PM’s department clears Bruce Billson of breaching ministerial rules

Posted October 16, 2017 13:59:40

An investigation into retired Liberal MP Bruce Billson has cleared him of breaching ministerial guidelines by lobbying his former parliamentary colleagues.

But the former member for Dunkley remains the subject of a separate inquiry into whether his actions constitute a contempt of parliament.

In August, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) to investigate whether Mr Billson had breached rules preventing former minsters from lobbying new ministers within 18 months of leaving their job.

Mr Billson is now the executive chairman of the Franchise Council of Australia, which lobbied Government MPs for changes to industrial relations legislation that passed through Parliament last month.

Mr Turnbull asked the head of the DPMC, Martin Parkinson, to investigate Mr Billson after a question from the Opposition in Parliament in August.

“Mr Billson assures me that he both understands and has complied with his post-ministerial obligations under the Standards,” Dr Parkinson wrote in a letter to the Prime Minster, dated September 4.

“On the basis of the information available to me, I have no reason to conclude Mr Billson has breached either the Statement of Ministerial Standards or the Lobbying Code of Conduct.”

The DPMC only made Dr Parkinson’s letter public after a request from 7.30.

Mr Billson has not responded to a request for comment about the investigation.

In August, 7.30 revealed that Mr Billson failed to disclose he was receiving a $75,000 per year salary from the Franchise Council of Australia before he left parliament.

The former small businesses minister has since apologised for failing to list the salary on the official register of members’ interests.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tony Smith, has since referred Mr Billson to the powerful Parliamentary Privileges for an investigation into whether he should be found in contempt of parliament.

Past and present MPs found guilty of contempt face potential penalties of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Topics: government-and-politics, political-parties, liberals, australia, canberra-2600

Canberra’s St Vincent de Paul Society expands its night patrol services

Rising homelessness in Canberra’s outer suburbs has promoted the St Vincent de Paul Society to expand its service by adding a new night patrol van.

Chief executive officer of the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn Barnie​ van Wyk said the mobile service offered warm clothing, hygiene packs, light refreshments as well as friendly faces.

“Over the last year, Vinnies night patrol has supported homeless men, women and children of all ages distributing over 11,000 hygiene packs, warm clothes, or meals,” Mr van Wyk said.

“Particularly during the winter months items including socks, gloves, jackets and beanies are in demand.”

He said about 800 pairs of socks were handed out last winter.

Mr van Wyk said the van was donated by Canberra Toyota and the initiative came after the CEO Sleepout, an event that promotes awareness of homelessness.

“After 16 years of the night patrol servicing the areas of Dickson and the city centre, increased homelessness in the outer suburbs has meant that the need for a second van has become very apparent.”

The current night patrol van services about 30 people a night, but Mr van Wyk said not everyone using the van was homeless.

“You also have people that are experiencing social exclusion…I saw the other night an elderly couple that came through and it was quite clear that they hadn’t had any contact with people. So just coming out and having a little contact helps.”

Mr van Wyk encourages Canberrans to volunteer.

“We have 300 volunteers looking after the the first truck and we would like to have another 300 for the new van.”

For more information visit the website.

Micro gardeners share tips and tricks to help apartment renters keep the gloves on

Updated October 15, 2017 14:26:30

High-density apartment living is on the surge — and downsizers swapping spacious yards for tiny balconies may see no need to pack the garden gloves.

Top five micro-gardening tips

  1. Be creative: Get self-watering pots and a range of boxes to plant into.
  2. Start small: Grow easy vegetables like greens and herbs.
  3. Get a worm farm: This provides instant fertilizer.
  4. Grow upwards: Make trellises and grow things that harvest easily.
  5. Talk to neighbours: Make communal gardens where possible, share resources and tips.

But organisers of a Canberra workshop on gardening in small spaces say anyone can be a green thumb, no matter how small their home is.

The initiative, jointly run by the Canberra Environment Centre and the Tenants’ Union ACT, covered a range of portable gardening ideas for small balconies, courtyards and backyards as well as tricks to keep landlords happy.

Canberra Environment Centre garden coordinator Karina Bontes said she has noticed a new “wave” of younger people wanting to grow their own food.

“A lot of people consider gardening to be something for the over 50s [age group] and there seems to be a resurgence of young people interested in gardening,” Ms Bontes said.

“And I think it’s really amazing that people in the next generation are growing their own food and being interested in cycles of life and what we get on our plates and being passionate about that.

“So I think young people who are renters who are getting into gardening is a really great sign of what’s to come.”

But she said some apartment renters became frustrated with barriers such as minimal space and lighting, causing them to give up gardening efforts without realising there are other options.

“It’s thinking about what kind of things they might be able to grow, doing small scale composting in their backyards, different types of mobile beds like wicking beds or straw bale beds.”

“[Also] vertical gardening, trellising, how to make good soil, how to get good soil, what things might be important in choosing your site.”

Nicola Hearn from the Tenants’ Union ACT said there were ways to be creative with spaces as small as a window sill.

“A big part of what we do is promoting tenants’ ability to feel like their place is their home, that it’s not [something they see as] just an investment property for someone else, owned by a random landlord or property manager,” Ms Hearn said.

“It’s their home, it’s where they live and things like gardens are important so we try and foster that.”

Benefits of being green

Ms Bontes says growing her own food has had a positive impact on her health and general lifestyle.

“I feel like it’s a big form of taking control of your own life,” she said.

“I feel that it gives you many more options than having to shop at a supermarket, when you don’t know necessarily who’s grown what, what they’ve put into it, how far it has had to come to be in the supermarket, and all of those processes.”

“Where as when you grow your own food you know exactly what love has gone into it, what kind of water, what kind of nutrients and you pick it fresh.

“So I feel like it’s a great way for people to be in touch with seasons, with eating seasonally, which I feel has many benefits.”

Topics: gardening, lifestyle-and-leisure, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted October 15, 2017 12:59:24

Ask Fuzzy: Unpredictable outcomes – now that’s random

Question: What is “random”?

A simplistic definition of “random” is that anything can happen. It’s simplistic but also wrong because it depends on the situation. You can flip a coin and get a heads or tails, but a jack of diamonds makes no sense.

A better definition is that random means you cannot predict the outcome.

There are degrees of random and in the strongest, all options are equally likely because there are no patterns. My Dad was infuriating playing Canasta because he kept track of the cards, and therefore which ones were more likely to come up next. He could do that because the game is not completely random.

The idea of random raises deep philosophical questions, which even has implications for whether the universe has a fixed destiny and therefore whether there’s such a thing as free will. This might be the case if you had perfect knowledge of the state of the universe and the processes that govern it.

If, for example, you could replicate every atom in a person’s body, then exactly replicate a situation, you could predict precisely how they would behave. If you knew the location and energy states of every atom on the planet, you could forecast the local weather at 6.37pm 100 years from now.

Maybe. It’s a tough call and the enemy is the chaos of the wombat effect. A single wombat burrow can nudge the course of water trickling across a watershed. That later becomes a mighty river, changing the shape of a continent. With chaos, the smallest thing can have huge downstream consequences that are unpredictable.

Computers are good at calculations, but genuine random numbers are difficult because they rely on step-by-step algorithms. Given the same starting point, they’ll produce the same result. These are called pseudo random. One novel solution for this uses light from a lava lamp.

Each game on a poker machine is random and the gambler’s myth is that a machine is due to pay, or this one is lucky. They are carefully designed so that every individual game is unrelated to every other.

What is not random is that on average they strip 10 to 15 cents out of every dollar you put in. So $100 becomes $90, and when that’s fed back in, it drops to $81. At that rate, after about 50 $1 games, it’s all gone.

Response by: Rod Taylor, Fuzzy Logic

Brought to you by the Fuzzy Logic science show, 11am Sundays on 2XX 98.3FM. Send your questions to askfuzzy@zoho.com

Peter Greste: Australia ‘succumbed to the rhetoric around terrorism’

Nationalism and xenophobia are bigger risks to Australia than terrorism, says journalist Peter Greste.

“Australia likes to think of itself as the larrikin country, the country that calls a spade a f—ing shovel; straight talking, no bullshit kind of country that had maintained that sort of frontier spirit,” Greste said.

“It feels as though as if we’ve become incredibly bound up by rules and regulations. We’ve succumbed to the rhetoric around terrorism.”

Greste is in Canberra Monday to deliver the key note address at the Australian National University’s Bell School’s Information Wars conference on the back of the launch of his new book, The First Casualty.

In Egypt in 2013, Greste and his Al Jazeera English colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were arrested and charged with threatening national security.

A shambolic, Kafkaesque trial saw Greste spend 400 days in Egyptian prison before being released and deported back to Australia. The unknown foreign correspondent became a household name synonymous with press freedom in Australia.

“[The address] is about saying what happened to us in Egypt was a pretty extreme example of something happening the world over,” Greste said.

“Governments are using national security as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties and freedom of speech in particular.”

“I absolutely recognise the need and desire for governments and people to be protected from terrorism and extremism, but the problem is one of the reasons we [Australia] are one of the most stable, peaceful, prosperous places on the planet is because we have an open liberal system with all the government checks and balances.”

Greste criticised “draconian” new anti-terrorism laws that allow police detention of 10-year-olds without charge for 14 days.

“The locking up of minors without charge; it’s just ridiculous. What we’re doing is playing directly into the hands of the extremists,” he said.

“The far greater threats are from things like nationalism and xenophobia, where we turn inwards and away from the rest of the world. I think that’s doing far more damage.”

We are in danger of moving our society towards that end of the spectrum and doing the job extremists want us to do

Peter Greste

His new book, part-autobiography, part-essay, looks at the attacks on journalists since the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York.

Interwoven with Greste’s arrest and trial in Egypt – a “bureaucratic hall of mirrors” he prefaces with an excerpt from Franz Kafka’s The Trial – it also ranges from his time starting as a correspondent for the BBC in Afghanistan in 1995, witnessing his colleague Kate Peyton shot dead by unknown attackers in Somalia in 2005 and reflections on Australia’s own legislative attacks on whistleblowers and the media.

In a chapter titled “The Fearful Country”, a play on The Lucky Country, Greste takes aim at Australia’s clamp down on whistleblowers and new mandatory metadata retention laws.

“I’m not suggesting we’re about to become Egypt any time soon … we are in danger of moving our society towards that end of the spectrum and doing the job extremists want us to do.”

He also reflects on the former US President Barack Obama’s administration using the Espionage Act to pursue whistleblowers and current US President Donald Trump’s open hatred of unfavourable media.

“I think there are echoes of that here but I don’t think we’re anywhere near the same point,” Greste said.

“I don’t claim to have all of the answers. I’m raising what I think are some fairly serious questions. I think it will contribute to public debate,” Greste said.

Reservations can be made for the Information Wars conference here.

Top Venezuelan skier avoids jail after assaulting embassy landlord

Updated October 13, 2017 16:55:59

A top Venezuelan skier and world-record holder who punched the landlord of his home country’s embassy in Canberra has been handed a good behaviour order over the assault.

The dispute arose due to growing tensions between embassy staff and the building’s landlord, who chose to blockade entrances to the embassy with vehicles as the spat intensified.

During the blockade, Cesar Baena, 30, got into an altercation with the landlord.

Baena, a champion skier, said he had struck out after being taunted, and the night before the incident the wife of the landlord had driven past and said “bad words” to him.

He then told the court the landlord had refused to move the vehicles, telling Baena he would not be getting what he wanted.

“The way he told me was very provocative,” Baena said.

He also told the court he had felt the man had shown disrespect for his country.

In court today, Baena told the court if he had a conviction against his name his international skiing career would be over, as it would limit his ability to travel.

Magistrate Peter Morrison handed him an 18-month good behaviour order, but did not record a conviction.

Outside court, Baena apologised for his actions.

“It’s not something to be done as a public figure and I do accept that it was wrong,” he said.

“I think we have another chance to do the right thing and inspire communities.

“I would like to say sorry … I’m very sorry for what I did, it’s not the way I am.”

Baena was in Australia at the time for ski races and training during the winter months.

He said another reason he was in Australia was the opportunity to practise roller skiing, an activity for which he had been a Guinness Book of Records holder.

Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, winter-sports, canberra-2600, act, australia, venezuela

First posted October 13, 2017 16:34:29

A couple of calls and a meeting settled land in Glebe Park, owner Graham Potts says

Negotiations over the Glebe Park block at the centre of a parliamentary investigation had been completed with “a couple of telephone calls and a meeting”, property owner Graham Potts told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday.

“I wouldn’t call it a hard-fought negotiation. There was a couple of telephone calls and a meeting,” Mr Potts said in answers to questions about the government’s 2015 purchase of his land for $3.8 million in circumstances the ACT auditor-general has described as poorly justified.

Mr Potts said he had been approached by the government in 2014 with a valuation of less than $1 million and had rejected it as nowhere near the right price. The next contact was from Colliers head Paul Powderly in 2015, inviting him to a meeting on June 19. At that meeting the Land Development Agency’s Dan Stewart had opened the negotiation with an offer of $3 million.

“I said no we’re not interested in $3 million. It’s not anything near what it was worth, and I came back and said something like ‘it’s worth closer to $5 million’. He said ‘we can’t go that far … what would you entertain?’ I said … ‘I could talk to the other owners at about $4 million’.”

The next day he had a call from Mr Stewart saying “the government have come back, he, the government or whoever has come back” at $3.6 million. Mr Potts said he suggested $4 million, to which Mr Stewart said $3.8 million. He had agreed on the basis of a quick exchange and settlement. The price was “fair and reasonable”, he said.

The block was owned by Mr Potts, Barry Morris, Richard Tindale and Joe Bisa, originally part of a bigger block that was used to build the 188-unit Glebe Park residences. Mr Potts also developed the 330-apartment Manhattan on the Park apartments on an adjacent piece of land.

The Liberals have suggested the government moved to a quick purchase of the block in 2015 because the casino wanted to use part of it for an expansion.

The casino owners presented their plans to the government, including Chief Minister Andrew Barr, in May 2015; the meeting with Mr Potts to negotiate the price was about four weeks later. But Land Development Agency executives have said the quick purchase followed a government decision to move the stormwater pond on Parkes Way ahead of a bid to Infrastructure Australia to lower the road. Progress on that plan is unclear.

Mr Potts said he gave no thought to the reasons why the government wanted the block. “Don’t know, don’t care,” he said. “I didn’t think they were desperate. Someone approached me and there was what I call argy-bargy on the price … I wouldn’t have called anything that was done evidence of desperation. If there was desperation most probably I would have sensed that and I might have got $4 million or a little bit more.”

He and the other owners knew the block would bring “real challenges” if they tried to redevelop it, given the location, so something had to be done with it.

Under the original lease with the government, the owners were to spend at least $1 million building a “parkland”, including kiosks, carparks, shelters and public toilets, with the work to start within a year and finish within three years. Valuers Opteon told the government in 2014 that it was not clear whether that lease requirement had been met, with some parkland works apparently done but no available record of spending.

In 2011, Mr Corbell was asked about the lack of landscaping. He responded that it had been made “very clear to the leaseholder” that it expected the work to be done.

Mr Potts said this week he had met the lease obligations. “We did what we had to do.”

Asked whether anyone had threatened to compulsorily acquire the block given it was needed for a stormwater pond, he said “someone” had mentioned the possibility, and his feeling was he would be paid the value of the land in any case, so “bring it on, compulsory acquisition or purchase, it’ll go down the same track, so I never thought too much about it”.

Mr Potts said he had never discussed the block with Mr Barr or other ministers.

Music festival pressured to abandon pill testing trial, advocate says

Updated October 13, 2017 10:36:25

Pill testing advocates say they are not to blame for an Australian-first trial being shelved at the Spilt Milk music festival, to be held in Canberra’s Commonwealth Park next month.

The organiser of Spilt Milk yesterday said the trial to test samples of illicit drugs at the festival would not go ahead because appropriate documentation had not been provided.

Kicks Entertainment director Ryan Phillips told triple j’s Hack the pill testing consortium Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) needed “more time to provide documentation, insurance, legal framework and operate on federal land”.

But David Caldicott from STA-SAFE told ABC Radio Canberra the consortium had no request for further documentation.

“I think what’s happened is that there has been pressure placed upon a promoter, who’s a small businessman, and I think that’s probably where the root of the problem lies,” Dr Caldicott said.

“We have provided every piece of documentation that has been requested.”

The pill tests at the festival would have been done with the same technology used by Customs.

Individuals would have been able to take samples of their drugs to a team of medics and chemists and check if the chemicals had caused problems in the past or were risky to use.

Spilt Milk needs a festival licence from the National Capital Authority (NCA), a body that manages planning and development of Commonwealth land in Canberra.

But the NCA denied there was any pressure placed on Mr Phillips and told the ABC dealings had “been quite good”.

On Wednesday Dr Caldicott tweeted that the pill testing consortium was happy to work with the NCA to provide them assurances, but that neither the authority nor Mr Phillips would return their phone calls.

‘Out of the blue’

Dr Caldicott said STA-SAFE placed “no blame” on Mr Phillips.

“He is trying to put together an event which other forces are happy to use to ensure pill testing in Australia doesn’t occur,” he said.

“This has really come out of the blue, which suggests to me that some pressure has been applied and he has been forced to change his mind.”

He added “it was a matter of record” that many people opposed pill testing, pointing to comments ACT Liberal health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne made in the Legislative Assembly in August:

“The Spilt Milk festival is at Commonwealth Park, which is on Commonwealth land.

Pill testing will need Commonwealth Government approval and I doubt that they will give it.

[ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris] can feel free to blame the Commonwealth whilst being silently thankful that she did not have to deliver on pill testing.”

The ABC has confirmed that in September ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson wrote to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for Local Government and Territories Fiona Nash to bring pill testing on Commonwealth land to their attention.

But Mr Hanson said he did not receive a response from either minister and he had not been in contact with the NCA.

Dr Caldicott said the consortium remained determined a pill testing trial would go ahead in the future in Canberra.

Organiser decided not to go ahead with pill testing: NCA

NCA chairman Terry Webber said it was his understanding Mr Phillips decided not to go ahead with pill testing at the festival.

“If he makes that call, which it sounds like he has, then we’ll work together with him for next year,” he said.

Mr Webber said he was not able to comment on, or identify, particular documents Mr Phillips said were required for the pill testing to go ahead.

He said no deadline was set on supplying documents and the authority played no part in the decision to shelve the pill testing trial.

“I’m not completely familiar with the exact documentation,” he said.

“I’m the chair of the authority. The board hasn’t even met on this matter. It’s being handled our chief executive and his staff, as would any normal process like this.”

Mr Webber said dealings with Kicks Entertainment had been “quite good” and also denied political pressure had been placed on the NCA by any level of government.

“It’s not really the NCA’s role to be supportive [of pill testing] or not,” he said.

“It’s our role to make sure that proper licences and insurances and legalities are in place for people to use the land and in order that the public are protected from a land-usage point of view.

Topics: drug-use, federal—state-issues, states-and-territories, drug-education, drugs-and-substance-abuse, canberra-2600, australia, act

First posted October 13, 2017 09:53:41

NRMA says cars should take priority in Kings and Commonwealth Avenue plans

The NRMA says cars need to be given priority in Canberra’s urban planning, joining a chorus of groups to raise concerns about draft plans for Kings and Commonwealth Avenue development.

The National Capital Authority in May unveiled plans to reconfigure the roads as grand boulevards for easy cycling and walking.

But the plans, which would see on and off ramps on Kings and Commonwealth Avenues dismantled, speed limits reduced to 60km/h and opening up land either side of the avenue for development, have raised concerns it would create traffic chaos in Canberra south. 

In its submission to the authority the NRMA said the importance of the road network cannot be overstated and called for the priority in Canberra’s urban planning to be the accommodation of motorists.

The submission said the design had been informed by the federal government’s road user hierarchy framework, which places cars as the lowest priority for urban planning, which did not reflect the city’s actual transport movements.

The NRMA said it was concerned there was insufficient data to support the removal of on and off ramps to both avenues and the removal of look roads on King Avenue.

It said traffic lights should only be added to the roads when there is a clear road safety benefit for doing so otherwise it would unnecessarily impede traffic flow.

“The NRMA supports the Australian and ACT Government’s efforts to reduce congestion by encouraging alternative forms of transport,” the submission said. 

“The ACT has the third highest passenger vehicle ownership rate per 1000 population, with 83 per cent of residents in Canberra using their car to get to work,” the submission said.

“As such, a priority for urban planning in Canberra must be the accommodation of motorists.”

The NRMA said the draft design needed to take greater consideration of parking needs, noting employment in the parliamentary Zone was set to increase by about 50 per cent between now and 2041.

It said the proposed loss of 1410 parking spaces at Blamey Square will disadvantage motorists trying to access businesses in the surrounding areas. 

The Weston Creek Community Council was one of a number of councils to make submissions to the authority detailing concerns about the impact on commuters.

In its submission the council said the Authority was overlooking the travel needs of Canberra people, only focussing on the Parliamentary Triangle.

The council raised concerns with the parallels the authority made between Kings and Commonwealth Avenues to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC and Confederation Boulevard in Ottawa.

“Council agrees that both are major roads and used for ceremonial occasions,” the submission said. 

“However, neither are “lifeblood” roadways in their respective capitals like Kings and Commonwealth Avenues are in Canberra.”

The authority’s acting CEO Andrew Smith said it was committed to engaging with the community as part of its decision making.

He said the draft strategy proposes the road transport function of both Kings and Commonwealth avenues be retained while also accommodating a range of other transport options.

“To address these issues, the design strategy outlines the long-term vision and key principles to create memorable and functional public spaces,” he said. 

“The NCA is aware that traffic congestion is a key issue for our growing city and the draft strategy recognises that in the future there will be additional pressures placed on the road network.

“Traffic impacts informed by detailed traffic modelling will be further considered as part of the future phases of improving the avenues.”

He said the authority was preparing a consultation report which would be made publicly available once approved by the board. 

Construction worker seriously injured after bobcat falls into trench

Updated October 12, 2017 12:07:13

A construction worker is undergoing surgery after being crushed by a bobcat while building a retirement village in Canberra’s south.

The building site in Kambah was shut down after the accident late on Wednesday.

ACT WorkSafe Commissioner Greg Jones said the man was “extremely lucky to be alive” and it was “a preventable accident”.

Mr Jones said the bobcat was reversing near a trench when a plumber working in the waist-deep hole was badly hurt.

“The bobcat went too close to the trench and actually slipped, fell or rolled into the trench, trapping one of the workers, who has now suffered very serious leg injuries,” he said.

Mr Jones said there should have been barriers around the trench and when work safety inspectors arrived at the site they found more problems.

“We ordered last night that some of the scaffolding needs to be completely removed and properly constructed,” he said.

Mr Jones said the site, on the corner of Snodgrass Crescent and O’Halloran Circuit, could remain shut until next week.

In a separate incident, also on Wednesday, a worksite in Coombs was issued a prohibition notice over concerns someone could fall from the scaffolding.

“The industry should take note that they need to check their worksites everyday to make sure they’re safe,” he said.

“Be warned that WorkSafe will be checking and if there are serious breaches we will take firm regulatory action against those that are non-compliant and not looking after their workers.”

Mr Jones said the Coombs site would also remain closed until the breaches had been fixed.

Topics: states-and-territories, workplace, kambah-2902, canberra-2600, act

First posted October 12, 2017 11:27:10