Wednesday 20th of June 2018

in the land of barangaroo ....

in the land of barangaroo ....

When James Packer had his stomach stapled the event made national headlines. We were supposed to be impressed that, unable to master his own appetite, he paid someone else for surgical help that would change the look while leaving the core infant intact.

This desire to cheat nature, while all too human, usually ends in tears. Ask Lance Armstrong. Now that same uncontrolled Packer hunger threatens to materialise on The 'Roo. Can it be a good thing?

There is understandable public outrage at the blatant exercise of Packer born-to-rulism, underlined as it is by symbolic coincidence of Crown land, Crown casino and faux-royal prerogative.

But product outlasts process, and this product is clearly inevitable. Packer's capacity to produce a billion-dollar erection is the only reason we care about the capacity of his stomach. So the question becomes, what's in it for us? Has a Packer ever made anything beautiful?

Our interest in Packer's weight loss flags a weird dichotomy. We play the faceless proles even as we sharpen our sickles for the tsars' beheading.

For we're getting uppity, too, we proles. From Twitter to clicktivism, from Destroy the Joint to people's choice awards, events and technologies foster the people-power illusion. But be not fooled. On the ground, where it matters, the tsars still have their way with us.

The new planning act, promised for January, pirouettes on its promises of ''community engagement''. Yet, while we wait politely for the white paper, the planning system as we know it is being unbolted and carried away.

Debate over Packer's casino brings this into crisis. Several issues are entwined - economy, environment, equity, public land, beauty - all, in theory, dealt with by the planning system. But so vigorous has the dismantling been of late, we no longer have a planning system to speak of.

Barry O'Farrell swept to power on his opposition to Part 3A. Since, however, his own grab for personal discretion - personal control of the 20-year state infrastructure strategy, unlimited ''step-in'' control of major projects, systematic undermining of councils' planning powers (in an act shoved through Parliament in an afternoon), defunding of the Environmental Defender's Office and the ''unsolicited proposals'' provisions that allowed Packer to penetrate Cabinet directly without passing Go - makes 3A look like kid stuff.

O'Farrell runs the usual good-cause argument. It's all about "getting NSW going again". But the beneficiaries so far are the big, not the little.

I've lived in Sydney 24 years, so I can do cynicism with the best. Of course the filthy rich run the show. Nudge, guffaw. Of course wealth is the natural hierarchy. What other order is there?

Yet deep down I am still dismayed by how readily a culture invented to overturn the power of privilege swallows its own tail. Dismayed, too, by the old rissole assumption that when money is at stake everything else - culture, climate and even the rule of law - becomes dispensable ballast.

Packer argues that we "need" a second casino because we need six-star tourists. These people, poor darlings, can stay only in six-star hotels which - for reasons that escape me - cannot survive alone and so, in turn, need the support of a six-star casino.

(Note that we're not talking green stars here, but luxury stars. On the green front, Packer's proposal relies on Barangaroo's stated "goal", namely, "to be the first precinct of its size in the world and certainly the first CBD precinct in Australia, to be climate positive." But really? Other people's unenforceable goals? That's it?)

And the tourist-dollar trickle-down is anyway unconvincing. Such super-tourists can be expected to spend most of their money within the casino itself. Why else would a hotel even be proposed, when another is anticipated in nearby Darling Harbour?

Equity is the issue that gets us all riled. Packer, we seem to think, should have to apply for his casino licence and his development approval like anyone else.

But that was never going to happen. It's not a competitive situation. The minute Packer made his offer, Keating was always going to shove it south, Lend Lease was always going to welcome it with a billion-dollar hug and O'Farrell was always going to think the whole thing a spiffingly good idea.

Once the Lend Lease deal was inked-in, further, no tender was ever going to be possible.

And it's not as if the one-casino rule has any moral content. Rather, it was an ambush marketing deal to protect Star City, as it was, which has now blotted its copybook.

In fact it's all so cosy, so all-round win-win for the big boys at the head table as to look almost arranged.

Transparent? I think it's pretty transparent, as a window onto some boarding school dorm scene. Packer says bend over. The rest hold the toys and lubricant.

As to public land. I find it hard to care if a bunch of rich low lifes want to wallow in sex, booze and financial risk in a harbourside tower. So what?

But it is public land. Packer's assertion that the casino will sit on Lend Lease's "commercial site and not on public land" fudges this issue. The land is still publicly owned, notwithstanding a 99-year lease.

Even without a functioning planning system, this is power we can use. As at East Circular Quay, property rights outweigh planning powers every time.

Packer has promised an "international design competition" for his casino but, as we know to our cost, this can be worse than catastrophic without intelligent briefing and jurors.

Two things we should insist on from the Packer priapism. One, we should tax the bejesus out of it and hypothecate the revenue stream to urban improvements. Two, we should demand a building that is ultra-green and ultra-gorgeous.

It should be as luxurious as Babylon, green as the sun god and as gorgeous as, well, a Brancusi. This should be Packer's challenge. If he can get that up, with or without surgery, I'll be impressed.

Cosy Deal For Casino Patricians But Dice Loaded Against Proles


backing the favourite .....

Changes to guidelines for when the NSW government can bypass a competitive tender for projects brought to it by the private sector were approved by cabinet before James Packer submitted his proposal for a $1 billion hotel and casino at Barangaroo.

But the government insists that the changes made no difference to the way Mr Packer's proposal was assessed and the timing was a coincidence.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has confirmed that the cabinet's infrastructure subcommittee signed off on new rules for dealing with public-private partnerships in July. The new rules watered down the original Working with Government guidelines that stipulated the government must seek ''independent evaluations'' of a project before deciding it will not go to a competitive tender.

The guidelines form an integral part of the government's ''unsolicited proposals'' policy for dealing with projects brought to it by the private sector.

The changes were introduced on August 17, one week after Mr O'Farrell met Mr Packer to discuss his plans and shortly before Mr Packer submitted his proposal under the unsolicited proposals process on September 6.

The government has sought to distance itself from the changes to its policy by arguing they were ''minor administrative changes and clarifications'' made by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. It insists the changes were unrelated to the Crown proposal.

Commenting for the first time on Wednesday after his return from India, Mr O'Farrell said the changes ''went through the cabinet process in the usual way''. ''I think you'll find it's more coincidence than anything that they were promulgated in August,'' he said.

Mr O'Farrell said he did not discuss the changes with Mr Packer on August 10. ''It was a discussion where he told us what he was proposing and we directed him that if there was to be a firm proposal it should come through the various processes that we have in place,'' he said.

A spokesman for Mr O'Farrell later said that as a result of the cabinet decision, the Department of Premier and Cabinet made ''administrative changes'' to the unsolicited proposals guidelines, which had been in place since January. He said the changes fixed duplication between the Working with Government guidelines and the unsolicited proposals policy that refers to them. ''They made absolutely no change to the assessment process,'' he said.

The government announced on October 25 that Mr Packer's six-star hotel and casino project for Barangaroo has received cabinet approval to proceed to stage two of a three-stage unsolicited proposals assessment process.

Mr Packer wants to include VIP-only gambling rooms in the proposed hotel to make the project profitable and needs the government to issue a second Sydney casino licence when the monopoly licence held by the Star casino expires in 2019. The government has said the casino licence will not go to tender.

O'Farrell Denies Favouring Packer

implausible deniability .....

So, it seems that Premier, Barry O’Farrell, & former NSW Labor Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, must have attended the same second rate school of ‘implausible deniability’.

O’Farrell’s embarrassing pretence that the removal of a requirement for an ‘independent assessment’ of proposals like Crown Casino’s Barangaroo project, before deciding that they don’t need to be the subject of a competitive tender process, is as laughable as Roozendaal’s claim that ‘a saving isn’t a financial benefit’.

Perhaps the only way to be certain that integrity will rule in Macquarie Street is to simply shut it down altogether & let the likes of ‘sweet baby James’ run everything?

back in the days of useless promises...


Libs announce Barangaroo review, but locals demand full-scale inquiry with outcomes


Adrian Bartels

March 2011... Liberal candidate hopeful, Adrian Bartels, talks about the future of Barangaroo in the hands of the possibly incoming Liberal government in NSW... picture by a friend of Gus...


Liberal candidate for Sydney, Adrian Bartels, today announced that an incoming Liberal State Government would hold a review into the controversial Barangaroo harbourside development site.

Yet the promise of a review does not go far enough for many locals, elected representatives and public interest groups that have been lobbying to reduce the size of the development planned at Barangaroo.
In response to the Libs’ announcement, both Sydney Cr Marcelle Hoff and CEO of the National Trust Will Holmes a Court said nothing short of a full-scale inquiry would be acceptable.
The Liberals have until now not committed to any review of the planning process at Barangaroo.
But in the last week the Planning Minister Tony Kelly has acted to change laws, removing the site from contamination controls just days before the court was to bring down a decision, and uphold, a case based on site contamination.
A public protest held at Lend Lease building, on Hickson Rd opposite the Barangaroo site on Tuesday, drew a good crowd for a protest called at short notice.
Speakers included Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Greens MLC David Shoebridge.
Many groups including Australians for Sustainable Development, have expressed concerns about overshadowing, building bulk, transport adequacy, contamination, wind tunnels and pedestrian connectivity in the Lend Lease plans.
Cr Moore said none of these concerns had been met by Lend Lease in the final plans.
Cr Moore said that community consultation was so inadequate that while meetings were being held with the community, the Planning Minister was changing the plans so that no one knew what they were commenting on.


On that day, I believe the bullshit was flying high from Bartels, the Liberal candidate unless he knew nothing... Still bullshit anyway.

Then the Sydney seat in that election was won by Clover Moore with 36.3 per cent of the primary votes and by 53.1 per cent on preferences... Adrian Bartels got 36.2 of the primary votes...

The latest election for the seat of Sydney, called due to premier O'Farell bastardry, was Clover Moore's protegé, Alex Greenwich, 48 per cent and the Liberal candidate, Shane Mallard, 30.5 per cent of the primary votes. Barry O'Feral call it a swing towards the Liberals... Idiot.... 

at the lolly shop .....

Politics is, or ought to be a noble occupation, well worthy of being termed public service. Most people claim that they enter it because they ''want to make a difference''.

Most come to understand that the ability to do that depends primarily on having power - belonging to a party that has it, and having the favour within that party. That requires compromises; half of something is better than all of nothing, and sometimes one must crawl sideways or backwards towards the prize.

Perversely, however, a good many with noble ideals and infinite optimism in the perfectibility of the human condition develop a low view of the motives actuating their colleagues and enemies, and are rarely surprised when this is confirmed. There are always some susceptible to blandishments, capable of misusing or abusing power for personal or family ends, and, amazingly, with only vague ideas of what the standards are, or ought to be, at least in respect of themselves. What prevent many from being worse is fear of being discovered; and, experience has shown, what they fear most is not the clink, or the cancelled parliamentary pension, but the public exposure and humiliation.

So why, then, does no one seem to ever learn?

In NSW and Queensland, Labor has been recently annihilated. Voters divined, rightly, that they had become too comfortable and smug in power. Some had become criminally corrupt: buying and selling government favours and dispensations, and treating public money as if it were their own.

Other ministers and party officials - and indeed party officials who were to become ministers - were ready to accept favours, and discounts on cars or houses from people asking for favours from government. The what's-in-it-for-me approach extended to the expectation that those who stepped down from power were handed jobs in the Senate or state upper house (except for Queenslanders, poor things), or helped into private sector jobs selling insider knowledge, and ready access to their old mates, for a lot of money to all comers - including people whose interests were entirely different from Labor's.

Even Bob Carr could not resist taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement from businesses with whom he had had dealings as premier. His greed and misjudgment is, to this day, the lasting question mark on his character and public record: perhaps underlined by the way, when, he unexpectedly got another chance, he immediately sought to appoint an array of old mates to grace-and-favour jobs.

A rorting mentality applied to jobs on government boards, authorities and, sometimes, even the courts.

This led inevitably to a marked politicisation of senior levels of the public service, as ministers selected advisers and chief executives whom they felt to be personally loyal and with whom they felt comfortable.

Thank heavens it is all over now and could not happen again.

Meanwhile, it is happening all over again inside their replacements.

The smouldering issue in the Barry O'Farrell coalition government in NSW and the Campbell Newman government in Queensland is the insider access of lobbyists to ministers. Some powerful party officials are actually registered as lobbyists, and are selling their access to power, even as they manoeuvre in party councils on a pretence of serving public interest. Others do not declare obvious interests.

Queensland at least has an array of controls over lobbying activity, including a duty upon ministers to record occasions in which they have met lobbyists. But a senior minister has already been forced out for failing to disclose meetings with lobbyists, including his son.

Other Newman ministers - with no practice of being in the lolly shop - are pretty much showing the same approach to taking power as from ministers in the 1972 Whitlam government. The Premier, himself having cultural problems, seems more preoccupied with destroying potential Labor redoubts than in disciplining his own enormous backbench, or in imposing any standards.

All the seeds of destruction are there. Almost any Labor reformation, however inadequate, may have it perceived as less worse than the Coalition within less than a decade. Neither party shows any inclination to do any of the more obvious things to prevent, deter or detect corruption before it is uncovered by police or press. That would require reforms inside the parties themselves.

The running Obeid-Macdonald ICAC drama is a miracle play of of the million different ways by which Labor's 1995-2011 reign in NSW became increasingly enmired in corruption, political and administrative incompetence and lost opportunities.

Eddie Obeid, pictured, and Ian Macdonald may have be spectacular thieves, even by NSW Rum Corps standards, but what enabled them was Obeid's control over numbers and preselections in the subfaction which (narrowly) controlled the leading faction of politics in NSW.

Obeid had real power over pre-selections, and over election to the ministry, and he, and his acolyte Joe Tripodi, exercised it ruthlessly, and for personal as much as professional ends. Obeid may himself have seemed so obviously crook that premiers such as Carr could pretend to be reluctant, for a while, to have him in Cabinet. But in or out of the ministry, his voice had to be heard, usually for his personal financial interest.

Those who suspected his motives and venality had to rationalise deals with him as part of the price of having and exercising power. Perhaps a little evil might be done so that great things could be achieved, they might comfort themselves.

Federal politicians pretend to be above personal aggrandisement, temptation, or corruption by those dubious deals with alcohol, gambling and development lobbies that have characterised modern Labor sleaze. Yet almost all federal Labor politicians in NSW (and, in a mirror way, almost all federal Liberal politicians) are personal hostages to a faction system run by the same people who have corrupted state and local politics. Even the Labor Left has joined in the spoils system - as demonstrated by the imposition of Laurie Ferguson on the hapless voters of Werriwa.

How can one be sure our representatives can resist improper pressure when some of those piling on the pressure have the power to take away their jobs? Why should the public be confident their representatives can choose between the venial and the mortal? Why should they trust parties unable or unwilling to reform themselves? Which do not care that documents are forged, branches stacked, people stood over, and the till - even party and union funds - looted? Which acts only after the stench of obvious impropriety by people such as Michael Williamson, and his many friends and relations, some inside Parliament, is overpowering?

Perhaps it's because of a bipartisan approach to abuse of power. It has been a long time since a Liberal leader at state or federal leader has risen above factions to concern himself much with the scandals-in-waiting of those openly jostling around, hustling their influence, wherever power is being exercised in party councils. Yet rorting in the Coalition parties is increasing. Perhaps they imagine the viciousness of politics shows a healthy democratic spirit - rather than jackals fighting over the taxpayer's corpse.

Jackals New, But Same Old Carrion

the barangaroo benefactor goes west .....

The West Australian government has admitted to serious concerns about how cabinet documents detailing a meeting between Premier Colin Barnett and billionaire James Packer came to be leaked to a journalist.

The WA Liberals were forced to defend themselves on Sunday, after it was revealed Mr Barnett and Mr Packer had discussed Perth's $1 billion stadium months before the government approved it being built at Burswood, where Mr Packer is currently upgrading his Crown Casino complex.

With the state opposition saying it was another example of the premier being economical with the truth, Treasurer Troy Buswell said government officials would be investigating how the Cabinet decision sheet was leaked to The Sunday Times.

"It is an important issue, and of serious concern if cabinet documents do find their way into the public domain," Mr Buswell said.

"I imagine as a matter of course the senior members of the bureaucracy who look after that part of government will be looking into it.

"It is not an acceptable outcome."

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said Mr Barnett had a "callous indifference to the truth", and may have misled parliament over the Packer meeting in 2011.

Mr Buswell said the meeting had not been secret, and had not been primarily to discuss whether the new football stadium would be built at Burswood.

"There was clearly a meeting between the Premier and Mr Packer on March 24, and the purpose of that meeting was for Crown to brief the Premier on their exciting development plans," Mr Buswell said.

"In the context of that conversation there was some very brief dialogue around the Stadium - but let us understand the dialogue was already in the public domain.

"There was nothing secret about the meeting, and it was entirely appropriate."

Worries Over WA's Packer Meeting Leak