicago-style” high rise. More importantly for me, it also had a rich history of feminist foment. The Women’s League of NSW had their headquarters there. But in March this year, our council voted for it to come down. These votes on heritage issues are mostly nine to one.

I am not unrealistic about the need for urban consolidation and renewal, and I know the excellent council planning staff fend off even more rapacious development applications than get through to us at the council table. But by protecting only our A-team buildings and offering up our B-team to the developers, we are ruining our city streetscape. The shop front on Campbell Street, Chinatown, was in a block of untouched century-old buildings. The new facade will stick out. However, there will be a plaque attached to the new building commemorating the vanished building’s connection with the Chinese Republic newspaper and Sun Yat-sen’s Reformist Movement. So sad.

Often we are presented with the view that a building is beyond saving. This was the argument for ripping down the old Mick Simmons building in George Street. I had seen photos of the building just decades earlier with fine ornamental windows and lovely curly bits on the roof. By the time I got to do a site inspection, even I could not argue for saving it.

But this leads to the next part of the problem. Many developers buy a property and deliberately allow deterioration to occur over a period of time. Sometimes felicitously opportune fires occur. By the time the application comes to council, there is no option but to support demolition. There needs to be legislation at state level that can stop this occurring.

The other change that needs to happen is that any intended demolition of a building older than 50 years needs to be brought to council at the first instance. Too often councillors are presented with the argument “we can’t tell the developer now that he can’t build his building … he’s been working on it for three years”.

Let’s tell developers straight off, Sydney’s history is not for sale.

Meredith Burgmann is a Labor councillor on the City of Sydney Council and wrote her PhD on the Green Bans and the 1970s struggle to save Sydney’s historical buildings.

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100,000 plants to make Broadway site a blooming success

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IT’S the glamour apartment complex where the plants outside the windows will be as upwardly mobile as the residents. At the Andreasens Green wholesale nursery in Lansvale, 30,000 shrubs, which will soon form the world’s tallest vertical garden, are already being grown, horizontally to adorn the vertiginous facades of the new One Central Park complex.
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A further 70,000 or so plants, totalling nearly 360 exotic and native species, are being cultivated at several locations around Australia. The shrubs at Lansvale, in Sydney’s south-west, are destined for two dozen ”green wall” panels, some as high as 16-storeys, which will be attached to the north and south facades of the development’s east and west towers facing Broadway.

The vertical garden is the brainchild of the renowned French artist-botanist Patrick Blanc, in collaboration with Central Park’s architect, the France’s Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel. Keith Stead, a landscape architect with Aspect Oculus in Sydney, is a member of the team working with Blanc.

”Something like this has never been done on this scale,” he said of the $2 billion project under construction at Broadway, Chippendale. ”It has to be one of Patrick Blanc’s biggest installations and it must be interesting for him to be doing a project of this scale in Australia, especially since he’s chosen some unusual native plants.”

The chosen shrubs, from Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and NSW, are designed to spill over planter boxes or climb up cables, creating a calming ”green screen” in the middle of the inner city. Species include varieties of red, pink and purple bougainvillea, dwarf bottle brushes, with deep-red flowers, and vine species with flowers in whites, reds, yellows and purples.

The 110-metre-high One Central Park apartment and retail complex, on the former Carlton and United brewery site, is due for completion next year. The dramatic greening process should begin between October and February, when the plants will be brought to the site from their various nurseries.

In addition to Blanc’s signature green walls, 2700 planter boxes, containing a special mix of durable soil, have already been installed and are awaiting tens of thousands of shrubs. Between the more exclusive levels 29 to 33 of the complex’s east tower, residents will enjoy their own private lushly planted cantilevered Sky Garden that juts from the facade.

Stead says Aspect Oculus has tested individual shrubs destined for the facades in a St Peters wind tunnel laboratory in order to assess their suitability to Sydney’s variable climate. Stead says it was the first time the laboratory had tested plants.

In their unusually elevated and exposed positions, the plants will need to be able to withstand Sydney’s gusty and gale-force winds, occasional heatwaves and relatively high levels of humidity. To this end, Aspect Oculus has drawn up a colour-coded plan of the facades with different ”zones of exposure”, based on wind and sun levels, that will guide where each plant should best be planted.

”The biggest challenge has just been working out how to get this much greenery on a building, and making sure that it will grow and thrive,” Stead said.

Of course, maintenance will be a factor in Central Park’s vertical garden being a blooming success, with all planted areas to be meticulously maintained by the owners’ corporation. A hydroponic system will automatically water and fertilise the vertical garden, which Stead promises has been designed not to gush on to those below.

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Renewable energy to rise without cost to public

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Chris Hartcher, NSW Energy Minister, “guaranteed” that the plan would be fulfilled without extra costs being put upon the public.THE NSW government has promised to triple the amount of energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels in NSW over the next eight years at no extra cost to the public.
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Its draft ”renewable energy action” plan confirms its commitment to a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, up from about 8 per cent today, but claims this can be done mainly with money from private investors.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, said last year that it was his ”personal view” that no more wind farms be built in NSW but, under his new plan, the number of turbines will likely increase tenfold over the next few years.

The plan itself has been delayed for months, partly over the issue of wind farms, with some in cabinet believing that turbines pose unspecified health risks to people that live close to them.

Some in the renewable power industry were cautiously optimistic about the government’s stance yesterday, while Labor and the Greens said there was little in the plan to suggest it would achieve its target.

In the draft version published yesterday, there was no firm decision on streamlining the wind farm planning process. Strict guidelines keeping wind farms distant from inhabited properties, which are seen by the renewable energy industry as holding back development, will remain in place for the time being.

The plan, which was overseen by the parliamentary secretary Rob Stokes, said that by 2020 wind energy would replace coal as the cheapest power source in NSW.

The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, ducked questions on how many new wind turbines were required, saying the intention would be to follow the ”least cost” path to renewable energy.

Wind power generates about 652 gigawatt hours of energy in NSW but that would be lifted to something closer to 8000 gigawatt hours under the government’s plan – which means thousands more turbines dotting rural landscapes.

Mr Hartcher said he ”guaranteed” that the plan would be fulfilled without extra costs being put on the public.

The plan – comprising 28 separate ”action points” designed to stimulate renewable power – also promises an overhaul of all existing energy efficiency programs, more support for community-owned renewable projects.

The solar bonus scheme, under which tariffs are paid to people who generate their own electricity from rooftop panels, is likely to remain at its current low rate.

”The NSW government remains relentlessly hostile to renewable energy,” the opposition environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said.

”If the NSW government really wants to support the growth of renewable energy, it should drop the planning guidelines that are designed to chronically handicap wind energy in this state.”

The Greens MP John Kaye said the plan had ”no hope of achieving 20 per cent of the state’s generation from renewables by 2020”.

The draft plan is open to public submissions until October 26.

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Pedalling hard in the battle for Sydney

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Poltical battleground … the bike lanes are being targeted by nearly all the contenders for lord mayor.It’s 8pm in Alexandria, and a weary-looking Clover Moore sits – again – before a small crowd of those voters engaged or enraged enough to spend their evening talking local government.
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Next to her is Edward Mandla, a software entrepreneur and the Liberal candidate for mayor. Mandla described Moore’s bearing at a similar ”meet the candidates” event for City of Sydney council in 2008 as ”regal”.

But not tonight. Tonight, the only adjective the Liberal candidate is using – and using often – is “nutty”.

”Clover Moore’s been treating the ratepayers and businesses as a money tree for nutty schemes,” he says. ”She’s lost her way, strangling this tree with random spending.”

As he speaks, Moore stares at the ceiling, her mouth a grim line by the word’s third airing, at which point she blanches, reddens – and then her eyes appear to moisten.

Council politics can be as nasty as any and, as the pointy end of the local government electoral cycle starts to draw blood, Moore’s critics say that after two terms as mayor she is autocratic, bored and out of ideas.

But the diminutive – and divisive – figure, with her trademark spiked hair, dog collars and slash of red lipstick, has cast such a shadow over Sydney in her three decades in politics that the electoral dialogue is dominated by ideas she has championed – bike paths, urban infill development, sustainability and the night-time economy.

For opponents pitching themselves alternatives to a green-tinged mayor who they claim has overlooked basic amenity in the pursuit of vanity projects, the challenge can be summed up thus: in an electorate where almost 40 per cent of households don’t own a car, how do you go about bashing bike lanes? Very gently, it would seem.

Despite the historical popularity of Moore’s policies, the challenge of taking on the uncompromising figure at the centre of such an entrenched brand has bent the 2012 campaign’s politics towards the personal. In many ways today’s poll will be a referendum on the woman herself.

“The only hard bit about my job is the venal politics. I love the work,” Moore tells the Herald, adding she finds “‘hate Clover’ sessions from political parties” to be “draining”.

“Council, I’m very pleased to say over the last eight years – around election time politics get venal – but the rest of the time the votes are mostly unanimous.”

Her local government polling, so far, has also tended towards the emphatic.

In 2008, Moore won a resounding mandate for the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan (to reduce carbon emissions by 70 per cent) with 56 per cent of the mayoral vote and 47 per cent of the council vote – a count that equalled the combined Greens, Liberal and Labor vote.

This year her six-seat majority looks less assured, with no fewer than seven teams trying to wrest the advantage – if not the lord mayoral chains – from the incumbent independent.

The 66-year-old has “renewed” her team – somewhat ruthlessly, in the case of dumped councillor Phillip Black – and this weekend will show if her vision of a sustainable city of urban villages still resonates with those who count: the local government area’s almost 170,000 residents, who are on average younger, richer and more progressive than the rest of the state.

This was certainly not the demographic represented at the “No More Clover” rally addressed by broadcaster Alan Jones last month, but others argue it’s not representative of the hundreds of thousands of greater Sydneysiders who work, shop and play in Australia’s largest CBD.

The loudest complaints about Moore cite the forgotten needs of business – but the commercial sector has hardly jumped at the chance to ditch her: only about 1700 of the city’s 20,000 to 50,000 businesses have registered to vote.

”Despite all the frothing,” the Premier , Barry O’Farrell, told Jones recently that non-residential voters hadn’t shown ”the level of interest they are entitled to”.

This was not for a lack of urging by the pro-business ticket, Living Sydney, which is taking the biggest fight to Moore, with all the appearances of a well-funded and organised campaign; Max Markson helped out in its early days, and its PR needs have since been handled by two city communications firms.

The Living Sydney brand, backed by major developers in the years before donation laws changed, launched Frank Sartor’s mayoral career and included one of 2012’s mayoral aspirants, Dixie Coulton, as a councillor.

It was reanimated last year by the Pyrmont real estate agents Barry and Katherine Goldman, supporters of Moore’s 2004 campaign who are now challenging the “autocratic and dictatorial” lord mayor.

Its lead candidate, Angela Vithoulkas, signed on about six months ago. She sits on council’s business advisory panel and had been approached to join Moore’s ticket.

”I’m a small business warrior,” she told supporters at a Macquarie Street fund-raiser last month, where she vowed to bust open ”Club Clover”. ”I certainly don’t get to bring in endless committees and specialist consultations to solve my problems. We’re lean and mean in business, we’ve got to get things done immediately.”

Except in the case of bike paths. Living Sydney, which says they are not working, proposes employing ”independent consultants to advise on cycling policy and strategy” along with a citizens’ jury to decide their fate. Its policy to introduce compulsory registration for all the city’s cyclists aged over 13 is among several Living Sydney election promises that fall within the turf of the state government.

Like Living Sydney, the Liberal ticket proposes free short-term parking on key shopping streets, more parking in new developments and more parking stations. It says it would ”protect” existing cycleways and even extend the network after a cost-benefit study. But the issue has served as a chance to deride the motives of the ”anti-car” lord mayor.

”I have this mental image of Clover Moore wanting people to be riding around the centre of Sydney with baguettes in their front baskets,” said the Liberal ticket’s No.2, Christine Forster, who nonetheless describes the path directly outside her Surry Hills house as an “asset”. Coulton is the only candidate actually prepared to say she would rip them up. But that would only be before “replacing them with safer ones”.

The cycleways earned the support of the previous council’s only Liberal, Shayne Mallard. He also supported council’s “nutty” plan for a network of energy efficient gas-powered tri-generation energy plants, which the Liberal ticket proposes dropping amid $250 million in capital spending cuts to help fund a 10 per cent rate cut. It’s a promise that would likely need a controlling stake on council for it to deliver.

They may not achieve this, but the Liberals are confident of a good result, up from a single seat last time around. How the council seats fall may prove more interesting – and instructive – than the mayoral race.

The Greens (a colour Moore has appropriated for her posters) are hoping to hold on to their two seats, campaigning on a pledge to introduce community precinct committees and increasing the council’s emphasis on affordable housing. Labor also says it hopes to up its single seat to two.

The ABC election analyst Antony Green says Labor’s vote has all but vanished in inner-Sydney, where it finished fourth for the state seat of Sydney in 2007.

”You go back three decades and Labor absolutely dominated Sydney City and South Sydney councils and now they’re virtually non-existent,” he said.

In a bid to restore trust in its tattered brand, Labor used the City of Sydney’s election to test its ”community preselection”, giving the public a say in the party’s choice of lead candidate.

When the dust settled, the refugee advocate Linda Scott from the party’s Left faction emerged on top of the ticket, campaigning to use the NBN rollout to put cables underground, fund more childcare centres and reintroduce council wards.

Scott says ”there’s a lot of people telling me that they’re feeling forgotten” in the electorate. Now may not be the time, and hers not the pitch, to compel them to remember Labor.

What is certain is that the so-called “Get Clover” or dual role legislation passed by the O’Farrell government in April will banish Moore, Sydney’s state MP, from one job this month. She is opting to leave Macquarie Street, if elected for her third term today, saying her husband thinks the only way she’ll leave public office entirely is ”carried out in a coffin”.

But the poll will be a chance to put some of the rhetoric around the loved or loathed politician to rest. We’ll learn if the opposition to her policies has been overstated, or if Sydney does indeed want a different council, one with a different vision of the city’s future.

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Heated exchanges fail to crack dogged police code

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At times over the past two weeks the normally jovial Sydney barrister Geoffrey Watson, SC, has threatened to spontaneously combust.
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Day after day, the man charged with assisting the Police Integrity Commission has prodded and probed the police officers involved in the 2009 shooting of the mentally ill Sydney man Adam Salter and the subsequent investigation.

But day after day, much to Watson’s apparent frustration, the officers have stuck to their guns.

Nearly a year after a Deputy State Coroner branded the police investigation following the death of Salter a ”failure” and a ”disgrace”, the officers involved are still doggedly defending their positions, against some strong evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this is their insistence that, at the moment the shooting took place, Salter was threatening a junior officer with a bloodied knife.

In his final report, the head of the investigation, Detective Inspector Russell Oxford, said the shooter, Sergeant Sheree Bissett, ”believed Constable [Aaron] Abela was in mortal danger”.

This was based on Bissett’s statements, in which she claims she came into the kitchen to find Salter threatening her colleague with a knife, and that of Abela, who claims he was struggling with Salter as the 36-year-old grabbed the knife out of the sink.

Against this, however, is strong evidence suggesting that, not only was Salter not threatening anyone other than himself, but there was never any direct physical contact between him and Abela.

Perhaps the most compelling part of this evidence is that of the four ambulance officers present at the time of the shooting.

They say that rather than grappling with Salter as he went for the knife in the sink, Abela stood in the corner of the room.

”Did Constable Abela respond to your calls for assistance?” Watson asked paramedic Meagan Coolahan. ”No,” she replied. ”I looked straight at him – he was standing next to the fridge putting his gloves on … he was absolutely no help at all.”

Despite this apparent contradiction between the evidence of the police and the ambulance officers who witnessed the shooting, Oxford wrote in his final report that the two were ”consistent”. His determination to stick to this position this week produced a series of heated exchanges with Watson, which left some in the gallery concerned for the latter’s blood pressure.

Watson: ”Why, if you were being valid and fair, did you not note the conflict?”

Oxford: ”The operational summary sets out what happened – I came to the view that the accounts were consistent.”

Watson: ”Why did you not include a reference to the four eyewitnesses who say something different happened? Was it an error?”

Oxford: ”I just didn’t – that’s my opinion of what happened.”

On Thursday, it was revealed the Assistant Commissioner Paul Carey, who is responsible for overseeing police misconduct issues in NSW, elected not to register a formal complaint against either the police involved in the shooting or those who investigated it.

There was, however, some sign of an acknowledgement that things needed to change.

On Thursday, it also emerged that, at the direction of the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, the office of general counsel of the NSW Police Force set up a ”Lessons Learnt” working party to look at issues stemming from several recent inquests, including the Salter case.

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Swashbuckling days are at an end after officialdom blunts any future for de Groot’s sword

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Swift swipe … Paul Cave with the sword used by Francis de Groot.IT IS a sword that has seen things. Been places.
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Francis de Groot’s famous blade, used by the cavalry officer to crash the gala opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, began its working life on the Western Front, where it was presumably used for swash-buckling purposes.

It had its celebrity moment at the bridge opening, when de Groot barged in front of the premier, Jack Lang, and used it to slash the ceremonial ribbon and declare the bridge open ”in the name of the decent and respectable people of NSW”.

Later, it wended its way back to Ireland, before being bought by the BridgeClimb entrepreneur Paul Cave, returned to the Antipodes and unveiled for the 75th anniversary of the bridge.

Now, it lives in a vault and, last week, its keepers sought to take it to the heart of democracy – into Parliament House in Canberra.

The sword, so effective at gatecrashing into Australian history, had not reckoned on the power of the bureaucracy or the rules of the usher of the Black Rod.

It began, ironically enough, with a Security in Government conference hosted by the Attorney-General’s Department. Mr Cave was invited as the main speaker at the formal conference dinner, to be held at Parliament House on Tuesday night.

Having dealt with serious security issues in creating BridgeClimb and worked closely with government to resolve them, Mr Cave seemed an ideal choice.

Mr Cave thought his speech would be enhanced, and a certain drama added, if he was able to bring the famous sword and unveil it before his audience at an opportune moment.

But in the modern age, moving such a valuable historical artefact is no small thing. First, Mr Cave had to liberate the sword from its bank vault. A legislative exemption had to be granted from the Office of Transport Security. Approvals were sought and given, and Qantas negotiated with the authorities to fly the sword from Sydney to Canberra in a secure locked box.

All that remained was permission to bring the blade into Parliament House.

Black Rod, Brien Hallett, was worried about the sword.

Media may be present and report the sword’s presence, which in turn could create a bad precedent. Other people might then insist on the right to bring swords into Parliament.

There were workplace safety issues, and that was not to mention the risk of skylarking. Which is an appreciable one when a certain kind of man is given access to free wine along with the opportunity to play with weapons.

”As a general principle, weapons are not allowed to be brought into the Parliament for issues of security and workplace safety,” Mr Hallett told the Herald.

”We followed the procedures we have and that was the beginning and end of it basically.”

And so the sword sits lonely in its bank vault. Its swashbuckling years over, its day of skylarking denied.

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Public left to pick up bill for mayor’s failed venture

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Nick Berman … the mayor of Hornsby said he inherited a financial mess at the company from his former business partner.A FAILED business venture by the long-standing mayor of Hornsby, Nick Berman, has cost taxpayers more than $1 million and left unpaid debts of nearly $5 million as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars owing to his former employees.
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The former staffer in the Howard government became Hornsby’s first popularly elected mayor in 2004, and was returned to office in 2008.

Since 2009 he has been the president of the Northern Regional Organisation of Councils and this weekend he is seeking a third four-year term as mayor.

But Mr Berman has left a string of creditors and unpaid employees in the wake of his private business dealings, and questions have been raised over his fitness to hold public office.

The Australian School of Business and Technology was placed into liquidation in September 2008. The school was owned by Atozed International, and Mr Berman was the sole director at the time.

Yet when the Herald put questions to Mr Berman on Thursday, he insisted others were to blame for the multimillion-dollar collapse. ”Everyone ultimately has to share some responsibility … I’m not the big villain in all this,” he said.

At the time of the company’s collapse, the school had more than 300 foreign students enrolled who had paid their fees in advance. However, when the liquidators moved in, there was just $1637 in the company’s bank accounts.

The liquidator’s report to creditors the following March said that it appeared that share investments owned by Atozed had been sold for $75,000 just before Atozed went under, although the liquidator could not identify what happened to the proceeds.

In addition, the liquidator found that about $150,000 had been made in loans to the company’s former director Avinash Nichkawade who was Mr Berman’s business partner in another venture, Power Education.

Mr Berman said he was unable to comment on these transactions because he did not have the information immediately at hand and could not recollect fully what had taken place four years earlier.

He also pointed out the company he inherited was already in administration and it was his aim for the company to trade itself out of difficulty.

”I was there trying to run a business I knew had serious debts,” he said. ”The owner did not tell me everything I needed to know.”

The fallout from the collapse meant the federal government was forced to pay more than $1 million to students who had paid their fees to Mr Berman, while the Australian Taxation Office became one of the school’s major unsecured creditors, which were owed $4.9 million in total. A further $500,000 is still owed to the teaching staff.

One of the former employees told the Herald the school still owed her tens of thousands of dollars in wages after staff were only partially paid or not paid at all throughout the last six months of the company’s life.

”It cost me my marriage, it cost me my health,” she said. ”We were told the director would take out loans and sell property to pay us, but that never happened.”

Another former employee said she was surprised to learn that Mr Berman had become a successful figure in local government. ”How can this man be a mayor, when he owes so many people a lot of money?” she asked. Both women asked to remain anonymous because they still work in the private college sector.

On May 31, 2010, Deloitte concluded it was unable to pursue Mr Berman through the courts because there was no money left to pay the liquidator. Moreover, the time had lapsed to take legal action, with suggestions in the liquidator’s report Mr Berman had failed to respond in a timely manner to the liquidator’s queries about certain transactions.

This Mr Berman disputes, saying he gave ”full co-operation” to all authorities.

”Someone else may have been dragging their heels but not me … why don’t you have a chat to the owner,” he said, referring to Atozed’s previous director, Mr Nichkawade.

ASIC records show Mr Nichkawade resigned as a director in September 2007, with Mr Berman having become a co-director three months earlier, then operating as the sole director of the company until October 2010.

A Deed of Variation signed by Mr Berman in December 2007 shows from that time forth he took sole responsibility for Atozed, including its debts.

”I’m surprised to hear that,” said Mr Berman, who insists he inherited the financial mess from his former business partner. He said he did not believe his past business dealings had any relevance to his competency as a councillor or the mayor of Hornsby.

Council elections-what you need to know.

Voting is compulsory for all Australian citizens 18 and over. The penalty for not voting is $55.

 If you own a property or a business in another council area you may register to vote for that council as well.

Polling booths are open from 8am to 6pm.

You cannot lodge an absentee vote and you must be in your local council area.

You are voting for councillors, and, in some councils, the mayor.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Man in a hurry

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“The reality is people choose their peer group” … Adrian Piccoli.It’s a good thing Adrian Piccoli doesn’t ring the bell for the state’s schools. He bustles in for our lunch appointment already running an hour late for a day only half over. I’m paid to wait for politicians; the Sydney Mint Cafe, just down the road from Parliament House, is not. Minister or not, the salad nicoise with freshly grilled tuna is out for the day and the waitress is not of a mind to beg the kitchen.
Nanjing Night Net

”Can they do some kind of salady thingy version?” he asks hopefully, before settling happily enough for the ”tarty thing” – the blue cheese and braised leek souffle with candied walnut and beetroot salad.

Surely, a Nat should go for something that moos louder than that – even in a cafe? What about the wagyu burger or the chipolatas?

But then Piccoli, Griffith-born-and-bred, Nat and NSW Education Minister, doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of the bloke from the bush. Courtesy of his Italian heritage he can order a macchiato without sounding like a poseur and, rather than a barbecue for cooking sides of beef, the feature of his new home in Griffith is a wood-fired pizza oven.

Piccoli cherishes his Italian origins, especially the importance of family and the value placed on food. Just not slow food, I note as the tarty thing disappears, post haste. The water I’ve been using to keep hunger at bay for the past hour sits untouched on the table.

But, while Piccoli eats in a rush, his approach to his ministerial portfolio is different. Remember Terry Metherell, the firebrand Liberal education minister who ignited culture wars on several fronts when he took on the job in 1988 and tried to remake the world in only a few more days than it took in Genesis?

Piccoli says he doesn’t but he does have a reform agenda of his own, albeit one that has taken longer to become apparent and one from which the results may take a decade or more to be revealed.

”I always tell people I’m not bound by any ideology. I’m not bound by a conservative ideology. I sleep well at night no matter the decision if it’s in the best interests of students,” he says.

”I’m not looking for some short-term confected outcome that looks good in a press release. That’s the approach that has in many ways hampered education policy. When you look around the world, the things done to produce big changes [in student performance] have taken at least 10 years before you even start to see the consequences.”

Top of Piccoli’s list is his policy to give school principals greater autonomy. Critics argue it is a precursor to cutting education budgets and putting the blame on principals when they can’t deliver, but Piccoli believes that, in time, greater flexibility will see schools deliver better education. A review of teacher quality and a trial that gives unprecedented authority to 15 principals in struggling indigenous communities will both take years to bear fruit.

Piccoli says he’s happy to wait – even if he’s no longer in the job to see the benefits.

”I don’t want to look back in a year’s time and say ‘what’s the difference?’ What I want to know is in 10 years’ time when I look back that the changes I made are starting to produce a difference,” he says.

What he hasn’t done is give schools more money. He hasn’t got any yet, although like many he is holding out hope that federal reforms to funding may send more NSW’s way.

(In her response this week to the Gonski review of school funding, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the states and Commonwealth would need to agree on a funding split to contribute between them an extra $6.5 billion a year, and she herself would lead negotiations.)

Reform is still possible without more money, he says, noting dryly that a shit teacher is still a shit teacher even if you double his pay. But if money arrives, it will make a difference, he promises, especially to the most challenged students who reside, overwhelmingly, in the public schools that are his primary – but not exclusive – responsibility.

Despite being both a conservative person and politician, his personal ideology marks him apart from the Liberal agenda being pursued by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, with their emphatic commitments of support for non-government schools.

”I’m not a Liberal, I’m a Nat, and I think there’s a big difference. We are in coalition and it’s a very strong coalition, but I’m a National Party MP. I think I could say safely – [pauses, chuckles] what’s the safest way to say this? – it’s what’s in the best interest of the student irrespective of where they go to school,” he says.

Piccoli says his views are guided by fairness. ”I have a very strong social justice ideology and that is largely based on my Catholic upbringing. I’m shaped by that, I’m shaped by my mother and father’s experiences, I’m shaped by my electorate and they’ve all shaped me in a very similar way. They’re very strong social justice views.”

That vision guides him to a place somewhere between the two main parties. ”The Labor Party doesn’t appeal to me because of the dominance of unions in whatever happens. It’s less a grassroots political party than an arm of industrial organisations and that just doesn’t mesh with me,” he says.

”And the Liberal Party is the other extreme, with an overemphasis on the power of the individual. Which is great if you’re a powerful individual; it really works well, actually.”

That nagging discomfort with individual liberty conveys itself again in Piccoli’s thoughts on school choice. He went to Catholic schools the whole way through, as did his wife, Sonia, and school choice is on the kitchen table agenda at home.

Parents, to a large degree, he says, are simply choosing the kids their children play with.

”It’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to say, it’s just a fact,” he says. ”The reality is people choose their peer group and not everybody can afford 25 grand or 45 grand to send their children to a particular school.” Of course, they have the right, he says, with a nod to the right. But what about the consequences, he asks, with glance to the left.

”I’ve got to make sure we have the best schools possible for those who don’t have a choice. Or who don’t know they have a choice. There’s a lot of people who send their children to the nearest school, just because it’s the nearest school,” he says.

”One of the really big problems we have in NSW is residualised government high schools. That’s no secret to anybody. I think that’s occurred because of the issues of choice. I’m not saying choice is a bad thing – but that’s a consequence that we do need to deal with. And I don’t know the answer.”

Food long gone, Piccoli, with no urge to glance at the dessert menu, begins to order a macchiato but checks himself. Question time is about to start and he rushes off. There are some classes even the Education Minister can’t be late for.

We meet at the Chrysler Cafe after a quiet hour in the house and Piccoli finally gets his coffee. One problem solved but he doesn’t yet have the answer to where his own son (Finn, aged four) will start school.

”It’s really great having little kids as Minister for Education because I have to think about the same things a couple of hundred thousand other parents have to think about every year,” he says.

With an insider’s perspective, he wants to meet a school principal and hear about the teachers before choosing a school.

”I’d want to know about the teaching,” he says. But if quality teaching is the panacea at a systemic level – and the appropriate guide for parents – it can’t do everything, Piccoli notes. Especially when the kids aren’t there. Don’t feel you’re the only adult who wants to tap kids on the shoulder in the shops at 11 o’clock on a school day and ask them why they’re listening to an iPod rather than their teacher. Even the Education Minister feels the urge.

”You can have the best teachers in the world but if a child doesn’t turn up it is worthless,” he says. ”Schools have kids for six hours a day for 40 weeks a year – the rest of the time they’re with parents or carers, or anywhere else but at school. We often let parents off the hook. Every problem that arises in society is the schools’ responsibility.”

Clearly, the Education Minister believes a little discipline would go a long way. Then, with a wry grin, he confesses the sins of his youth. He may be the man schools now look up to but his own career in class left something to be desired.

”The thing that stands out from my own school experience is that I didn’t work hard enough, particularly when I was in year nine and 10. I had some natural ability and I just relied on that. I swore after year 10 that I’d never let that happen again,” he says. ”Year 9 and year 10 are the dark years of schooling. I think every parent says that. My own memories of it are a bit embarrassing. I’ve had to apologise to a number of teachers who taught me then.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.