Tuesday, June 30, 2020

'It's not fair': Sydney cladding crisis threatens to 'crush families' financially

This is clearly a case of regulatory failure so there would appear to be some liability on the government

People are encouraged to trust the government to protect them rather than use private means such as insurance so when that protection fails to eventuate, some redress against the government seems justified.  In this case government should pick up the tab for its regulatory failure and fund remedial work

The owners of 130 buildings in inner Sydney have been told to replace flammable cladding or reveal more details about the composition of materials used, leaving individual apartment owners facing bills running into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The breadth of the cladding crisis in just one part of the city has led to fresh calls for the NSW government to follow Victoria in funding rectification work, partly given the financial pressure owners are already under due to the coronavirus-induced recession.

The City of Sydney, seemingly the worst affected in the state by combustible cladding, has issued fire safety notices for 130 buildings to date, up from 52 in March.

Waterloo resident Adrian Shi was shocked to discover that he would have to pay $25,000 over the next year to remove combustible cladding from his building in the inner-southern suburb.

"If it was just a few thousand dollars it would be acceptable but a $25,000 hit comes at a very bad time. It is not fair for the owner to take full responsibility," he said. "The government should give us some help such as a long-term loan."

The $25,000 special levy he faces is on top of a quarterly strata fee of $1900. The total cost to owners of removing aluminium cladding from his complex has been estimated at $5.6 million but it could end up costing more.

There are various types of cladding on the market, with some being more fire resistant than others.

The solar-energy researcher at the University of NSW said his predicament highlighted the situation facing apartment owners across Sydney due to the combustible cladding crisis. "Considering many people's livelihoods are affected by COVID now, this unexpected financial burden will surely crush a lot of families," he said.

He and his wife bought their three-bedroom off the plan in 2010 and moved in two years later. "Nobody expects that at the time," he said of the cladding material used, which has since been found to have a flammable coating.

His is one of the buildings to have received a fire-safety notice from the City of Sydney, which is investigating and reviewing a total of 299 properties with potential combustible cladding.

Greens MP David Shoebridge, who chaired an inquiry into building standards, said the cost of fixing flammable cladding in NSW would be "well north" of $1 billion, which would be borne by homeowners "let down by decades of deregulation".

"We have individual homeowners spending tens of thousands of dollars undertaking rectification work that might have to be redone if the standards change," he said. "For some owners, it is almost as expensive identifying a credible remedy as it is undertaking the work."

Last year the Victorian government promised $600 million to fix the most dangerous buildings.

Deputy NSW Labor leader Yasmin Catley said the Berejiklian government had a "golden opportunity" to follow Victoria in providing financial assistance, both creating jobs and solving a public safety problem.

City of Sydney councillor Linda Scott also urged the government to fund a rescue package to help fix strata buildings that contain flammable cladding.

"Thousands of residents across the City of Sydney have been left out in the cold, finding themselves liable for millions of dollars for repairs to remove flammable cladding," she said.

The government did not respond to questions about whether it would provide loans or some other form of financial assistance to owners.

However, a spokeswoman for Better Regulation Minster Kevin Anderson said the government had introduced new laws to protect building owners in NSW, which required anyone carrying out building work to avoid construction defects, including flammable cladding.

While the City of Sydney has one of the highest number of buildings identified with flammable cladding, other local government areas such as Bayside in the city's south, Canada Bay in the inner west and Liverpool each have had more than 20 buildings issued fire-safety notices.

In Canada Bay, a total of 77 were identified as a risk and fire-safety orders served on 33 buildings, while North Sydney Council has issued 27.

Bayside Council has issued 21 fire-safety notices after 74 buildings were identified in need of investigation, while in Liverpool 22 have been served.

Willoughby Council, whose area includes the high-rises of Chatswood, has investigated 66 buildings and issued fire-safety notices for 17. In the Hills Shire, 30 building owners will voluntarily replace combustible cladding while one has been served a notice.

In Blacktown, fire-safety notices have been issued for 10 buildings. Parramatta Council has issued six notices for buildings while the owners of a further 16 have been told to test and replace cladding if it is non-compliant.


Amid the lockdowns, mining saves the Australian economy

The global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic has sliced almost $7 billion from the value of Australia's key resource and energy exports in three months, with warnings of bigger hits next financial year.

But new forecasts from the Industry Department, released on Monday, show the iron ore sector will defy the coronavirus gloom with high prices and surging exports to help it offset the broader economic weakness.

In its June quarterly outlook report, the department's office of the chief economist forecasts total resource and energy exports to reach a record $292.7 billion in 2019-20 before falling to $263.2 billion.

In March, the department predicted $299.3 billion in commodity exports this financial year and then $276.1 billion in 2020-21.

The department said overall resource and energy exports had been resilient in the face of the pandemic recession, noting earnings from the sector were 50 per cent higher than during the global financial crisis.

"These forecasts come with significant risks: a second outbreak of COVID-19, another surge in trade tensions, or an unexpectedly slow global recovery," it said. "But on balance it remains likely that Australia's resources and energy sector will once again buffer the Australian economy against external headwinds."

Holding up resource exports is iron ore with $102.7 billion worth expected to be shipped this financial year. This was an upgrade on the March forecasts. Gold, which is touching all-time highs as investors seek to protect themselves, is also remaining strong with exports tipped to hit $27.4 billion this year. The department had expected gold exports to fall to $21 billion next year but now thinks they will rise to $32 billion.

But energy exports, on the back of falling demand and prices, are tipped to fall away.

Thermal coal exports are forecast to edge down to $16 billion next financial year from a downwardly revised $20 billion in 2019-20.

LNG exports, which in March were expected to reach $48.6 billion this year and $44.2 billion in 2020-21, are now forecast to make $47 billion and $35 billion respectively. LNG prices are closely tied to oil prices, which remain extremely low.

Overall energy exports have been downgraded by $58.5 billion for the next two years since the March forecast.

While the mining sector contributed growth through the first three months of the year, the department noted that none of this came from the coal sector.

"In the coming year, it is likely that this sector will make a much smaller contribution to GDP growth, as low prices and mine closures and cutbacks impact on the sector’s output," it said.

The department said that while resource export volumes had climbed by 4.6 per cent over the past year, energy volumes were down by 2.5 per cent, with warnings they were likely to stagnate over the coming two years.


Voters' thumbs up for ScoMo: PM's personal approval rating hits a new high ahead of Eden-Monaro by-election

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's personal approval rating has hit a new high in the latest Newspoll ahead of Saturday's Eden-Monaro by-election.

The latest Newspoll, conducted for The Australian and released on Sunday night, shows Mr Morrison's personal approval has risen two points to 68 per cent with his dissatisfaction rating falling by the same amount to 27 per cent.

But the Coalition's primary vote is unchanged at 42 per cent, with the party maintaining an 51-49 lead in the two-party preferred vote.

The Eden-Monaro by-election was triggered by the resignation of former Labor MP Mike Kelly because of ill health.

Despite a branch-stacking scandal engulfing Victorian Labor, the party's primary vote support at federal level has risen slightly, by one point to 35 per cent.

Mr Morrison's net approval rating is the highest since he became leader in August 2018.

He has increased his margin over Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister, lifting two points to 58 per cent.

Mr Albanese was unchanged 26 per cent, while sixteen per cent of voters didn't back either leader.

Support for the Greens has dropped one point to 11 per cent, as did voter backing of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, which also fell a point to three per cent.

The poll, which surveyed 1521 voters, was conducted from June 24-27.


Dyson Heydon and the dubious world of administrative inquiries

Kangaroo courts for judges and lawyers??

As the hyenas circle the latest #MeToo roadkill, it is telling how few are raising questions about the extraordinary sequence of events that led to Dyson Heydon’s very public humiliation.

Much is being made of the High Court’s “administrative inquiry” led by public servant Vivienne Thom. Yet, as Chris Merritt has pointed out this week in The Australian, this inquiry only heard from one side. The only input into Thom’s inquiry were the accusations from the six young women who claimed Heydon had harassed them when they worked as his associates. The inquiry didn’t hear from Heydon whom Merritt claims refused to participate because he was concerned “anything he said could be used against him in future proceedings.” The accusations from the women were not tested, nor subjected to any cross-examination.

All participants, including Heydon, apparently signed confidentiality agreements which didn’t deter Chief Justice Susan Kiefel from naming Heydon when she went public with the conclusions from the Thom investigation, issuing a public apology for the former High Court judge’s alleged behaviour. Not only was Heydon denied due process but he was presented as guilty before any opportunity for proper examination of the evidence – ensuring his personal and professional reputation would be destroyed.

Surely, we should all want men who commit harassment or assault to be appropriately penalized when they are proved guilty but NOT before. Chris Merritt quoted Terry O’Gorman, president of the Australian Council of Civil liberties, as expressing concern that “a major public figure could be ‘found guilty’ in the public arena via a process where he has not been accorded the usual procedural fairness requirements.”

James Allan, professor of law at the University of Queensland, also raised concerns that Chief Justice Susan Kiefel accepted the findings before the accusations could be tested in court. Given that legal proceedings have now been launched seeking compensation for three of the complainants, this matter could end up before the High Court, raising very sticky questions about perceived bias.

Not that any of this has any impact in the court of public opinion, particularly with so many female lawyers lining up to share experiences of further inappropriate behaviour by Heydon. With most of the high profile Australian #MeToo cases having fallen in a heap, feminists are beside themselves with glee over this very big scalp. And naturally, they are using this opportunity to argue for more female judges and senior lawyers – a proposal which, of course, further demonises all men as potential or even probable abusers and fails to address the real issues.

The fact that Heydon’s lynching stemmed from a kangaroo court run by our premier legal institution will go largely unnoticed. How ironic that the High Court itself has pronounced on the need for procedural fairness by administrative decision-makers.

Via Bettina Arndt newsletter: newsletter@bettinaarndt.com.au

Time for universities to ditch the uniform and change courses

I am afraid that I endorse the idea dismissed below:  That a university without a committment to research is just a technical college

A few years back, at a Melbourne book launch, Gareth Evans publicly confessed that he and the rest of the Hawke government had more or less allowed a 40-year-old firebrand to run amok with the nation’s higher education system 30 years ago.

The former foreign affairs minister, who later went on to be chancellor of the Australian National University, didn’t use those precise words, of course.

Instead, Evans said back then that “none of John Dawkins’s fellow cabinet ministers at the time, and that includes me — or for that matter anyone else outside the circle of university and college administrators most immediately and obviously affected — really took much notice of what he was up to from 1987-91, or had any real sense of the scale and significance of the changes he was forcing, as he mounted his blitzkrieg in the higher education system”.

This week, as the Coalition lobbed grenades into the system the former employment, education and training minister set in place three decades ago, Dawkins declined to comment on the past, present or future of Australian universities. But it’s a safe bet he would agree with the description of how he flew solo in a high-risk operation to shrink the institutions, expand the number of students and bring back the fees Labor giant Gough Whitlam had abolished on January 1, 1974.

They were radical reforms, quickly dubbed a revolution, yet the single system turned out to be essentially conservative. Australia held fast to the traditional idea of the university: an institution committed to high-level research, teaching and community engagement.

The unified national system is widely considered to have led to uniformity, not innovation or diversity, and across three decades, despite huge increases in fees, dependence on international students and successive attempts by governments to direct the sector, that notion has endured.

Former University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis has noted: “Decisions of a powerful minister more than a generation ago reinforced the singular Australian idea of a university.” In his 2017 book, The Australian Idea of a University (which Evans launched on that November day), Davis noted that our universities are not identical but they are all examples of a “specific style of university”.

Not everyone agrees. Some see evolving diversity in our system, but as former University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker says: “There is no doubt if you look overseas we have a rather singular model compared to the diversity that exists in Holland, Germany and other countries.”

Parker, who now heads the national education sector practice at KPMG, doesn’t blame Dawkins but says Australia continues to “mime” the idea that a university must include research, with institutions “drifting” to that model rather than some adopting a teaching-first approach.

Dawkins himself has said through the years — during which there have been around a dozen other education ministers — that the profile process he set up allowed the institutions to choose their own direction. He has said it was never his intention that small colleges of advanced education would opt to copy the big universities rather than work on becoming teaching-only institutions. It’s understood that in his view, the lack of diversity that emerged was not mandated and was an unfortunate outcome of the decisions by autonomous universities.

Be that as it may, the system remains ready for reshaping for a modern era.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has not been explicit about his intentions but Parker says the new fee structure, based on teaching costs without recognition of research costs, is a de facto separation of the two elements. Tehan will make a statement soon about research and Parker believes it could finally change our view of what a “real” university should look like.

The Coalition is moving at a time of some disquiet about our universities. Some critics claim a corruption of standards in a system where 25 per cent of the money comes from overseas students. Some claim a corruption of free speech. Some argue for less thinking and more training. Arguments about the role of the university intersect with arguments about society’s willingness to spend the money, private or public, on higher education.

In that sense at least not much has changed since Dawkins.

The debate about the nature of the university had been running for years as the highly regarded institutes of technology — part of the second tier — showed they were bigger, better and bolder than some of the newer, smaller universities. Were they universities in all but name? What made the universities so special?

The 19 universities had a simple answer. They were dedicated to research and their teaching depended on academic research. Colleges and institutes were dedicated to teaching. They might do some research on the side but they could not be considered in the same breath as universities.

Sometimes the debate seemed to play out on the proverbial pin head and was confined largely to those inside the sector. There was little political interest in Canberra about whether Deakin University had more right to the title, for example, than the Queensland Institute of Technology.

But the colleges’ lobby for recognition and access to federal research money converged fortuitously with Labor’s need to justify spending more public money on more places by introducing a system of private contributions via the HECS scheme.

Labor would backtrack on fees but at the same time it would demolish an outdated distinction between colleges and universities to create a level playing field. The 73 institutions would reduce to half that number and would be free to carve out their own profiles, unimpeded by nomenclature.

Some might emphasise teaching or industry engagement. Some might elevate research while still teaching an expanding student population. It was an opportunity to change the mix. Dawkins delivered status and access to research funding to the colleges. They backed him on student fees. The vice-chancellors wanted fees too but they were not so keen on the CAEs getting a name change and sharing research funds. In the end, they signed up to Dawkins. They had little choice even if they feared the colleges would dilute the university brand they had nurtured since the establishment of the University of Sydney in 1850.

As David Penington, who led Melbourne University at the time, said this week: “It was true that the universities did look down on the others in those days, and that was the problem that Dawkins sought to correct by his radical changes.”

In the end, tradition beat innovation as the new universities worked to build the research they figured would let them into the club.

Melbourne University’s Vin Massaro, who worked as the policy director for the peak university body at the time, the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, has some regrets about the way it panned out. “We created one sector but we didn’t make it clear to the institutions that they had the right to be more diverse,” he says. “Clearly, we could not afford 39 high-level research institutions, yet we were suddenly asking people in the former CAEs to teach and research in a way they had not been employed to do.”

Despite the rush for status based on research and uniformity, there have been changes in the past 30 years, particularly, as Davis has noted, in the offerings for the international student market. As well as the Group of Eight, the big capital-city campuses that include Sydney, Melbourne and the ANU have continued to draw away from the rest with their aspirations for high-level research.

But the diversity is limited, according to Massaro. “We keep stopping the institutions from being truly diverse,” he says. “We still suggest that if they don’t do research they are inferior. We have not yet educated the Australian public to accept that universities can do different things; rather, we have built a theoretical definition into the system that doesn’t fit with the current reality. We need a new definition of a university that allows each to determine the mix of teaching and research that is appropriate for its mission.

“However, they must all be excellent teaching institutions with graduate outcomes that can be measured. The extent … they choose to do research should be based on their capacity to attract competitive research funding.”

Massaro cites the California binar­y model of universities; one teaching-intensive, offering courses to master level, the other research-intensive offering courses to PhD level with high-level research. And he argues the Coalition’s fee changes are being introduced without a coherent and comprehensive vision or plan for the sector.

Penington agrees on the need for change, saying: “I don’t think all the universities are going to be viable just doing things the way that they have been. You can’t undo what has happened in the past. The mistake was (colleges) seeking to become uniform with the classical research universities.

“What we ought to have is universities that identify themselves especially by their strengths. The title university no longer has a meaning in itself. It doesn’t bring quality, it has to be earned.”

He believes the Dawkins model has cost the country in skills: “Some of the colleges were doing applied education and some were close to industry. That was a fundamental flaw of the whole Dawkins model because we didn’t have that ongoing population of people with applied knowledge. It was a weakness of the outcome that is seldom mentioned now.”

Parker says his discussions through the years with Dawkins convince him the then minister wanted a uniform funding system, not uniformity.

Parker says: “It wasn’t necessary that CAEs became universities, but what actually happened is that the universities cherrypicked to their advantage and the CAEs thought by and large it was to their advantage to get the prestige of the university name.

“So the unified national system became uniform and it has in a way been reinforced since 1990 with protocols of what counts as a university — that there has to be a research mission.

“I think the government is now saying, we are only funding teaching through the normal commonwealth funding and there will be an announcement on research soon. This is a big deal: the separating out of the funding of research and teaching is what could lay the groundwork for some unis to be really high-quality teaching organisations and a smaller number being research-focused. That would drive real diversity.”

The Tehan “revolution” is just beginning and time will show if it brings the diversity so many regard as essential. But the need for change is clear. As Davis said in his 2017 book: “The Australian idea of a university has served us well. It may also have run its course.”


 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

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