Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why Campbell Newman has a billion reasons to airbrush the floods 'facade'

The transparently sycophantic report from the US Army Corps of Engineers comes to us from the very same people who were responsible for the New Orleans flood!   I think it is actually a satirical comment on their absurd terms of reference

JUST six months ago, the verdict was in. After a year of scrutiny, a $15 million royal commission-style inquiry in Queensland delivered damning findings that exposed something we had suspected - a cover-up by three of the four engineers who had managed the state's Wivenhoe Dam in the devastating floods of January last year.

Those formal findings were clear and unambiguous. The engineers had created a false document - a comprehensive report of their own actions - to dishonestly suggest they operated the dam with deft brilliance (when in truth they had breached the manual). Their false document was described by the floods inquiry as a "facade of precision".

The inquiry's findings left no doubt. They were findings that followed an investigation by The Australian and a series of stories that identified crucial evidence, which had been overlooked, and led to the inquiry dramatically restarting.

The findings were not challenged or appealed by the government or the engineers, who have repeatedly and strenuously denied wrongdoing. Those findings stand.

The inquiry head, Supreme Court judge Catherine Holmes, said in her final report in March this year: "There are several things that may have motivated the three engineers to present the false flood report, including a wish to protect their professional reputations from the damage that would be caused by a disregard of the manual, or the maintenance of SEQWater's immunity (from potentially massive damages claims)."

Six months is a long time in Queensland under the new Liberal National Party government of Campbell Newman, determined to slash costs across the state and avoid a potential multi-billion-dollar cost of law firm Maurice Blackburn's action for thousands of flood victims.

Yesterday, the new, airbrushed version of the management of the dam was delivered up by the Newman government, courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of the Interior. The engineers from the US were asked by Newman's bureaucrats to analyse the Wivenhoe engineers' report (the one already found to be "false", and a "facade of precision"). And the US engineers said in their review, released yesterday: "The (Wivenhoe) flood engineers should be commended for producing this extensive, well-organised and very readable document in six weeks, while the region was recovering from the flood event."

They went further to commend operational decisions, which the inquiry had earlier found were breaches of the manual.

How the US engineers concluded that their peers in Brisbane achieved an almost perfect result is a story of political panache, the dark art of spin and Treasury's fear of a huge new financial hit to Queensland's sick budget.

They were able to produce this helpful result because of a remarkable omission.

When Newman's bureaucrats asked the US engineers to perform the review, they were also told to exclude, to effectively banish from their thinking, the damning findings about the false flood report.

In this way, the US engineers conducted a review grounded on a false premise, which was that they could rely on the bogus Wivenhoe flood report as a document of truth.

The result was one of the more transparently absurd whitewashes in recent memory. Last month, the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission determined it would be oppressive to prosecute the engineers for possible perjury-related offences, following a formal referral to the anti-corruption body by Holmes.

All of the recent handiwork plays well for the Premier as he seeks to protect a state economy he has compared with that of the European basket case Spain from crippling payouts for another costly debacle.

But the flood victims are being hung out to dry, again.


Sydney council requires horrible art to be erected in order to declare a building safe

FOR the owners of units in 52 Regent Street, Chippendale, the nightmare began soon after they moved in, in 2004.

Most had bought off the plan and were pleased when the developer, Metro Group, told them that their final payments were due and they could move in.

What they did not know was they were moving in under an interim occupation certificate, issued by a private certifier who was employed by the developer to ensure compliance with the plans and the building code.   Seven years later, the owners are still trying to resolve the defects in the building and obtain that final certificate.

The developer and builder are long gone. The principal of Metro group, James Jariv, left Australia in 2004 leaving debts of more than $6 million. The companies in the group have been wound up.

But the problems facing residents persist.  "The drainage and waterproofing issues are still being dealt with, but at least the building is now safe," Ann Gee, a member of the executive committee of owners, said. "I bought in with my eyes open - we knew the building had problems - but it's been hard on others."  She added: "I am an architect and whoever built this building was a moron."

Soon after the developer disappeared the City of Sydney council sent in a fire inspector. It did not take long for the inspector to locate numerous deficiencies and the fact there was no fire safety certification. And by this time it was the owners' corporation, not the developer, who was liable.

"The building is in an unsafe fire condition, lacking, among other things, portable fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, clear paths of travel, [and having] electrical hazards," the fire order says.  "The premises has such pipes and miscellaneous services rising through the building which penetrate fire resistive building elements and are not adequately sealed to prevent or resist the vertical or horizontal spread of fire."

It also found the fire stairs were not properly enclosed with fire-resistant material, which meant that in the case of fire it would not provide a safe exit.  There was inadequate emergency lighting and the electrical installation in the building was described as requiring "urgent remedial work".

The owners were given 200 days to rectify the faults or face eviction.

Over the next year, the residents found themselves knee deep in the arcane world of fire safety as they attempted to bring their building up to standard, while at the same time trying to chase their developer and claim under builders' home warranty insurance.

They paid $500,000 for the fire safety system repairs but have spent another $300,000 on repairing other defects to the building, the strata manager, David Terry, said. Two other buildings promoted by the same developer have also been given an interim certificate. They too have had problems.

Even though the owners were able to lodge a building defect claim, the process took time and the owners corporation was forced to take out finance and pay lawyers and professionals to help it through the maze of fire safety.

The units were also very difficult to sell.  "The main problem of not having an occupancy certificate is finding a buyer," Ms Gee said. "Solicitors and banks don't like it when there's no final certificate, so you really need a buyer with cash."

The only thing now holding up the occupancy certificate is the question of the public art that City of Sydney council insists must still be installed.  "The planned sculpture is horrible. It looks like an exploded vacuum cleaner and we've all spent so much on levies we just want council to waive it," Ms Gee said.


Typical Leftist:  The bureaucracy is sacred

WAYNE Swan has warned he will have to make more budget cuts after falling commodity prices and tax revenue made it harder for him to meet his surplus promise this year.

But he has vowed not to follow Campbell Newman's path in cutting public servants, saying the federal public service had expanded under Labor and had room to grow.

Final Budget figures from 2011-12, released yesterday, show the Government delivered a $43.7 billion deficit.

This is a $661 million improvement on the May estimate but about double the $22 6 billion deficit forecast by Mr Swan when he handed down the 2011-12 Budget.

The budget position was improved by higher GST payments and income tax.

But in a warning sign for this year's Budget, companies paid $867 million less tax in 2011-12 than expected in May.

Mr Swan said this year's Budget would take a further hit from falling commodity prices and company tax and would force him to make cuts to achieve his promised surplus.

"This will hit government revenues significantly, which does make it harder to deliver a budget surplus. So it does mean we will have to find more savings," Mr Swan said.

The Treasurer vowed to make savings "in accord with Labor values" and flagged an increase in overall federal public service jobs.

Finance Minister Penny Wong said the Government was "trying to prioritise non-staffing savings".

"We don't resile from the fact that you have to make difficult decisions but we certainly take a very different approach to the ones that have been demonstrated in coalition states," she said.

CommSec chief economist Craig James predicted the budget figures, together with Mr Swan's promise of surplus this year, increase the chance of further interest rate cuts.  "It may not appear obvious, but the goal of a budget surplus is still on track," he said.

The figures reveal the Government has paid $4.2 billion to Queensland for disaster recovery.


Fear of violence could keep offenders in jail

The New South Wales Government is planning to introduce legislation to ensure violent prisoners can be kept in jail beyond the term of their sentence, if there is a fear they will re-offend.

The Attorney-General Greg Smith is proposing that a Supreme Court Judge will be able to make an order that a person who is a serious risk to the community has to either stay in jail, or be released under strict orders.

He told AM that similar laws are in place for serious sex offenders and the community needs wider protection.

"At the moment, once you finish your prison term you're out." he said.  "If you go to parole, you get parole and you're released under supervision but it's certainly not as strict as will be proposed under this legislation."

Mr Smith says it would be applied to murderers and other serious violent offenders who have shown no interest in rehabilitation.

He says it is not going to undermine the sentences handed down by judges.

"Some of these people get worse in prison, whether it's because of mental instability or other things, they turn into very dangerous people," he said.  "So we're just looking out how do we best protect the community and we're closing the gap."

The Opposition leader John Robertson says the Parole Authority already takes into account whether a prisoner has undertaken rehabilitation programs.

"I think the government's looking for a distraction here," he said.  "This proposed legislation would only impact on fourteen inmates over the next three years.  "So I'm not sure how significant this change would be anyway."

But a support group for crime victims says it is backing the moves.

Howard Brown from Victims of Crime says measures used to encourage serious sex offenders to participate in rehabilitation programs have been proven effective.

"It's that interaction with one-on-one psychiatrists and psychologists which actually start to engage these people," he said.

"They just think 'I don't want to become engaged', but once they are engaged with these therapeutic processes, you can actually see that there is a change."


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