Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Realism not allowed in terrorism drill

NSW Police has apologised for using headscarves on two officers playing the part of terrorists during a training exercise after it was found it racially vilified Palestinians and Arabs.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in May said it was unreasonable and unnecessary to wear the scarves during the drill at Sydney's Central station in October 2017.

The exercise involved about 200 people - including police and other emergency services - to test the co-ordination and response to a terrorist or high-risk incident.

The drill included two "active armed offenders" using what looked like semi-automatic firearms holding "hostages" and wounding some with knives.

The tribunal said balaclavas or masks could have been used on the officers acting as the perpetrators instead of clothing identified with particular cultural communities in Australia.

"We find that NSW Police Force, by allowing the two police officers portraying the armed offenders to wear keffiyehs associated with Palestinian and Arabic people, racially vilified Palestinians and Arabs," the tribunal found.

The tribunal said that using the headscarves in the drill had the "capacity" to incite hate or serious contempt of Palestinians or Arabs but acknowledged NSW Police didn't intend to vilify any racial group.

NSW Police on Tuesday issued a statement, as ordered by the tribunal, acknowledging the decision.

"NSW Police Force apologises for the use of these headscarves in the exercise," it said.


Millennials shun home ownership

To their long-term detriment

“Failure to launch” is a term used to describe offspring who can’t leave the family home and go on to create their own. Less than half of our millennials (49 per cent) say they want to own a home, and only 39 per cent want to have children and start families — compared with 45 per cent of Gen Zs.

Only 52 per cent have a desire to earn a high salary and strive for financial security, meaning almost half of all millennials are happy to remain poor. Their No 1 desire, though, is to travel the world.

When it comes to getting ahead, millennials have no interest but, regardless, they don’t think the responsibility for this lies with them anyway. Instead, “government is clearly considered by millennials as having the most responsibility for improving social mobility”, defined as achieving their full potential and moving into “higher income or social status groups”.

Government, though, has let millennials down in a bad way. Even though millennials have embraced socialism and prefer it to capitalism, they now see government is “an unfulfilled promise”. Only 19 per cent of millennials see political leaders as having a positive impact, and 45 per cent say they have absolutely no trust in these leaders at all. Sixty-three per cent say politicians have no ambition beyond retaining or increasing power, and only one in four say improving social mobility is a high priority for government leaders.

Millennials have a long list of concerns but struggle to see the obvious solutions. Even though they don’t want higher incomes, 43 per cent are dissatisfied with their pay. Thirty-five per cent say they don’t have enough opportunities to advance and there are so many other things to worry about, such as climate change, which is their No 1 concern. They worry about all of their problems mainly on social media, which sucks up their time and prevents them from taking practical actions to improve their situation.

Social media, too, makes millennials unhappy. Sixty-four per cent said they would be physically healthier if they reduced their time tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming.

“Those who have a negative opinion of their use of digital devices and social media are more likely to say they would be healthier and happier if they stopped. They are twice as likely as others to want to stop using social media and less likely to say this would make them anxious. Yet they don’t stop, even when 81 per cent of them believe their use does more harm than good.”

Despite the fact four in 10 millennials wish they could stop using social media completely, 44 per cent said not being able to check it for a day or two “would make them anxious”.

In terms of the next 12 months, positive economic sentiment among millennials is at its lowest in the six years Deloitte has been recording it.

Only 26 per cent expect the economic conditions to change in the coming year and slightly more than half are convinced their personal financial situation will worsen or stay the same.

But more than any time in recent memory, it will be easier to enter the property market in Australia. Interest rates are low and may go lower, banks have loosened lending criteria, house prices have fallen and the Morrison government is going to introduce a scheme to help first-home buyers purchase with a 5 per cent deposit.

On top of this, there are various state schemes to assist with stamp duty exemptions or reductions and first-home buyer grants.

We are a nation obsessed by property, but it is a fact that home ownership remains the foundation stone of personal financial security. Buying a home is never easy, but the longer it is delayed the harder it becomes.

Take heart, millennials, and do your utmost to get into the market now, and don’t be too proud to start at the bottom. We have all had to do it.

Sheer willpower will not prevent the millennials from ageing, and when one is elderly, the security, stability and comfort a home provides cannot be over-estimated.


Inside the Opal Tower debacle

Despite all the duck-shoving and foot shuffling, those responsibe are clearly the builders and those who supervised them.  They should be made jointly and severally responsible for full redress

A brand new residential tower cracks, sending residents running and panicking high-rise dwellers everywhere. How can this happen in Australia?

Incredibly, although the daily headlines have ceased, nearly half of the tower’s apartments are still not fit for reoccupation and hundreds of ­people remain in temporary digs. After initially being given the all-clear to return just after midnight on Christmas Eve, residents were evacuated again days later when the full extent of the ­damage was discovered. They were told they’d be out for 10 days. That was on December 27, and the homecoming timeline remains hazy. Some, like Bryan Tan, a 32-year-old owner-occupier living out of a serviced apartment in Chatswood with his wife and his mother, have now been off-site longer than they spent in their brand new home.

Stabilisation work began almost immediately back in December, with the owner’s corporation engaging independent engineering firm Cardno as overseer. No fewer than 900 solid steel girders, each a foot wide and weighing 300kg, were installed on the first 10 floors and in the basement. On Feb­ruary 19, three engineering experts engaged by the NSW Department of ­Planning wound up an ­eight-week investigation, delivering a 36-page report that asserted the building was “overall structurally sound”. It wasn’t about to ­collapse in a pile of dust and rubble. And yet…

That report contained disturbing revelations in light of the high-density development boom currently sweeping through the nation’s capital cities. It found that a number of design and construction issues, including “non-compliance with national codes and standards”, had caused major damage to the tower. Some precast walls were constructed of “lower-strength concrete”, with “under-designed” horizontal support beams, called hob beams, prone to bursting under extreme pressure. Changes made after the initial design meant some joints between the hob beams and internal panels had been only partially grouted, significantly raising the levels of stress in the building. There were photos, too: mint-green plaster crumbling off walls, broken and exposed concrete, cracked floor slabs and reinforcement bars bowing under pressure.

The findings sent a jolt through NSW’s $25 billion construction sector and beyond. How were these defects possible? This was an expensive apartment complex, with prices starting at $800,000 and ranging up to $2.5 million for the dual-level penthouses. If buyers couldn’t trust developments at the top end of the market, what could they trust? Urban consolidation is changing our ­cityscapes at breakneck speed; Opal Tower’s ­problems have given plenty of people the jitters.

Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson is a former government architect and former executive director at the NSW Planning Department who has been tracking the Opal Tower saga closely. He finds it “staggering” that cracks could appear in a four-month-old building that would have had to pass checks by the Sydney Olympic Park Authority and the NSW Department of ­Planning, as well as obtain sign-off from a ­structural engineer and a private certifier. The much-criticised practice of private certification — a system rolled out nationwide since the 1990s to hand private, developer-appointed ­contractors an authority that was once the domain of government or council inspectors — has come under fire again in light of Opal Tower’s woes. Johnson, however, considers Opal’s cracking a one-off that no degree of oversight could have caught. “We are a first-world country and our systems are very tight, the checks and balances vigorous,” he says. “Something weird has happened with Opal.”

People who’d poured their life’s savings into the building didn’t find it funny. Eskander tells me one body corporate member had an apartment up for sale for $800,000 prior to Christmas Eve. “Afterwards, someone made an offer of $400,000,” he says. “Then, as the saga unfolded, they backed out altogether.” Andrew Neverly, 59, bought an apartment off the plan with his wife five years ago for $840,000. “I don’t think it’s worth anything now,” he told 60 Minutes. “We’re up shit creek.” Eskander says NSW Fair Trading told tenants they had legal grounds to break their leases as the building was “uninhabitable”. “If you’re an owner-investor you’ve lost your tenant, and when you’ve lost that rent how are you going to pay your mortgage?” he says. “Your whole life starts to unravel and it’s very hard to get another [tenant] in. Even the ones that are in there are renegotiating their leases, saying ‘I’ll pay 40 per cent, take it or leave it’.”

Those hollering for a scapegoat would have been disappointed with the government-commissioned investigative team’s report, which stopped short of pinning blame on anyone. Not Icon, a ­reputable company backed by multibillion-dollar Japanese firm Kajima Corporation. (Icon’s managing director Julian Doyle had addressed reporters gathered in the tower’s forecourt after the second evacuation and told them: “No, we didn’t make a mistake. No, this wasn’t a rush job.”)

Not the design and construction engineers WSP, whose ­Australian CEO Guy Templeton had stood next to Doyle and insisted there was never any risk of the building collapsing.

Not any of the subcontractors involved, nor McKenzie Group, the private certifiers who had final sign-off. And not Opal’s Australian-based developer Ecove, which has four other towers in the Olympic precinct, including the 38-storey ­Boomerang Tower under construction a block away. Ecove director Bassam Aflak has called the cracking “a rare case of ­structural defect” and continues to maintain the building is of “high quality”. (Ecove and Icon declined to comment for this story.)

Nevertheless, the debacle has led to a wave of recriminations and further dented public confidence in Australia’s construction industry. According to last year’s benchmark Shergold Weir Report, that faith was already much shaken — and with good reason. The damning report, by Western Sydney University chancellor Professor Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir, outlines ­“significant and concerning” problems with compliance and enforcement systems across Australia. “Those involved in high-rise construction have been left largely to their own devices,” the report states. A 2012 study by researchers from UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre surveyed more than 1000 NSW strata owners and found 72 per cent (85 per cent in buildings built since 2000) knew of at least one significant defect in their complex, with leaks and lack of fire safety most common.

Dramatic, alarming and impossible to ignore, the cracking in Opal Tower, along with recent ­disasters such as the cladding-fuelled fires in ­Melbourne’s Lacrosse and Neo200 apartment buildings, have highlighted a systemic problem. “Successive parliaments throughout the country have focused more on procurement of housing stock than on how it’s been constructed and the safety of people within it,” says Stephen Goddard, strata solicitor and spokesman for advocacy group Owners Corporation Network of Australia. Problems in the industry, he says, can be traced back to the deregulation of the late 1990s. “For the last 20 years you’ve had more consumer protection purchasing a fridge than a million-dollar apartment. What sort of stupid breed of people are we, that we could live like this? That it takes something like Opal for people to suddenly notice?”

The NSW Government finally addressed the Shergold Weir recommendations in February by announcing a regulatory overhaul of the state’s construction sector, starting with the appointment of a building commissioner. Under the shake-up, every party in the construction chain, from the design drafts to the final build, will be required to be registered and qualified, and builders will not be allowed to make changes during the construction process without submitting a revised plan to the building commissioner for approval. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle in terms of private certification, but the government has vowed to crack down on “dodgy certifiers”.

Laws will be clarified to remove any doubt that building practitioners owe a duty of care to homeowners. “It’s critical that good ­public policy be ­created around this issue,” ­Goddard says. “The NSW Government has to ­follow through on its commitment and the other states need to follow suit or we’ll have more and more Opals. I would advocate in the strongest possible way that people not purchase off the plan until we have that ­statutory duty of care that allows owners to sue if there’s a breach.” Former planning department chief Chris Johnson agrees Opal’s troubles were the wake-up call the industry needed. “We don’t need to overreact and expect all these towers to collapse,” he says. “But I think all developers will now want to be conservative rather than radical in terms of processes. No doubt a few more checks and balances will come into play and that’s not a bad thing.”


Wacky theories yet another turn-off for jaded voters

Jennifer Oriel

The federal election campaign was extraordinary in many aspects, but the emergence of conspiracy theory as mainstream politics was especially notable.

There were conspiracies about the Port Arthur massacre, 9/11, vaccinations, Muslims, conservatives and, the perennial target, Jews. The conspiracies were endorsed by candidates from across the political spectrum. Even former leaders of Australia’s major parties have contended that powerful conspirators plotted against them in secret. It is a political trend that should be corrected.

The dismal decade of federal politics broke the bond of trust between government and people. The media is viewed as more or less trustworthy to the degree that it is perceived as powerful in shaping election outcomes.

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten held sections of the media culpable for his side losing. At a caucus meeting, he said “powerful vested interests” had targeted Labor in the media. He said: “Neither of these challenges disappeared on election night. They’re still out there for us to face.”

Shortly after the Liberal partyroom voted against him, Malcolm Turnbull offered a similar view of events, saying: “There was a determined insurgency from a number of people both in the partyroom and backed by voices, powerful voices in the media really to, if not bring down the government, certainly bring down my prime ministership.”

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn alleged a media conspiracy drove Turnbull out of office. Gerard Henderson exposed the problem with the allegation: “The ABC has told The Australian the alleged comments by (Rupert) Murdoch to (Kerry) Stokes that Turnbull had to go, were relayed to the broadcaster by Turnbull. In short, it’s hearsay — in that Turnbull told Probyn what Stokes ­allegedly told Turnbull about what Murdoch allegedly said.”

It is convenient for politicians to hide behind fantastic conspiracies of corporate leviathans and media monsters out for their heads. In the case of Shorten and Turnbull, however, the unfavourable coverage came after the fact of their failure to lead in the ­national interest.

Turnbull was ousted after a series of serious policy missteps and political blunders. He did not create a convincing case for corporate tax cuts. He did not correct the Gonski education plan that many perceived as punitive to the Catholic sector on per capita funding terms. He overplayed his hand on environmental policy by ignoring backbench calls to decouple the national energy guarantee from the Paris target. He had no reply to the criticism that Australia’s economic health would be compromised by onerous environmental obligations to international institutions.

Most important, Turnbull failed to meet the standards he set for himself when he took office from Tony Abbott. He should hold himself to account.

Like Turnbull, Shorten ended his term as leader by taking pot shots at the media. It is easier to shift blame than face the reality of millions voting against your leadership, your party and your vision.

But Shorten was unpopular with voters, politically inept, a lacklustre policymaker and arrogant under attack.

He promoted a big-taxing, big-spending agenda. He refused to reveal the full cost for Labor’s environmental reforms. He was vicious in the face of dissent and smeared independent analyst Brian Fisher for trying to cost the ALP’s green agenda.

In addition, Labor failed to defend freedom of speech and religion. And Shorten stepped way over the mark in the lead-up to the election by offering the ABC more funding if the party won office. A politician aspiring to lead a democratic state cannot behave like an autocrat favouring state-controlled media and expect the free press to give him a free ride.

The pressure brought to bear on politicians is undeniable. It is perhaps understandable that following a shock defeat, they might attack the media for exposing their faults. But leaders ought to resist the casual erosion of studied reason by conspiratorial thought.

Conspiracy theory provides a sense of refuge in uncertain times. As noted by political scientists ­Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent, lab experiments have found that “inducing anxiety or loss of control triggers respondents to see non-existent patterns and evoke conspiratorial explanations”.

Academics Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Mark van Vugt isolated five elements of conspiracy theory: a hypothesised pattern between people, objects or events; a belief that alleged conspirators act with intent; a belief there is a coalition or group behind the conspiracy; an element of threat such as harm or deception; and an element of secrecy that makes the theory difficult to disprove.

Research demonstrates that external shocks such as unemployment or natural disasters can lead people to think that powerful and secret coalitions are working against them. Of course, sometimes people truly are victimised by a mob. However, conspiracy theorists stand out for their consistent failure to establish a causal relationship between events or acknowledge when they get it wrong.

Conspiratorial beliefs can be harmless and transient, or very dangerous. In Africa, for example, a conspiracy theory about the CIA creating AIDS resulted in people refusing to seek treatment.

During some Ebola outbreaks, locals attacked medical facilities because they believed Western powers were spreading the virus deliberately. Health conspiracies once confined to disadvantaged populations are becoming evident in the West, where highly educated people are refusing potentially lifesaving treatments such as ­vaccinations.

Traditionally, outsiders and fringe-dwellers were considered especially vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking.

However, it is becoming more common. Research suggests it cuts across partisan lines and the Australian election campaign adds to the weight of evidence.

The media exposed candidates from the left-wing Greens and right-wing One Nation who believed in conspiracies about the Port Arthur massacre.

An investigation by found that candidates running for senator Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party posted conspiracies about vaccinations and gay people. Posters of Liberal MP Julian Leeser were defaced with dollar signs, an allusion to the old conspiracy about an international cabal of Jewish financiers running the world. Other conservative candidates were likened to Nazis.

In enlightened societies, the revelation of truth creates the momentum for human progress. Conspiratorial thought frustrates the discovery of truth. As such, it must be resisted.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

"Conspiratorial thought frustrates the discovery of truth."

Not sure if she meant "facilitates". Media people expressing concerns about questions being asked seems very here-and-now doesn't it. Wonder how Michael Smith of Gillard investigation fame would view this line?