Friday, December 23, 2011

NSW Government offers veto option for residents in proposed wind farm zones


PEOPLE living within 2km of proposed wind farms will have the right to veto them, under a NSW Government proposal.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard says NSW remains committed to being part of the Federal Government's 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, despite proposing what he has described as the world's toughest wind-farm guidelines.

Under the proposal, a company wanting to set up a wind farm in an area where landowner consent has not been given will have to go to an independent regional planning panel if there is community opposition. "That means 100 per cent of neighbours have to be happy within that 2km zone," Mr Hazzard said.

Mr Hazzard said he hoped the idea would find a balance between residents living near wind turbines and supporters of renewable energy.

"Today I am announcing that the NSW coalition Government is putting out for public discussion some of the toughest wind-farm guidelines in the country, possibly the world," he said.

The Victorian Government this year gave residents within a 2km radius a right of veto over wind turbines. But Mr Hazzard said the NSW proposal was different to Victoria's and that wind-farm proponents would get a bigger say. People wishing to write submissions to the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure have until March 14.

Across NSW, there are 17 applications to build wind farms, including 13 that are yet to be shown to the public.

The NSW Greens said the proposal would kill off the wind-generation sector in favour of coal seam gas as a solution to the state's future energy needs.

"If this draft plan becomes law, the Government has effectively chosen a destructive coal seam gas future for NSW, over the clean, green and jobs-rich wind-energy sector," Greens planning spokesman David Shoebridge said.

"NSW is abandoning the most cost-effective option for reducing its carbon footprint, which in effect means it is giving the green light for coal seam gas projects across the state."


Another disaster waiting to happen at Qld. Health

HERE'S another gem to add to Queensland Health's list of IT woes - it is using a software system so old that even its maker refuses to support it.

The system, known as RecFind, is charged with storing high-level records, including correspondence between the Health Minister and director-general. But it's been labelled a disaster waiting to happen.

A leaked memo details a litany of "very high risks" within the system, which is no longer compatible with modern software and would "most likely" fail if other IT systems such as email were upgraded beyond 2003 releases.

QH planned to replace the ageing system, but abruptly put the upgrade on hold this year, without explanation.

While RecFind does not handle clinical or personal records, there are concerns patient care could be affected because the slow system constrains administrative workers supporting doctors.

A mass meltdown would have a "major impact" on operations across Queensland Health, including the possible loss of "business critical" information, which is stored contrary to regulations.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle warned high-level planning documents, used to make ministerial decisions and shape the future of health in Queensland, could also be lost if the system collapsed.

"If the system is archaic, the risk is there of exposure to litigation, to incorrect information and data being put forward, with the resulting risk of poor planning leading to poor outcomes leading to disastrous clinical results," he said.

The memo details how Queensland Health's version of RecFind was decommissioned in December 2009, after which its maker KnowledgeOne would no longer support it.

But Queensland Health could not upgrade to the newer version because bosses had issued a directive six months earlier outlawing any upgrades, instead opting for "risk mitigation strategies".

RecFind was to be replaced by a new electronic documents and records management system, HP TRIM, but the department-wide project is now on hold.

QH Performance Improvement and Policy Services executive director Susan Horton wrote the memo in July but still no action has been taken. That makes Queensland Health the only State Government agency without an electronic system. The Community Safety Department does not have one, but has started a building project.

Mr McArdle questioned whether the ongoing cost to fix the disastrous health payroll system, already at $219 million, had diverted money away from QH's mooted upgrade.

In a statement, QH Performance and Accountability acting deputy director-general Leanne Chandler insisted the system was serving its purpose, but said upgrades would only happen "as necessary" because the non-clinical system was not an "urgent priority".


A queer apology

Gasp! Just when you thought the bling had blung in the Gasp Jeans customer service scandal, the retailer has issued a grovelling apology on national television.

The apology, which took place on Channel Seven's Today Tonight this evening, comes after bride-to-be Keara O'Neill complained to the company only to receive a defiant email response which later went viral.

Operations manager Matt Chidgey tonight apologised for the way Ms O'Neill was treated in store and though email. "Keara I would just like to say I'm sorry," he said.

When asked if the apology was genuine, Mr Chidgey replied: "Of course, we would also like to offer Keara and her friends who came into the store that day to come into our stores and pick a new outfit and Gasp will match the value of that outfit and give it to the Make a Wish Foundation for Christmas."

The Chapel Street store where the incident took place shut down two weeks ago and has been replaced by a store in Melbourne's CBD.

Mr Chidgey stopped short of apologising for comments made by "retail superstar" Chris about Ms O'Neill's size-12 figure. "I apologise that her experience in our store wasn't 100 per cent positive," he said. Mr Chidgey added that Ms O'Neill "broadened our horizons a lot more" and said all Gasp stores now catered up to size 24.

Gasp owner and designer Miki Yozef made a personal apology. "I really wish you could come back, give me a chance and I will dress you personally myself," she told the television audience.

In a statement, Ms O'Neill said that Gasp had numerous opportunities to apologise three months ago but instead they insisted she apologise to them. “Does it have something to do with their Chapel Street store closing and their current 90 per cent off sale? Probably," she said.

Shoppers have also taken to social networking site Twitter to suggest the apology was a publicity stunt. "What an insincere, cynical, half arsed apology! #Gasp #TodayTonight. Personally, I would NEVER shop in that store. Abysmal customer service!" one wrote. "Serves you right Gasp an apology 3 months later just isn't good enough," another said. One user suggested if Gasp was "truly sorry" they should sack the staff involved.

Ms O'Neill wrote to the retailer in September, horrified after she and her bridesmaids went shopping at the Chapel Street store and claimed they were treated rudely by assistant Chris. "Have fun shopping at Supre," he was said to have yelled after Ms O'Neill and her friends as they left.

A defiant email from the company at the time told Ms O'Neill the store was for "fashion forward" customers only, and urged her to sidestep Gasp and "retail superstar" Chris in future.

Now, their operations manager says customer service protocol at Gasp had changed. "Oh yep for sure, everything will be in the email (to The Age) tomorrow," Mr Chidgey said.

He said Gasp was still going strong, despite the Chapel Street store shutting up shop, which the company said was always part of the plan. "We've just opened up our new Southbank store as of two weeks ago — we've got a few stores on the cards for next year," Mr Chidgey said.


The new age of old

Suddenly opportunity shops are chic places to be and ungainly objects once dismissed as passe have fresh reasons for being. Retro is the defining cultural trend of 2011, fuelled largely by a yen to adopt values and mores from a simpler time. So what's behind the back-to-basics boom?

When the story of the current zeitgeist comes to be written, it might well be captured in a four-word slogan that defined the spirit of wartime Britain. Part admonition, part joyful declaration of intent, "Make Do and Mend" became the catchcry of a generation that kept calm and carried on through the darkest days of World War II.

The slogan was adopted by the British Ministry of Information as part of a general campaign of advice on everything from growing vegetables, disguising leftovers and making new clothes from old. Woollen jumpers were unpicked and reknitted, government-issue blankets upcycled into skirts and jackets and municipal flower beds given over to cabbages and carrots.

Today, as the world confronts fresh environmental and economic hardships, the lessons of that time are being heeded with a growing sense of urgency. Blogs offering tips on how to "Cook Like Grandma", books with titles such as Cold Meat and How to Disguise It and online discussions about keeping chooks, preserving vegetables, stocking a larder and baking bread point to a hankering for the past that goes beyond pure nostalgia. At a time when every food purchase invites ethical hand-wringing and every mass-produced piece of clothing comes with a less-than-flattering carbon count, the simple life starts to look rather more fetching.

Melbourne sociologist and writer Ruth Quibell lives with her husband and two young children in a rented house devoid of microwave, television or car. An elderly neighbour once told her: "You live like you're in 1940s England!"

Quibell says that while the family's lifestyle "might look like deprivation to outsiders", it arises from a carefully considered choice that is "primarily about a relationship to time".

"We earn less to have more time with our children, more choice over work and more time to be creative and independent. As a result, we largely only buy what we need and can afford. We work, sew, write, cook, walk ... our home is a hodge-podge of old and hand-me-down things."

As a sociologist interested in emerging trends, Quibell has tracked market research that suggests her family is not alone. She points to a rise in craft-related Google searches and sales of knitting needles, and the success of "magazines with a DIY or handmade emphasis, and electronic marketplaces for handmade objects like Etsy ...".

Other evidence of this back-to-basics boom is all around: retro-hip magazines such as Frankie and Peppermint offer cute stick-on labels with their homemade jam recipes, step-by-step embroidery guides for revamping old jumpers and fashion spreads featuring clothes made from disused film reels and recycled newspapers. Charities target hip young shoppers through specialist recycle boutiques in inner-city suburbs and farmers' markets draw ever-growing crowds of people prepared to pay more for locally grown food.

Gleaners, meanwhile, opt to pay nothing at all by raiding supermarket bins or "feral fruit trees" whose branches overhang laneways and other public spaces. Anecdotally, there are tales of young Melburnians making their own dripping from reused fat or saving tomato seeds for next year's backyard crop.

A 2003 study by the Australia Institute's Clive Hamilton and Elizabeth Mail found that 23 per cent of Australians aged 30-59 had downshifted in the previous 10years. The study defined downshifters as "those people who make a voluntary, long-term lifestyle change that involves accepting significantly less income and consuming less".

Quibell says "downshifters" are among "a plethora of individuals" adopting a simpler life – "frugals, downshifters, those who practise backyard self-sufficiency, dumpster divers, home schoolers, crafters, artisans, bohemians, environmentalists. The list could go on."

As for the factors driving the trend, Quibell says they are many. "A self-sufficiency advocate and a frugal might have very different motivations — one to save air miles and pollution, the other simply to save money. What they share is making that conscious, individual choice to simplify how they consume," she says.

Designer Pene Durston has been making do for most of her life and now runs a business known for turning vintage tea towels into clothing, cushions and bunting. "In my family there were always hand-me-downs," she says. "Mum made all our clothes ... that's just what you did. We always did craft, we always spun yarn ... I grew up reading the handy hints sections of old CWA cookbooks."

A member of the Craft Victoria board and author of the popular blog Miss Pen Pen, Durston sells her 1940s-inspired designs from her Cottage Industry store in Fitzroy. CWA cookbooks complement the ethos of the place, along with copies of the 1943 Make Do and Mend guide to washing, preserving and recycling clothing.

She says the practical advice offered in such books appeals to a generation of people — primarily women in their 30s — who grew up domestically rudderless.

"In the '70s, women were told 'don't cook, don't make clothes for your family, go out to get a job'. There's a generation of women whose mothers went back to work ... It was the rise of consumerism, you had more money, so you bought clothes, you didn't make them ... [their children] missed out on learning to do things with their hands, getting their hands dirty."

Durston points to the irony of home renovation and cooking programs that are watched by people who lack the skills to attempt even the most basic domestic task.

"With cooking shows, everything is so over the top — who actually wants to cook molecular gastronomy? That's why we stock CWA cookbooks — you can't cook molecular gastronomy without actually knowing how to cook a pikelet. Let's start with the basics that are achievable with the minimum amount of equipment and ingredients ... Everyone I know makes some form of jam/sauce/preserve and friends hold the famous 'Chutney Club' every couple of months."

The communal nature of such endeavours serves as an antidote to what Durston sees as the isolation of modern life. "Living through the internet, for a lot of people it makes connections for them, but it's an isolating, non-tactile way of living and I do think that people reach a point where they have a need to get their hands dirty, to see a plant grow and then start eating something they've grown."

For Quibell, the return to basics satisfies "a hankering for the past, when life was slower, simpler, things lasted and were better made".

At the dawn of what may well come to be regarded as the new age of austerity, there is also, she says, "the sneaking suspicion that progress isn't all that it was cracked up to be".


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