At last the some truth about what has happened emerges.

-why has it not been spoken about widely?

-why should owners have to foot the bill for rectification when it was known problems existed with the use of this type of cladding?



James Oaten

23 JUNE 2019



A Melbourne high-rise damaged by a fast-moving fire in February was deemed a “medium” risk by the fire brigade several years ago, before the local council overruled that assessment and determined the risk was “low”.

Key points:

  • The Neo200 building caught fire after a cigarette on a balcony set cladding alight
  • The MFB raised issues with a lack of sprinklers on balconies and the risk posed by cladding when deeming the fire risk “medium”
  • The council reinspected the building after receiving the advice, but determined the risk was “low”


Melbourne City Council documents show the Metropolitan Fire Brigade identified four main issues with the Neo200 building in Spencer Street in 2016.

But the advice was dismissed after a council officer reinspected the building, with a handwritten inspection note concluding the “risk of fire spread is low!”

The concerns raised by firefighters related to risks posed by the combustible cladding on the side of the building, a lack of sprinklers on balconies and the likelihood of burning debris falling on firefighters in the case of a blaze.

Those concerns proved prophetic in February when a smouldering cigarette on a balcony ignited combustible cladding, and fire rapidly spread from the 22nd storey to the 27th.

Limited access forced firefighters to enter the building to fight the flames as burning debris fell onto the streets below.



The revelations are obtained in internal council documents and emails obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information laws.

Thirty-one apartments in Neo200 are still uninhabitable because of fire and water damage.

MFB email on fire risks:



The council assessment was part of a combustible cladding audit, instigated in 2015 after a fire at the Lacrosse building at Docklands.

The internal documents show the MFB wrote to council’s building surveyor stating the combustible cladding could allow fire to spread between the eighth story and the roof, and the sprinklers did not cover balconies where the combustible material was located.



RMIT University urban planning expert Michael Buxton said the council’s response was “mystifying” and “alarming”.

“I think Council has quite a bit of explaining to do,” Professor Buxton said.

“The MFB put out four clear criteria that were really raising safety questions and council seems to have ignored those.

“It’s alarming that this has happened. The documents clearly refer to the MFB assessment. The question that the council has to answer is, why did it not act on that assessment?”

The council documents also show the council concluded the impact of a fire would be “minor”.

They said the likelihood of injury to occupants would be akin to “minor cuts or abrasions”.

Melbourne City Council reports:



Sahil Bhasin from building inspection company Roscon said the notes show the council could have defied the MFB’s advice for many other city buildings.

“The fire brigade has got internal fire engineers in house that assess the risk,” Mr Bhasin said.

“Melbourne City Council does not. You should be following the advice issued by the MFB.

“If there’s a cladding fire there’s more than minor cuts and abrasions.”



The MFB confirmed its crews were forced to enter the building because of access limitations, as debris rained down on the street below.

“The recent fire at the Neo200 building was a significant incident which had the potential to be very serious,” the brigade said in a statement.

“MFB crews did an exceptional job under very challenging circumstances.”

In a statement to the ABC, Melbourne City Council said its 2015 audit “took into consideration a wide range of information”.

It said the risk assessment tool used at the time had since changed, after the Grenfell Tower disaster in London, prompting a “show cause” notice issued for the building in 2018.

The show cause notice said the aluminium composite panels on the building’s exterior posed a “danger to the life, safety or health“.

The council also said:

“There continues to be systematic weaknesses in the building laws and regulations and a national approach is needed.”

Fixing the problem ‘now on the residents’

In Victoria, residents have a 10-year period to claim on the builders’ warranty under the Domestic Building Contracts Act.

But, for those affected by the Neo200 fire, that window closed a year after the council considered the MFB’s concerns.

Owner-occupier Jenny Zhang said that left a “bad taste” in residents’ mouths.

“It feels like our hands were tied,” Ms Zhang said.

“Why did they choose to ignore that opinion? And if they chose to ignore it, why did they seek it in the first place.”

“Why did they not pass on that information?”



It is a position Professor Buxton sympathises with.

“All the emphasis is now on the residents to fix the problem,” he said.

“This is wrong. It’s ethically wrong and it’s wrong in every way.”



The Victorian Government has budgeted money to fix government buildings with combustible cladding, but not private dwellings.

A Victorian Cladding Taskforce audit has inspected 1,800 buildings or projects and identified 71 as “extreme” risk and 368 as “high” risk.

Neo200 was identified as “moderate”.

In 2017, the Victorian Building Authority determined the Neo200 building was compliant after examining a list of materials used by builders LU Simon.

That decision was reversed a year later when the show cause was issued on the high rise apartment.

LU Simon was this year ordered to pay $5.7 million to the owners of apartments of the Lacrosse tower, although most of that would be paid by the project’s architect, fire engineer and building surveyor for breaching contractual obligations.





Wren’s week: A look inside Morrison’s dirty cabinet

By John Wren | comments
Scott Morrison poses for a photo opportunity with some of his new ministry (Screenshot via YouTube)


With Scott Morrison having announced his new cabinet, John Wren takes a closer look at some of the individuals selected.

Wren’s Week


THIS WEEK, Scott Morrison announced his new cabinet. Given that Australia just re-elected the most corrupt and incompetent Government in Australia’s history, the fact that a few bagmen, shysters, miscreants and the inept got guernseys should come as no surprise. It’s often been said that Coalition Ministers deliberately act against the interests of their respective portfolios, but seldom have the selections been so blatant. Let’s look at a few of them.

Scott Morrison

In order to gain pre-selection in the seat of Cook, he, with the help of Murdoch’s minions, initiated a nasty smear campaign against his rival, Michael Towkes. He couldn’t win fairly, so he won dirty. Sound familiar? Morrison’s recent budget included 3,000 (barely publicised) public service job cuts. He has named himself Minister for Public Services. Clearly, he will be acting against public services. Morrison’s win has clearly re-affirmed his faith in his Pentecostal God. His “burn for Australia”, “promise of Australia” and “have a go to get a go” rhetoric are all Pentecostalisms. What he turns to when it all falls apart will not be pretty.

Peter Lewis@PeterLewisEMC

First broken promise of new government – Melissa Price is NOT environment minister. Not a hint of shame. This is a post-truth government. 

Scott Morrison names new team in cabinet reshuffle

The PM has stamped his authority on the government with a reshuffle that elevates some of his closest allies and demotes his former environment minister.

23 people are talking about this

David Littleproud

Along with Barnaby Joyce and Angus TaylorLittleproud was heavily implicated in the Watergate scandal before the election. He’s now been made Minister for Water Resources. Morrison has put Dracula in charge of the Blood Bank. This will be seen as a win for water speculators but a disaster for anyone else, let alone actual irrigators who need competitively priced water to survive. Don’t expect the issue of the $80 million taxpayers paid to a mysterious Cayman Islands firm to be solved any time soon.

Josh Frydenberg

Inept before the election. Nothing has changed. As Treasurer, he finagled a surplus in the last budget that he didn’t think he’d have to deliver. Now he does. He also set some economic booby traps for the incoming Labor Government that he is now going to have to deal with himself. He also heavily defended the franking credits cash refund scheme which is rapidly expanding into a vast black hole sucking up all spare Government revenue. Frydenberg lacks both skills and political nous to walk this tightrope. He’s been set up to fail. Watch Morrison throw him under the bus in the next year or so when the fiscal chickens all come home to roost.

Mathias Cormann

The Belgian Waffle as Finance Minister has a history of “accidentally” claiming travel for himself and his family that he’s not entitled to or forgetting to declare travel gifts made to him by grateful donors, like Helloworld. Anyone with a history like this in the private sector would have been terminated years ago. As a cyborg, it may not be his fault. He is programmed to repeat verbatim the Liberal Party’s daily talking points. He clearly has little additional R.A.M. space, so these talking points may use up valuable memory capacity.

Bridget McKenzie

The new Minister for Agriculture lives in the leafy affluent inner Melbourne suburb of Elwood. She is a faux-Nat who clearly has an aversion to farming. She does like guns, though. I understand she is renaming her apartment “Sandridge Station” as a re-branding exercise. Her new position will no doubt see her regularly in RM Williams boots and moleskins. Because we all know that’s what real farmers wear.

ABC Religion&Ethics@ABCReligion

“I am a person of faith, so I do pray for rain but I also believe in the separation of church and state.” Australia’s first female agriculture minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, considers practical drought responses:

See ABC Religion&Ethics’s other Tweets

Christian Porter

As Treasurer in the last WA Liberal State Government, he oversaw an explosion of debt and spending incompetence. He saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship to Canberra before the Coalition’s ship sank in Perth. In the new ministry, he is both Attorney General and Minster for Industrial Relations. This is a clear sign the Government is about to really ramp up its war on unions and workers. As the country’s chief lawyer, he will use every legal avenue he can to restrict the activity of unions. Remember, unions are all that keep workers safe and paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work. Make no mistake, this dual role is a direct attack on Australian workers. This will be WorkChoices on steroids.

Greg Hunt

As Health Minister, Hunt will continue his war on Medicare. The political backlash of selling Medicare outright is too great, so he will continue his program of death by a thousand cuts. An outsource here, a funding cut there. Hunt is not the average Australian’s friend. Also, if you’re a middle-aged woman, keep your distance. He has a well-documented history of expletive-laden temper tantrums aimed at those just like you.

Peter Dutton

Once a fascist, always a fascist. Most of Morrison’s cabinet is simply inept or corrupt. Dutton is the one true monster. Make no mistake, he has his eyes on the prize. When it inevitably all goes pear-shaped for Morrison in the next year or so, once the true effects of his fiscal incompetence become clear, Dutton will make his move. Morrison’s Pentecostal deity won’t save him.

Dan Tehan

Tehan is an old-school class warrior. He believes public education should be about giving public students just enough education to be good worker drones. The managerial class (Liberal Party donors), of course, will all come from private schools, hence they will get the lions’ share of funding. And who can forget his attempt to tie funding of university research to the “national interest”, whatever that is?

Michaelia Cash

Another thoroughly objectionable individual. As Minister for Small Business, she is going to have her work cut out for her. Under the Liberals, thousands of large businesses will end up small ones. She’s going to be busy and when it the going gets tough, you can always find Michaelia hiding behind the nearest whiteboard.

Michelle Pini@vmp9

Why we can’t afford Stuart Robert, Warren Entsch, Sussan Ley, Angus Taylor, Michaelia Cash. Stuart Robert and 4 more we can’t afford, including an annoying envoy,12757#.XO-JAwHdUYg.twitter  @IndependentAus

Stuart Robert and 4 more we can’t afford, including an annoying envoy

In the latest Cabinet reshuffle, newly appointed ministers have already been lauding the supposed “mandate” for the most objectionable of the Government’s policies.

79 people are talking about this

Angus Taylor

climate change denier has been placed in charge of emissions reduction. Yes, you read that right. Angus also needs to come clean on his role in Watergate. It stinks worse than the rotting fish at Menindee.

Matthew Canavan

The Minister for Coal who has already claimed a “mandate” to build a new coal-fired power station. Mandates don’t exist, of course, but even if they did, all he promised before the election was a feasibility study. Maybe his mum will tell him whether it’s feasible or not.

Stuart Robert

Regarded by many as the biggest grub in Parliament. Who can forget his fake/not fake Rolexwatches from a Chinese donor? Who can forget his attendance as a “private citizen” for a donor’s contract signing in China? Who can forget his monumental home internet bills, paid for by us? Clearly, Morrison has forgotten. This is just a straight “jobs for the boys” payback. Robert is a fellow Pentecostal and former housemate of Morrison, so he can clearly get away with anything.

Please also note that Robert’s portfolio is now Minister for Government Services and the NDIS. It used to be known as human services, but the name change should ring a warning. Those needing unemployment benefits or other social welfare support are now no longer considered human. There was another Right-wing mid-century European Government that coined the term Untermensch for these people. Just wait for Robert’s next slogan: “Work sets you free”. As a Pentecostal, he also believes in faith healing. He is now in charge of the NDIS. Words fail me.

Jason Wood and Richard Colbeck

These two are “junior ministers” but are worthy of a mention in this rogues’ gallery. Wood spent much of last year stirring up racism with his spurious African gangs rhetoric. He is now Minister for Multiculturalism. Colbeck, at age 61, is now Minister for Youth. This last one is on par with making a man Minister for Women. Only the Liberals could be so cynical.

It’s probably the worst cabinet ever assembled in Australia. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. This is what you voted for and you only have yourselves to blame.


Richard Colbeck, Australia’s New Minister For Youth, Is 61 Years Old
Senator Richard Colbeck has joined the Morrison cabinet as Minister for Youth — a portfolio that hasn’t existed in government since 2013 

Australia’s New Minister For Youth Is 61 Years Old

Senator Richard Colbeck has joined the Morrison cabinet as Minister for Youth — a portfolio that hasn’t existed in government since 2013.

189 people are talking about this

You can sign the petition to have John Wren reinstated on Twitter here.


How could we be so complacent as a nation as to re-elect this Govt?
“In my view, the election proved the old psychological maxim that people feel much more passionately about what they may lose rather than what they may gain.”

Michael Smith,12730 

The price of not paying attention: Five ministers we cannot afford

The Morrison Government, whose only motivation appears to be getting elected and maintaining the status quo, can do a lot of damage in another three years.



What a man, eh? Obviously we need more of them …

-sure he’s about making money but …

-he sees the big picture

-he recognises there is a lot at stake

-the gas extraction industry doesn’t have a faultless past

LET’s hope he wins!



BILLIONAIRE BUSINESSMAN … launches legal action to keep ORIGIN ENERGY fracking off NT cattle station

23 JUNE 2019



A billionaire businessman has launched court action against Origin Energy over its plan for gas exploration on a Northern Territory cattle station.

Key points:

  • Retail magnate Brett Blundy and his business partners are alleging Origin Energy failed to carry out adequate stakeholder engagement
  • Amungee Mungee station owners are seeking to halt government approval processes
  • Origin Energy says it wants to work constructively with station owners


Retail magnate Brett Blundy’s company BB Retail Capital and co-owners Bullwaddy Pastoral Co are accusing the gas company of not properly consulting them about the environmental risks associated with the planned “test fracking” operation.

They’re seeking to stop the NT Government from approving test fracking on part of the station, in the first case of its kind for the Territory.

Mr Blundy has invested millions of dollars into buying and developing several NT stationsincluding Amungee Mungee, near Daly Waters, 600 kilometres south of Darwin.

In 2013, he invested $6.5 million for the 320,000-hectare station. He also owns two other nearby cattle stations, OT Downs and Mungabroom.

The station hosted Origin Energy’s first test well in 2016.

That generated the gas industry’s excitement about the Beetaloo Basin region, and predictions the area contains enough gas to power Australia for 200 years.

But since the Territory Labor Government’s three-year moratorium on fracking was lifted in April, the relationship has soured.

Inadequate response time alleged

BB Retail Capital and Bullwaddy Pastoral Co, owned by Katherine pastoralists Adrian and Emma Brown, are trying to force Origin Energy to admit it hasn’t properly carried out legally required stakeholder engagement.

The station owners have alleged the gas company didn’t give them time to respond to the anticipated environmental risks of fracking.

In launching the Supreme Court action, they are also seeking to prevent the Territory Government considering or approving Origin’s test fracking plan.



Origin Energy has told the ABC it has been discussing its plans for work on Amungee station for almost 12 months.

“Origin previously reached agreement to access the same property, for similar activities, and had no issues either in reaching an agreement or in the execution of our work,” the company said.

“Our desire is always to work constructively to finalise an agreement about access to the property.”

‘Sign of things to come’: Antifracking group

Lauren Mellor from the anti-fracking group Protect Country Alliance said she was not surprised the case had been launched a few weeks after the Government finalised its fracking Code of Practice, effectively giving the green light for exploration to resume.

“I think this is a sign of things to come,” she said.

“It’s really concerning that it’s happening within weeks of the approval of the first fracking wells.”

The NT Cattlemen’s Association said many pastoralists were becoming concerned.



“They’re being asked to grant access for a whole series of regulated activities without knowing the full detail of the environmental impacts,” NT Cattlemen’s Association CEO Ashley Manicaros said.

He said cattle producers wanted clarity on how gas companies planned to prevent a whole range of potential impacts.

“There is biosecurity associated to weeds. There are also impacts on infrastructure, and also the issue of what water they will use,” Mr Manicaros said.

The Cattlemen’s Association is calling on the NT Government to immediately pass laws it promised which would force gas companies to sign access agreements with pastoralists.

“They want to actually see that in place so they can actually negotiate with some level of certainty,” he said.

Territory Government refuses to comment

The Territory Government would not comment on the Amungee Mungee case.

But it has responded to the concerns of the region’s cattlemen by saying it would pass land access agreement laws by the end of the year.

“Our Government has made it very clear to the gas industry that they must earn their social licence to operate in the Territory,” a spokesman for Environment Minister Eva Lawler said.

“All gas companies who seek to explore in the Territory must demonstrate compliance with the existing regulations in relation to stakeholder engagement.”








Hong Kong’s history is complex but protesters will fight for its future


As a kid growing up in Hong Kong, the headline that most captured my attention was the one about a man from China who swam across a bay to reach freedom in Hong Kong and had his leg bitten off by a shark.

To cap it off, he didn’t notice until he sensed the water around him getting warm and becoming red.

In those days, the 1970s, China was in the grip of the Cultural Revolution. It was a big, poor country to our north that could have been at the opposite end of the Earth and yet it was just a shark-infested bay away.

How times have changed.

Hong Kong and me

I was born in Hong Kong. My Mum is half Chinese. She was a journalist and my Dad was editor of the English-language newspaper, The South China Morning Post.

I had always defined my Hong Kong childhood by the newspaper headlines that slipped under our door. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I, too, became obsessed with news.

In the 1980s I reported on the negotiations underpinning the return of British Hong Kong to China. And later, as the ABC’s China correspondent, I covered the 1997 handover.

As someone who had a professional, as well as an emotional, investment in the story of Hong Kong, I felt it was my duty to do so.

My connection to Hong Kong is long, and complex

As I watch demonstrations take over the streets I knew as a child, my feelings today are complex.

But the other part of the equation was that we lived in a large apartment in a building and our neighbours were mostly foreigners.

The newspaper gave our family a generous amount of leave each year. Despite the fact I felt like a local, we were colonials with the right to call Britain, and later Australia, home.

I recently asked my father whether he’d expected to live the rest of his life in Hong Kong and he replied that he had not. He always knew it would be temporary.

“Because it wasn’t ours,” he replied in response to my question.

My dad moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s. He met and married a Eurasian reporter: my mum.

In the late 1960s, Australia’s veteran Asia correspondent Dick Hughes wrote a book titled Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time.

The book describes the uniqueness of Hong Kong: a Western colony on Chinese soil; a microcosm of the confrontation between East and West.

For 150 years, Hong Kong was run by British civil servants and then British-trained civil servants. It was a place where the rule of law was applied and admired.

From a lowly Chinese fishing village in the early 1800s, a “barren rock” as it was once described, Hong Kong became an economic miracle, while China remained mired in poverty.

It is no surprise that some Chinese citizens were willing to risk dying in shark-infested waters to escape to a new life in Hong Kong.

Murky claims for control of Hong Kong

The truth of the matter is that Hong Kong was “won” by Britain in the murkiest of circumstances after the Opium Wars.

Under the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, which China has always described as an “unequal treaty”, the Qing government ceded Hong Kong island to Queen Victoria, as a “crown colony in perpetuity”. Or in other words, forever.

In 1860, the agreement was extended to include the Kowloon Peninsula, which is across the harbour from Hong Kong.

Finally, in 1898, the colony was further expanded with a 99-year lease on the New Territories. These three parts make up Hong Kong today.

The thorny question of Hong Kong’s return to China began to look much more real after the British Governor of the territory, Sir Murray MacLehose, visited Beijing in 1979.

The Scotsman, who was an avid reformer, was attempting to soothe investors’ concerns about Hong Kong’s reversion, but he also revealed that China intended to regain sovereignty.

Three years later, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher began the negotiation process with chairman Deng Xiaoping.

As a young journalist, I felt it was morally correct that Hong Kong should be returned to China. Any reading of the Opium Wars strengthens the sense that the acquisition was unfair.

But a moral take is one thing.

The reality was that the object of acquisition had fundamentally changed from a backwater to something spectacularly successful. And Hong Kong people were more than capable of running their own show.

I sat in stormy press conferences as Ms Thatcher defended her decision not to allow Hong Kong people full British citizenship.

Those gutsy journalists who argued with her are still my heroines.

In the end, the best the British could do was to negotiate an agreement which promised that under China, Hong Kong people would have a high degree of autonomy for 50 years.

As Mainland China reformed in the 1980s, pessimism began to turn to cautious optimism.

This optimism mounted until June 1989 when the Tiananmen Square crackdown occurred as the recent Four Corners program so ably testified.

Hong Kong people were reminded about Mao’s saying: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Today, protesters are on the street because their China-approved Chief Executive Carrie Lam wanted to pass an extradition law which means that a Hong Kong resident could be handed over to face a Chinese court.

In December 1998, I covered a story for Foreign Correspondent about an infamous Hong Kong gangster Cheung Tze-keung, (nicknamed Big Spender) who was executed by firing squad in southern China.

Several movies have been made about the audacious crime boss including Chasing the Dragon II: the Wild Wild Bunch, which is currently screening in Hong Kong cinemas.

The case was deeply controversial, given that the bulk of Big Spender’s crimes took place in the British colony. It resulted in an early crisis of faith in Hong Kong’s judicial independence post the handover.

Since then, there have been other questionable legal decisions made by Chinese courts, often involving some of our citizens.

Deciding the future

Watching the protests in Hong Kong reminds me of the resilience and tenacity of Hong Kong people I saw when I was growing up. They are not pawns.

But what will happen when Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy from China officially expires in 2047? Thirty years from now seems like a long time, but it isn’t.

Hong Kong people argue that they deserve to have a say in determining their future, not just pro-Beijing officials.

As a kid, watching my dad’s newspaper slide under the front door every day, I read the headlines and thought that Hong Kong was a strange and exciting place.

And it had to be special if someone was willing to risk losing an arm or a leg just so they could call Hong Kong home.

Jane Hutcheon presents One Plus One on ABC News.







CENTRAL COAST MAYOR Jane Smith spoke about the wetlands this week and said they were a critical part of our natural environment and important for biodiversity.


Davistown wetlands: Council in negotiations to buy land


More than 18 months after rare Davistown saltmarsh wetlands were put on the market for $124 million, Central Coast Council is inching toward buying them — but for how much?

Wildlife at Davistown Wetlands. Picture: Troy Snook
Wildlife at Davistown Wetlands. Picture: Troy Snook


More than 18 months after rare Davistown wetlands were put on the market with an asking price of $124 million, Central Coast Council is inching toward buying them.


*But the sale price is likely to be considerably less than that after the 19.26 hectares of environmentally sensitive land were passed in at auction in October 2017 with a single “lowball” bid of $7 million.

Map showing wetlands for sale around Lillipilli St, Pine Ave, and Kincumber Cres at Davistown. Picture: Google Maps


The land is also subject to complicated low density residential and conserservation zonings which are thought to make significant development unlikely.

Central Coast Council last week voted to investigate the “condition and status” of the land parcels in Lillipilli St, Pine Ave, Kincumber Cres, and Malinya Rd and to start negotiations with the land owner, Ettalong Beach businessman Tony Altavilla.

Davistown Wetlands at Davistown. Picture: Troy Snook


The matter was discussed in confidential session but council is seeking “a fair and reasonable price” to buy the land which, if successful, would be reclassified as community land and “binding protections” placed on it.

Save Davistown Wetlands Committee member Jo — Anne Lloyd said the community hoped agreement could be reached between council and the owner.

Save Davo Wetlands committee member Jo-Anne Lloyd at the Davistown Public meeting in 2017.


“We are waiting with bated breath with all our fingers and toes crossed” Mrs Lloyd said.

“At least the discussion is progressing — but our main issue is still the protection of the wetlands — ideally in public hands,” she said.

“If council is able to buy the wetlands, we hope they will not just leave them but will also look after them.”

Mrs Lloyd said the land could potentially be used for environmental education.”

Wildlife at Davistown Wetlands. Picture: Troy Snook


Davistown wetlands were listed for sale under the name “Tidal Shoals” in 2017 with a slick advertising campaign promoting the land as an “opportunity for an astute investor or syndicate”.

Shortly after a packed public meeting was held with hundreds of people protesting about the sale of the land for possible development.

Davistown Progress Hall was packed to discuss the sale of Davistown wetlands in 2017.


Central coast Mayor Jane Smith spoke about the wetlands this week and said they were a critical part of our natural environment and important for biodiversity.

“They provide habitat for animals and plants that may not be found elsewhere and important for the health of our estuaries,” Cr Smith said.

Council has resolved to look to acquire the Davistown wetlands to ensure their permanent protection.

An important part of that resolution is that if they are acquired, the land is reclassified as community land and a binding conservation agreement is investigated so that they remain permanently protected in public hands,” she said.

“That is the outcome we want. Permanent protection for wetlands and our natural reserves is crucial and a priority for Council.

Central Coast Mayor Jane Smith hopes Davistown Wetlands will be brought permanently into public hands. Picture: Sue Graham


Council recently reaffirmed its commitment to protect and improve the biodiversity and environmental value of the Coastal Open Space System (COSS) and COSS will be expanded into the north of the Central Coast.

Council has already made moves to protect the Porters Creek wetland, the largest freshwater wetland on the Central Coast, too with a push for its reclassification to community land and for international recognition.”


■ Saltmarshes occur at the upper levels of intertidal zones and are often found on the landward side of mangroves.

■ There are an estimated 118 hectares of saltmarsh left in the Gosford area — including some at Davistown and Saratoga.

Davistown wetlands.

Other examples are protected in small reserves at Cockle Bay, on Riley’s Island and on Pelican Island.

■ One of the interesting characteristics of salt marches is that they contain a small number of plant types but all of them are uniquely adapted to dealing with their salty environment.

■ Saltmarshes act as fish nurseries for some juvenile commercial fish and crab species and reduce the among of sediments and nutrients which run off into the estuary.

Saltmarshes are listed as Endangered Ecological Communities in NSW as they are in danger of becoming extinct.







Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

Photo:  Train Maintenance Facility Residents Action Group:  This is how Kangy Angy was!


IS this under the dictums of the new foreign owners of John Holland?  Is this how they operate from whence they came?

AND as for the noise wall is it about cost cutting?

WHAT have they got to hide by not having a meeting with the local community?



Transport NSW and John Holland representatives accused of aggressive bullying tactics




The vast tract of land that was cleared of more than 4000 trees to make way for heavy industry in a rural area


Kangy Angy Residents Action Group (KARAG) members claim that they have been shut out of transparent and meaningful communication by Transport NSW and the contractor, John Holland, at the Intercity Rail Maintenance Facility in Orchard Rd.

“It’s more or less a stalemate,” said group member, Susan Zgraja.

“Their idea of community liaison is that they will inform us of what they want us to know and when, and they don’t want to hear our comments, questions or feedback,” she said.

Susan said they have “flatly refused” a group meeting, so a meeting was scheduled between another member, Tracey Stewart, and Paul Galea who is Communications and Stakeholder Manager of the rail facility’s contractor, John Holland.

Susan said she accompanied Tracey to the meeting and unexpectedly there was also a representative of Transport NSW, who objected to Susan being there because she was not invited and told her she could not be part of the meeting.

“He was loud, aggressive and bullying towards us, and said that if I did not leave he would cancel the meeting and that would be the end of it,” Susan said.

“Afterwards we both received emails from, Paul Galea, saying there was no need for face-to-face meetings and all questions would be answered in emails,” Susan said.

She said that since that so-called meeting, it has been “more or less a stalemate”.
We’re not going to give up, but we don’t know how to get past this fait accompli.

*State Member for The Entrance, David Mehan, said Transport NSW was not dealing fairly with the community.

“They could be doing a much better job,” he said.
He said he was working through a few things and attempting to get some improvements, such as the water and sewer connection to residents, which was firmly indicated in the first place as one of the benefits for the community but now neither Transport NSW or Council seemed to want to do it.

“We still don’t have a final design to see the visual impact on the residents,” he said.

Mehan has managed to get a designated bus stop at the site entrance where an informal bus stop was operating.

“Public works need to be to the benefit of the wider community, not just because the government needs something.

“It seems we are dealing with a very arrogant government,” Mehan said.

*KARAG’s aim for the meeting was to get information about the extra parcel of land Transport NSW wanted and the progress, if any, of a noise wall surrounding the site.

“We had been informed by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) that Transport NSW had applied for more land and invited submissions, which we did,” Susan said.

“The OEH had indicated to us that it was inclined to give them permission, however, we objected because it would cause more environmental damage and the removal of even more mature trees, they’ve already ripped out about 4,000.”

A report to Central Coast Council’s meeting on March 25 said that Transport NSW applied to OEH to modify its development in order to conduct additional works outside the approved site boundary, which would entail clearing an extra 0.58ha of vegetation and habitat for 13 identified animals.

Clearance of the extra land is not considered by Transport NSW to have a significant impact on threatened biodiversity, and the OEH proposes to allow the clearance of the additional 0.58ha,” the report said.

Director of Environment and Planning, Scott Cox, said a submission would be lodged on a point of clarification only at this stage and a review of the matter was ongoing.
Susan said Transport NSW was also dodging the issue of installing a noise wall surrounding the site.

“It was part of the original plan but they keep coming up with the same reason all the time that they haven’t completed the design, but I think it is because of the cost.

“This is a heavy industry operating 24/7 we’re talking about, in a quiet rural area, and they haven’t solved the noise problem.

“A lot of complaints have been because of the intrusion of noise, vibration, loss of privacy and the clearing of the land.

“If they put the wall in first, there would have been less upset, especially along Enterprise Dr.

“And they say the wall, especially along Enterprise Dr, would cause echoing, but I think they are just throwing us a furphy.

“I’m not a sound engineer but I do know that those walls are supposed to absorb the noise not bounce off.”

This journalist contacted the Communications and Stakeholder Manager for the project, Paul Galea, and he refused to talk to me.

I told him I contacted him because I thought his role was community liaison, but he was rude, terse and hung up after saying: “I don’t want to talk to you, go to Transport NSW,” he said.

A statement from Transport NSW on May 13 said it was committed to working with the local community during construction of the rail maintenance facility.

“As the maintenance facility site is currently an active construction zone, John Holland is responsible for all aspects of workplace safety, including the safety of visitors to the site.

“Accordingly, only invited visitors and staff that have completed necessary induction are permitted onsite.

“Where this requirement has not been met, unannounced visitors to the site are not permitted.

“The project team has been providing ongoing updates about the facility and matters of interest by direct contact to community members and through written communications, including regular community newsletters.

“We welcome feedback about the project at and 1800 684 490, or for urgent matters, by contacting our 24-hour Construction Response Line on 1800 775 465.

“Project information is also available at

“Construction of the noise wall will be completed before the start of operation of the rail maintenance facility.”

In an email to KARAG on March 19, Galea said: “There was no intention by John Holland (contractor) to convene group meetings as you’ve requested……it’s my experience that during the delivery phase of a project, talking with individual residents about their specific areas of interest on a one-to-one basis is consistently a more effective strategy for all parties.

“The maintenance facility project has frequent and ongoing contact with local stakeholders and residents across a wide range of topics.

“These calls, emails and meetings are in addition to regular notifications distributed throughout the local community and provided to other stakeholders.”

In regard to a noise wall to surround the site, Galea said in the email: “The Review of Environmental Factors assessed operational noise and vibration and proposed mitigation measures.

“John Holland is currently finalising the Operational Noise and Vibration Review as required by the project’s planning approval.

The community will be notified of outcomes when the review and proposed mitigation measures are finalised.

“Installing a noise wall around the entire site is not considered feasible due to a range of factors including the need to clear extensive areas of additional vegetation, the prohibitive cost and timeline implications, and the need to seek additional and extensive planning approvals.

“In some areas, installing a noise wall may also increase the noise impacts for residents – as the wall would also reverberate noise back towards residents from existing noise sources outside the project, such as Enterprise Dr.”

Interview, May 10
Kangy Angy Residents Action Group, Susan Zgraja
Interview, May 10
The Entrance MP, David Mehan
Media statement, May 13
Transport NSW
Central Coast Council meeting Mar 25
Agenda Item 6.4
Email, Mar 19
Tracey Stewart
Email, Mar 19

Rail Facility Communications and Stakeholder Manager, Paul Galea

Journalist, Sue Murray












Weekend protests in Hong Kong demanded chief executive Carrie Lam step down over her handling of the extradition issue. Photo: Kirsty Needham

Hong Kong civil unrest could renew interest in Australia’s top-end property market









Paul Bongiorno 

The cost of Coalition tax cuts


The tax cuts impasse between the government and the opposition has opened the way for a familiar play from the senate crossbench.

As Scott Morrison was basking in the warmth of a holiday in Fiji, it was the Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick who was taking full advantage of a moment in the sun.

Patrick learnt the trick at the feet of an old master. For years he was right-hand man to the South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon. And Xenophon always shone when the government and opposition were at loggerheads over key legislation. The formula is simple, but skill is required in its implementation: make as much noise as possible and be the last to fold in the negotiation.


Rex Patrick addresses the Senate while Stirling Griff sits alongside him

PHOTO: Rex Patrick (left) and Stirling Griff occupy what they describe as the “sensible centre”. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and his sidekick in the senate, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, insist the parliament has no option but to pass all three stages of the $158 billion tax package.

Their argument is that the election gave a mandate to the full package. In his reply to the new shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, Frydenberg threw Labor’s campaign rhetoric back at the party. He reminded the opposition it “repeatedly claimed” it would have a “mandate for your tax agenda if you were successful at the election”. He said, “Well, the Australian people decided to back in our plan to provide tax relief for all working Australians and we urge you to respect their verdict.”


Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers in Brisbane.

Photo:  The Australian; Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers


Chalmers had written requesting the total cost to the budget in each year of the components of the 2018 and 2019 packages, and the total cost to the budget of any tax relief for those in the highest income tax bracket of above $180,000. The shadow treasurer cited three estimates from different think tanks, ranging from $77 billion through to almost $90 billion. Chalmers said Labor was ready to “urgently pass the first tranche of tax cuts to address the weakness in the economy on your watch”.

The treasurer says it’s all in the budget – go read it. What’s not in the budget, however, short of heroic assumptions of cuts in outlays and rises in wages, is a credible way to pay for the tax cuts without either plunging the budget into deficit or dramatically cutting services and pensions.

Senator Rex Patrick joins the opposition in wanting to see more detail behind the assumptions. He says, “We need to work through the $158 billion in a careful manner.”

Patrick gives short shrift to the mandate argument. He says the mandate season is over. “It gets wheeled out by both government and opposition during each election campaign in an attempt to pre-charge policy initiatives that will involve controversy once a new parliament is formed.”

Indeed, voters elect a parliament and those with the numbers get to pass their agenda. The numbers aren’t there for the Coalition in the senate, so it doesn’t have an unalloyed mandate to pass whatever it likes through both houses. In the upper house it has 35 senators, still four short of the majority needed.

The government’s numbers could be improved if the prime minister heeds the siren call from Liberal defector Cory Bernardi from South Australia, who is offering to rejoin the fold. There is enormous resistance across the party to any return of this prodigal son.

One Liberal says: “He’s a rat, he’s a rat, he’s a rat who has denied the party a number in the senate for years and should not be rewarded.” Another powerbroker says loyal members value loyalty “and hate backstabbing egomaniacs”. While a Bernardi return would make the government’s task a little easier, it would still need to deal with the new bloc of the two Centre Alliance senators led by Patrick and their new ally, the re-elected Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie.


Jacqui Lambie campaigning.

PHOTO: The often unpredictable Jacqui Lambie could be key to passing some legislation. (ABC News: Jessica Hayes)


Patrick and his colleague in the house of representatives, Rebekha Sharkie, are worried what the structural change of much flatter taxation will mean, with its loss of billions of dollars of revenue. “How will we continue to fund the pension and aged care?” Sharkie asked in an interview with The Australian. “Ultimately if you shrink the pool something’s going to miss out.”

She continued, saying, “the most responsible thing the government could do is break up the three stages”.


From Washington, Frydenberg told RN Breakfast that Labor just wanted to deny Australians their promised tax relief. He pointed to the success of Trump’s $US1.5 trillion tax cuts in boosting the United States economy, with stronger growth and falling unemployment.

*But do Australians really want to emulate America? The Trump administration has plunged its budget into historically huge deficits. President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform – woefully inadequate by Australian standards – has been trimmed and Washington doesn’t spend billions funding church schools.

*Economist Richard Denniss says there is no way American levels of taxation can deliver the sort of services we demand from governments.

Still, some in Labor are arguing the whole tax package should just be waved through. The argument goes that it’s not the opposition’s job to save the government from itself.

*Except the moment of truth is not going to arrive for five years. Who knows who will be in government by then? On the other hand, a senior Liberal says Frydenberg should hang tough. If Labor refuses to pass the package in its entirety then it can be blamed every day until the next election for denying tax relief to working families.

That may be good politics but it is certainly not good fiscal policy. This week there is more evidence of a dramatically slowing economy, contained in the quarterly housing prices.

As the Reserve Bank governor keeps warning, the country needs stimulus right now. Denniss says there is “no limit to the way the Liberals will play politics with the economy”. Perhaps, but if they hold on to the tax cuts as an all-or-nothing package, and the cuts don’t pass, it would add about $1.5 billion a year to the bottom line for Frydenberg’s much-vaunted surplus. In a recent speech in London, the treasurer gave this his absolute priority.

Labor says the first tranche, giving low- and middle-income workers a tax rebate of up to $1080 each, could be passed in the first hour of a reconvened parliament. It’s an offer Anthony Albanese keeps making. There was even a suggestion Morrison should cut short his sunbathing in Fiji and call back the parliament next week – the writs finalising the election are expected to be returned by as early as Monday.

In rejecting that call, Cormann opened the way for Chalmers to repeat the charge that the failure to deliver the tax cuts by July 1 is the first broken promise of the Morrison government.

Rex Patrick is not so fussed by this undelivered timetable. He says the treasurer has now promised to deliver the relief within the financial year and it won’t matter if it takes another three weeks to break the impasse. He is waiting for the resources minister, Matt Canavan, to come back to him with ways in which rising energy prices, particularly gas prices, won’t erode the stimulus intent of the tax cuts. The Centre Alliance expects the government to address its concerns, he says.

Elsewhere, the Centre Alliance–Lambie bloc could play a critical role in any plans the government has to make it easier to deregister unions. Morrison and his employment minister, Michaelia Cash, have seized on the storm engulfing controversial construction union leader John Setka and signalled the government is looking to reintroduce deregistration legislation. Labor, the Greens and Centre Alliance struck down the legislation in the senate last year, and Patrick has indicated he is lukewarm on the matter.

The South Australian senator says the banking royal commission showed business was not beyond breaking the law.

*He says any bill requiring drastic penalties for unions and their miscreant leaders should be matched by similar treatment for business leaders. The shadow minister for industrial relations, Tony Burke, says last year’s bill “was a mess”. It did not deal fairly with industrial issues and “if they bring back the same bill, they can reasonably expect the same answer”.

Albanese strikes a similar note. He says the construction union plays an important role in workplaces. He says you don’t hear from the government about the other side of the equation – employers not paying people properly, occupational health and safety issues in a very dangerous industry, and the use of foreign labour.

He told 2GB you don’t hear from the government on building standards that have seen residents forced to flee crumbling high-rises in the Sydney suburbs of Homebush and Mascot.

Albanese says his move to expel Setka from the Labor Party is the right thing to do, because Setka doesn’t uphold Labor values. Albanese is refusing to be intimidated by threats to withdraw financial support from Labor by the construction union and its allies in the union movement. He says he doesn’t respond to threats, which he says reinforce the fact there is a problem.

He sees it as a predicament that plays into the government’s anti-union agenda. He says, “There’s no doubt that every time I’ve seen Mr Setka get publicity, it hasn’t been positive and it hasn’t reflected well on the Labor Party, or indeed on the trade union movement.” 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 22, 2019 as “Last resort wear”. Subscribe here.








Key Points …

-more than 114,000 apartments built in Sydney in the past five years

-Govt forecasts another 140,000 over the next five years!




-a total failure of the regulatory system

-governments have been warned: Michael Lambert Report 2015 and Shergold and Weir February 2018

.Engineers Aust Report 2012 and UNSW City Futures Research Centre

-the origins stem from the growth of ‘design and construct’ contracts for high-rise

-unlike the process where an architect, clerk of works or engineer would see the whole process from start to finish

-view what most experts say where the answers lie

-the problem at Mascot Towers may in part rest with the very high water table; 2 metres below ground



‘No effective oversight’: why the Opal and Mascot Towers cases may be the tip of a very large iceberg

As winter bared its claws in earnest on Thursday night, residents of the beleaguered Mascot Towers in Sydney’s inner-south braved the cold and dark in a vain quest for answers.

How much greater could the cracking which triggered their ejection from their homes a week ago get?

When would they be able to return? How much would it cost to repair? And, more important in the longer run, who could be held to account for their plight?

More than 100 Mascot Towers apartment owners gathered for a meeting on Thursday night.
More than 100 Mascot Towers apartment owners gathered for a meeting on Thursday night. CREDIT:WOLTER PEETERS


Two meetings with building representatives were scheduled that evening: one for owners, another for tenants. In a bitter stroke of irony, the owners’ meeting was convened at the local Holiday Inn. But if this was a holiday, it was a holiday from hell.

*Owner Fabiano dos Santos was resigned to getting little in the way of additional information. “Everyone’s sleeping in living rooms, living with friends,” he told the Herald. “They’re forgetting the human side.”


Residents from 156 of those 392 apartments are still not back in their homes, though builder Icon says it hopes to have repairs completed by next month.

A specialist report provided to then NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts earlier this year blamed cracking and movement in the Opal complex on “construction and material deficiencies” affecting a number of concrete plates and hob beams.

But the cause of the Mascot Towers woes so far remains a mystery. Strata records reportedly show problems emerging as far back as 2011. But many are convinced the sudden deterioration which prompted the evacuation a week ago is linked to construction at a neighbouring site.

All the residents of the 132-apartment complex know for sure is that they won’t be allowed home in a hurry, and will have to stump up a $1 million contingency fund to start stabilising the complex. And that is just the beginning of the financial pain.

Redress seems virtually impossible. The statutory warranty period for claims for recompense (up to two years for “minor” defects and up to six for “major” defects) has long expired.

And in any case, owners have been told that the builder/developer of the complex went into administration “some years ago”.

The evacuation underway at Mascot Towers last week.
The evacuation underway at Mascot Towers last week.CREDIT:BEN RUSHTON


Owners Corporation Network spokesman Stephen Goddard says Mascot Towers owners have “only themselves upon whom they can rely”. For some, the only avenue of escape may be personal bankruptcy “because they can’t afford the mortgage repayments or the special levies”.

How, Goddard wonders, can the “aspiration of owning your own home go so terribly wrong, that the outcome could be bankruptcy [because] of the absence of consumer protection?”

In an already sluggish housing market, the Mascot Towers fiasco is another body blow to confidence in the high-rise residential sector at a time when the industry can least afford it, and when the city has never been more dependent on it.

*More than 114,000 apartments have been built in Sydney in the past five years. Government forecasts indicate around another 140,000 over the next five years. Nearly 30 per cent of Sydneysiders are apartment-dwellers and that proportion is set to keep rising.


Yet what worries many experts is the suspicion – some say the sure knowledge – that the Opal and Mascot Towers cases represent just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Ross Taylor, a consultant who specialises in remedying building defects, is dealing with one case where all 600 bathrooms in an eight-year-old building need replacing. There has been no publicity. And that is not unusual.

Taylor says “there could easily be another 10 buildings in that street in Mascot that might have a large array of defects, even more costly to rectify [than Mascot Towers], but you will never hear about them in the press. There is this huge silent pain that many high-rise home unit owners go through.”

Karen Stiles, executive officer of the Owners Corporation Network, calls it a “conspiracy of silence”.

She recounts sitting down recently with a strata manager whose company presides over a number of new residential strata complexes. The manager confessed that 72 per cent had begun manifesting defects of one kind or another.

Stiles says several factors contribute to the fact that few cases reach the public eye. Many unit buyers, downsizers in particular, are like “ deer caught in the headlights” when problems develop, she says.

Strata managers can be hard to spur into action, especially if they owe primary allegiance to the developer. When defects are discovered, owners will often seek to solve the problem under the radar, so they don’t suffer the same fate as the owners of the Mascot and Opal developments:inability to rent or sell.

(One agent reported this week that opportunistic buyers were ringing up with “ridiculous” offers, $10,000 to $100,000, for an apartment in Mascot Towers where one bedrooms with studies had previously been listed for around $750,000.)

*In relatively few cases, builders are tracked down and might be willing to make amendsif the company has not vanished or rebirthed like the mythical phoenix. But owners are then forced into non-disclosure agreements.

*In all, says Stiles, there has been a “total failure of the regulatory system. Peak bodies across the industry have been begging the government to do something”.

*Governments can’t say they were not warned. In February 2018, a report was presented to the Building Ministers’ Forum – comprising ministers responsible for construction in each state – compiled by a former head of the Prime Minister’s Department, Peter Shergold, and a leading consultant in the field, lawyer Bronwyn Weir.

The pair warned that problems in the building and construction industry were legion, with the result that there was “diminishing public confidence that the building and construction industry can deliver compliant, safe building … [for] the long term”.

They cited multiple instances of compliance failures in recently constructed buildings; a lack of competence of many operators, widespread lack of understanding of the national construction code; and pervasive poor documentation.

“On occasion, builders improvise, making decisions on matters which affect safety without independent oversight,” they cautioned. “We found that, until relatively recently, there has been almost no effective regulatory oversight of the commercial building industry by regulators. Those involved in high-rise construction have been left largely to their own devices.”

In February this year, in the run up to the state election, then NSW minister for better regulation Matt Kean promised the Berejiklian government would support the “vast majority” of the 24 Shergold-Weir recommendations, starting with the creation of a specialist building commissioner and an overhaul of compliance reporting and professional licensing.

Yet so far, the reforms have failed to materialise.

*Those with longer memories recall that little came of an even more detailed and equally damning report into the building industry prepared by a former state Treasury head Michael Lambert in 2015.

Most of his 150 reforms were left gathering dust, with the exception of an overhaul of some fire safety measures. Lambert lamented to The Guardian earlier this year that he had tried to achieve progress on his 2015 report but without success. “The bureaucrats don’t want change, and ministers do not seem motivated to push for change,” he said.

CEO of developer lobby Urban Task Force Chris Johnson told the Herald that there was “quite a lot of industry concern at the time … that while this fairly thorough report [of Lambert’s] had been done, the government did not seem to be all that interested on following up”.

That may be about to change now. This week a spokesman for Kevin Anderson, the new Minister for Better Regulation, assured the Herald that February’s commitment to the Shergold-Weir report was still in place, and that talks were under way with industry on how best to implement it.

“The government is committed to restoring confidence,” the spokesman said.  “We will be appointing a new Building Commissioner as well as introducing a suite of reforms to create greater transparency, accountability and quality control across the sector“.

*Weir says governments have been reluctant to upset the flow of money and jobs from the industry. “But it’s got to the point where they don’t have a choice now – the public interest unquestionably has to be put first.

Residents of Opal Tower assemble for a meeting in December.
Residents of Opal Tower assemble for a meeting in December.CREDIT:DOMINIC LORRIMER


**The origins of the current crisis, in the eyes of experts the Herald has consulted, stems from the growth of what is known in the industry as “design-and-construct” contracts for residential high-rise.

*The design-and-construct model means a developer can get approval to start a project on the basis of partial concept drawings, a builder then tenders for construction and takes over the rest of the design work as construction takes place.

Unlike the system which prevailed two or three decades ago, when an architect or clerk of works or engineer would see the whole process through from start to finish, in the design-and-construct model it can be a bit like pass the parcel.

Different individuals may pick up the design and engineering components at different stages, leaving more room for error, lack of accountability, and misinterpretation of drawings and documents. Mistakes are more easily made. Responsibility is more easily evaded.

Professor Bill Randolph, whose City Futures Research Centre at the University of NSW is studying defect prevalence in 600 blocks in Sydney, Parramatta and Canterbury-Bankstown, says it’s “all about risk shifting”.

“The developer contracts to the builder, the builder contracts to subbies and subbies contract to [the] next layer down. Everyone tries to blame everybody else, once there is a problem; and there are all sorts of opportunities for people to cut corners,” he says.

More than 114,000 apartments have been built in Sydney in the past five years.
More than 114,000 apartments have been built in Sydney in the past five years.CREDIT:DOMINIC LORRIMER


“You need someone who is in charge of quality control from go to whoa.”

Experts also say the shift of compliance checks from local government to private certifiers has compounded the problem, as certifiers may have conflicted loyalties if they are seeking to lock in repeat work from a developer. They are also not on site frequently enough to detect problems that may be concealed by construction work as it proceeds.

Urban Taskforce’s Johnson says the most important thing is to be able to guarantee structural integrity, but “at the moment there are unclear rules as to who is a structural engineer in NSW legislation … It does seem crazy that these high-rise apartment buildings must be designed by an architect who has to be registered by the architects registration board, but [a similar arrangement] is not the case for engineers”.

He says “teeth” need to be restored to the “chain of command.”

CEO of Engineers Australia Peter McIntyre confirmed that in NSW, “almost anybody can call themselves an engineer” and that the sector needed stronger quality control.

Consultant Taylor praises those developers in the industry doing “excellent” work but says they are having to compete with “people who don’t care so much about quality, focused on short-term profit, who are selling units right next door, and outwardly no one can tell the difference”.

He says he is often dealing with builders where “none of them have had a day’s training in design and yet they are responsible for the design process. I’ve got one building now where there was a call for help halfway through a job, the balconies were unable to be waterproofed because the design from the architect was so out there”.

Randolph says loss of trust will have critical knock-on effects. “If people don’t trust what they are buying, they won’t buy it, lenders won’t lend, developers won’t able to sell off plan, planners will be frustrated … governments won’t be able to house thousands of people heading towards Sydney and Melbourne, and the system will break down. I think the focus has to come right back on the consumer.”

He believes a short, sharp royal commission might be the “shock needed to bring that about”.

*But Bronwyn Weir is not so sure that a royal commission is the solution. “There is already a massive loss of confidence in the building sector,” she says. “If we have a royal commission there would be plenty more to uncover, but it’s not anything more than people like me and people who are in the industry are already well aware of … governments have had lots of warnings. I hope it doesn’t take a royal commission to get them moving.”

Most experts say the answers lie with better training and rigorous professional registration of personnel, having a fully qualified engineer or architect with oversight of a development from beginning to end, and more consumer protection and information, coupled with a new, strong and independent watchdog.

Adjunct lecturer in architecture at UNSW Geoff Hanmer says greater monitoring during construction is important:

“Could building inspectors arrive unannounced and shut the whole thing down if things weren’t being done correctly?”

Other problems might be avoided with better-informed area planning by councils.

*Johnson says the problems at Mascot Towers may in part rest with the very high water table there, which is just two metres below ground.

“If you put a basement in, it will displace the water table and the water has to go up somewhere. For the first two or three buildings there mightn’t be a problem … But it you get to number 56, for example, then there is a problem.”

A relatively new recompense scheme where developers contribute 2 per cent of the cost of a development into a bond is “unlikely to even touch the sides”, Stiles claims.

“I know one building on the lower north shore that cost $16.5 million to build in 2002 and $9 million to fix between 2010 and 2012. That is 56 per cent of the original cost.”

Meanwhile the residents of Mascot Towers need a roof over their heads – a roof they have lost through no fault of their own – and a means to pay for it.

Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald.

Laura is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.



More than 114,000 apartments have been built in Sydney in the past five years.

More than 114,000 apartments have been built in Sydney in the past five years.CREDIT:DOMINIC LORRIME



A graphic showing average service fees at retirement villages




 THIS TIME 7.30 is looking at …

-how difficult it it is to move out of retirement living

-how it is really not a purchase, but ‘a long term rental’

ONCE again the big end of town are into it up to their arm pits, the story covering a Lend Lease retirement property … run by the same people who run shopping centres with similar and familiar sharpness …

Indeed it seems the whole Build to Rent concept is yet another vehicle for a few well set-up players to make a motza from those less fortunate …

LOOKS like the developer lobby … the Property Council are already anticipating a 50 per cent increase for retirement villages …

IS this industry relying on the Public suffering from memory loss?

IT was only 2 years ago when ABC Four Corners released its Report “Bleed them Dry until they Die!’




Retirement village residents unhappy about complex contracts and fees






The aged care royal commission has uncovered some shocking stories about the treatment of older Australians.

But the housing that many older Australians depend on, retirement villages, falls outside its scope.

Key points:

  • There are more than 68,000 retirement units across Australia in villages and serviced apartments
  • About 62 per cent of those moving in are older women
  • Over the next 15 years the number of Australians aged over 65 will increase by 50 per cent


About 200,000 Australians live in these villages and rely on the support they provide.

But some are paying dearly to do so, signing up to complex contracts and worrying that the money they are spending now may leave them unable to afford aged care when they need it.

Judith Brand, 82, has lived at the Classic Residences Retirement Village in the Melbourne suburb of East Brighton since 2012.

After seven years, she says she is stuck in a retirement village she no longer wants to live in.

“I badly want to move out,” Ms Brand told 7.30.

Ms Brand chose a real estate agent working for the village managers, Lendlease, to run a sales campaign for her two-bedroom unit, which was initially on the market for $880,000.

But after 15 months on the market, and a seven-month period with no inspections at all, she is frustrated with Lendlease and says the stress of trying to sell her unit is having an impact on her health.

“I’m not sleeping well, because I toss and turn and think of anything more I can do to sell it,” she said.

Ms Brand said she recently had three small strokes. While her health has deteriorated, she has watched the sales agent for Lendlease sell dozens of other similar units.

“I am feeling more and more hopeless,” she said.

“I might as well be chained to my bed with a steel chain. I’m absolutely trapped.”

In a statement, Lendlease said it had sold 40 residences at the village in the past 12 months.

“Under contract, all property owners are entitled to seek the agency services of external parties and to set their own prices. Mrs Brand was aware of this, but chose to use Lendlease sales agents,” the statement said.

“Mrs Brand also set the price for her property.”

‘Silver tsunami in the Australian population’


*The Property Council’s Ben Myers said over the next 15 years the number of Australians aged over 65 would increase by 50 per cent, but they might not have access to the housing they will need.

“There’s a huge silver tsunami, if you want to put it that way, in the Australian population,” he told 7.30.

“We’re just not really thinking about housing supply, what older people are going to need in our community.”

The latest industry data from the Property Council shows there are more than 68,000 retirement units across Australia, both in villages and serviced apartments.


About 62 per cent of those moving in are older women. The weighted average age of those moving in to villages is 72.7 years.

Mr Myers said the current retirement housing stock would not come anywhere close to meeting future demand.

“The supply of purpose-built seniors housing in Australia is really slipping behind the growth of the population,” he said.

But there is a broader question about the fees and charges associated with retirement villages.

The monthly service fees on these properties are not cheap.

For a one-bedroom apartment, the average service fee is $500 a month, for a two-bedroom apartment it is $536 a month, and a three-bedroom apartment is $553 a month.

While the average two-bedroom unit sells for $438,000, residents are usually expected to renovate before they sell, which in some cases can cost upwards of $80,000.


On top of this and other charges, the vast majority of villages charge so-called deferred management fees when the unit is sold.

This can mean about a third of the sales price of a retirement unit is retained by the village managers.

Mr Myers said it was a fee structure that people sometimes found confusing, but he said the vast majority came to understand the model before they signed up to a retirement unit.

“The key thing is to direct people to get good advice so there is no uncertainty,” he said.

“The one financial model that has stood the test of time has been the deferred management fees.”

‘You don’t own it’


Macquarie University economist Tim Kyng started looking into retirement villages after examining the accommodation options available for his 85-year-old mother.

He said retirement village residents often wrongly believed they owned their retirement unit.

“The way the contracts are worded, and the way the sales tactics work, they try to make the customer believe that they’re buying the apartment and they own it,” he said.

“The fact is, you don’t own it. It’s really a long-term rental arrangement.

Mr Kyng decided retirement villages were not a good deal, and that the sales tactics were confusing.

“I found it was really difficult to get them to give us a copy of the contract, or to get them to give us the details of how the fee structure would work,” he said.

His experience led him to develop his own comparison website called the Retirement Village Calculator, so people could find out what the various fees and charges would mean for them.

“A lot of people are happy living in retirement villages. But the ones who are unhappy, it’s very difficult for them to exit the arrangement,” he said.

‘A few major things went wrong’



When Les Scobie and his wife paid just over $200,000 for their retirement unit in the Victorian town of Wangaratta, they were hoping for a quiet life.

They knew that if they decided to sell up and move on, the operators of the village would keep about a third of their money in exit fees.

“The part that we didn’t understand when we came in, was how little protection there was for you if something went wrong,” Mr Scobie said.

“And unfortunately, at this village, a few major things went wrong.”

The former bank manager discovered he and other residents had been wrongly charged a combined total of more than $300,000.

So, on behalf of hundreds of residents at the village, Mr Scobie took on the local Anglican diocese, which ran the village at the time, and won back most of the money.

Mr Scobie said retirement village residents were often vulnerable, especially when their health deteriorated and they needed to leave the village and go into aged care.

He said retirement village residents needed to make sure they were not taken advantage of.

“The industry really needs to be tipped upside down,” he said.







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