Saturday, December 18, 2004

Merry Christmas and reverse bon voyage

Have a good one folks -- the next posting will be from London, Wales, Paris or Amsterdam -- if I get the time to spend on the net -- otherwise you can talk among yourselves!

Back mid-January.



Anonymous said...

Bet you're glad you chose England this year.

Anonymous said...

Page 10 of the Herald 5 Jan 2005

Ombudsman flays city council for its secrecy
By Tim Dick, Urban Affairs Reporter
January 5, 2005

The NSW Ombudsman has criticised as "seriously deficient" the approach of the City of Sydney Council to releasing information. The report also criticised the failure of the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, to properly respond to its inquiries.

Cr Moore has championed freedom of government information since being elected to State Parliament in 1988.

But the Ombudsman is so concerned about the council's secretive manner of answering requests that it wants every request made to the council in the past 18 months to be reviewed by an independent expert. Cr Moore has been lord mayor for half that period.

After investigating a Herald request for the release of documents about the council's bicycle plan, the Deputy Ombudsman, Chris Wheeler, said the deficiencies in the council's approach were "clear and serious".

It found the council misused exemptions in freedom of information legislation and refused to release a document that had previously been on public display.

Mr Wheeler said neither Cr Moore nor council staff responded properly to its requests to justify repeated refusals to release information, with one official "responding to our correspondence on the basis that the mayor's office received hundreds of letters from the public".

Mr Wheeler said: "Correspondence from this office in the course of a formal investigation under a statutory scheme should be responded to as a matter of some priority. While this could well be indicative of deficiencies in the management of correspondence to the lord mayor and to the general manager, it could equally be indicative of an inappropriate attitude towards proper accountability."

The report was finished last month, days after Cr Moore told State Parliament she would make the council's contracts public.

"My intention is to minimise the number of documents withheld from the public ... and enhance public access to public documents," she said. "Open, transparent government is a basic democratic right ... The community justifiably believes that there is too much secrecy and too little openness ... in government.

Yesterday she said she was considering the Ombudsman's recommendations. "I am committed to introducing any necessary changes to freedom of information procedures."

Anonymous said...

Scientists dream too - imagine that
By Julia Baird
January 8, 2005

We all have hunches, beliefs we can barely explain, or even simply hopes or dreams that some might think of as crazy, or scoff at as irrational, or unproven. But that's just the point of hunches, isn't it? Sometimes we're even right. Diderot called the gift of those who guess the truth before being able to prove it the "esprit de divination".

Which is why the latest "grand question" posed by the publisher of the scientific website, John Brockman, to 120 scientists and thinkers, is so wonderful: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

The answers, which spill to 60,000 words and were published this week, provide a fascinating insight into conjecture - and the power of imagination. Even the empirically driven, it seems, have their own leaps of faith.

Many scientists and researchers believe in the unseen and the unknown - in true love, the power of a child's mind, in the existence of aliens.

Joseph LeDoux, a New York neuroscientist, said the question was easy: "I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I nor anyone else has been able to prove it." Alison Gopnik, a Berkeley psychologist, wrote: "I believe, but cannot prove, that babies and young children are actually more conscious, more vividly aware of their external world and internal life, than adults are."

The unproven belief of the Sydney physicist Paul Davies was that the universe is "teeming with life": "I make this sweeping claim because life has produced mind, and through mind beings who do not merely observe the universe, but have come to understand it through science, mathematics and reasoning. This is hardly an insignificant embellishment on the cosmic drama, but a stunning and unexpected bonus. Somehow life is able to link up with the basic workings of the cosmos, resonating with the hidden mathematical order that makes it tick. And that's a quirk too far for me."

My favourite answer came from David Buss, a psychologist from the University of Texas, who has spent two decades studying human mating. He has documented "phenomena ranging from what men and women desire in a mate to the most diabolical forms of sexual treachery". He has studied "mate poachers, obsessed stalkers, sexual predators and spouse murderers". But, he wrote, "Throughout this exploration of the dark dimensions of human mating, I've remained unwavering in my belief in true love.

"While love is common, true love is rare, and I believe that few people are fortunate enough to experience it. The roads of regular love are well travelled and their markers are well understood by many - the mesmerising attraction, the ideational obsession, the sexual afterglow, profound self-sacrifice and the desire to combine DNA. But true love takes its own course through uncharted territory. ... It's difficult to define, eludes modern measurement and seems scientifically woolly. But I know true love exists."

Curious, isn't it, that the most important things in life can elude the abacus, the microscope, the hard drive, emboldening and frustrating the empirically driven. But we know they exist.

In his introduction, Brockman wrote that the answers were "a commentary on how we are dealing with the idea of certainty". We are in an age of "searchculture", he wrote, where Google and other search engines are leading us towards both correct answers and a naive sense of certainty: "In the future, we will be able to answer the question, but will we be bright enough to ask it? This is an alternative path. It may be that it's OK not to be certain, but to have a hunch, and to perceive on that basis."

I'm not sure why that is such a comforting thought in January 2005, when we are stomaching a planet not just of terrorism, war and a wilting environment, but a tsunami that swallowed villages, islands and hearts whole. The world, both natural and man-made, seems brutal and nonsensical. It's hard to sustain belief in much (except, paradoxically, in that which sustains us) and this week - particularly since the thoughtless and ill-timed comments of Phillip Jensen, the Anglican Dean of Sydney, that "disasters of this world are part of God's warning that judgement is coming" - there has been chest-beating worldwide about how God could allow such devastation to occur, and how the deaths of 155,000 people can possibly make sense.

What is curious is how the incomprehensibility and uncertainty push people not away from, but towards, faith. And how many more have shadowed church doors since September 11, 2001, and Bali, and now the tsunami.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the difference between the poet and the mathematician was that the poet merely tried to get his head into the clouds while the mathematician tried to get the clouds into his head - and it was his head that split. A theology of conflict, which assumes to know the the mind of God, at a time of immense suffering, seems to me to be a split head.

All we can continue to do is defiantly believe - whether it is that animals have feelings, infants have souls, love can last forever, miracles occur, God is love. That the true expression of the face of God in the midst of horror is to stubbornly, and consistently, care for each other. _On a personal note, this will be my last column for some time. I am going to Boston to take up a fellowship at the Joan Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and will return in June. To all those readers who have sent emails and letters over the past three years, and provoked me to think, laugh, and mull over different points of view - thank you.

Anonymous said...

Smh 8 january

New leaf for Clover

With virtually every day a drama since she became Lord Mayor, Clover Moore seems well equipped for the thespian role she has agreed to take on next month.

She is teaming up with 15 other prominent women from around town, including the actor Leah Purcell and the crime writer Tara Moss, for a charity performance of The Vagina Monologues.

Moore joins a long line of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Close and Winona Ryder, who have taken part in annual charity performances set up by the writer of the Monologues, Eve Ensler, as a global fundraiser called V-Day.

V-Day's original goal was to eradicate violence against women and girls by this year, but Ensler has revised her aims.

Moore was out of town for a few days resting up between a hectic New Year's Eve party - where every second person seemed to want a photo opportunity, including her husband Peter, her daughter Sophie and friend Chanel Bergman - and a round of festival-related engagements starting tonight. Bergman has her own monologue, told to Women's Day 15 months ago, about spending $75,000 to become a woman.

Moore's spokesman, Jeff Lewis, was unsure if the Lord Mayor had any acting experience. Still, if the theatre of politics wasn't enough training there was always the theatre of the classroom for the former schoolteacher.

Anonymous said...

Light rail unlikely to get a run in city centre

By Joseph Kerr, Transport Editor
January 15, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

A plan to turn the CBD into a more liveable, pedestrian-friendly area will take years to achieve, the City of Sydney's deputy mayor admitting that the prospects for reintroducing trams to the city centre are dim.

The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has a plan to develop bike paths, reclaim streets from cars and streamline public transport movements through the city with a mass transit system.

But the Deputy Lord Mayor, John McInerney, said light rail would struggle in the present political climate.

A new underground rail system would be ideal but was too expensive, he said, and there was no room for dedicated bike paths under present conditions.

In a speech last month, Cr Moore said the CBD's transport network needed urgent attention, with roads close to capacity. While she has refused to help fund the project, Cr Moore said light rail seemed to be the system most suited to Sydney's needs. The council also wants a 40kmh speed limit in central Sydney, extending to Taylor Square and Central, saying it would "dramatically improve safety conditions for pedestrians and cyclists".

But many of the improvements look set to take some time - possibly years - to develop.

A new bike and pedestrian plan is being developed over the next five years, but Cr McInerney said the narrowness of Sydney's streets meant installing light rail could preclude dedicated bike paths being established.

"You're restricted to quite narrow widths of passageway," he said. "Because of the narrowness of Sydney's road pattern ... we couldn't bring in bike paths in the central system if the roads are given over to light rail or buses."

A proposal for a light rail loop through Sydney has been under consideration by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources since last May. The $170 million project would require about $40 million in public money.

"The argument for light rail is very strong and supported by [the Planning Minister, Craig] Knowles, [but] the ability to get the Government to fund it ... with so many competing claims for the dollars that are available to the State Government, in that political context it's very difficult," Cr McInerney said.

He said there was a limit to how many people could be carried by light rail, and he favoured a new underground rail system because it would lessen traffic on the surface and carry more people. However, because of the high cost it would require federal funding.

The council's traffic committee would consider introducing 40kmh zones in the city this year, although if implemented they would probably be brought in in several stages.

The opening of the Cross City Tunnel would create possibilities for extra bus layovers in the CBD.

"All of these [proposals] mean restrictions on cars as we promote bus movements," Cr McInerney said. "George Street, some parts of it, could be exclusively public transport."

Anonymous said...

General switches war zones

By Tim Dick, Urban Affairs Reporter
January 14, 2005
Sydney Morning Herald

The city's new chief executive, Peter Seamer ... "Sydney is the pre-eminent city in Australia."

The new chief executive of the City of Sydney, Peter Seamer, once compared the last two months of construction of Federation Square in Melbourne, which he oversaw, to the Battle of the Somme.

There were fraught battles between government, builders and his officials over the $450 million project. All useful experience for the Melbourne bureaucrat in his new job.

The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said yesterday that Mr Seamer would replace Robert Domm, who resigned last year after a spat with her deputy, John McInerney.

Mr Domm oversaw a Town Hall administration serving a significantly different electorate. Then it had a reputation for being more corporate and secretive than other councils, including the former South Sydney Council, with which it was forcibly merged last year.

It is the job of Mr Seamer to try to bridge the gap between the new councillors, who occupy offices in the historic Town Hall on George Street, and the bureaucrats in the tower block behind it.

Cr Moore would not say if the council's vote was unanimous, with councillors agreeing to keep the outcome quiet and promising to support the majority's choice. But she was clearly pleased with their choice.

Mr Seamer will start the $360,000 job of running an organisation with a $88 million surplus in early March. Last financial year Federation Square posted a $7.9 million operating loss. Mr Seamer, a former general manager of two Victorian councils, has been one of Melbourne's most prominent cheerleaders, involved in planning opulent Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations.

While he would not turn his back on Victoria, he did not rein in his praise for his new home. "Sydney is the pre-eminent city in Australia, with some wonderful opportunities for the future, and I'm just really pleased to be part of that," he said.

"Australia has a number of great places; it just so happens that Sydney is the major international city in Australia, and nothing is changing that."

Cr Moore intervened to stop a question about his vision for the centre of Sydney, saying it was too early for him to answer it.

"We have limitless challenges and opportunities," she said, "and I just really want to get working with our new CEO as soon as possible on those things."

That includes an overhaul of all planning controls governing the CBD and inner city suburbs, dealing with a harshly critical Ombudsman's report attacking the council's secrecy, and fixing an administration unsettled by a year of spats, departures and internal battles.

Anonymous said...

Councillor stumped: trees felled for tunnel

By MARK SKELSEY Daily Telegraph

January 18, 2005

THE destruction of these trees is the price of progress when it comes to construction of Sydney's $680 million cross-city tunnel motorway.

Eleven mature plane trees were cut down last Friday along William St at Darlinghurst.

They were felled because they are allegedly unhealthy and need to be cleared for a major footpath widening project linked to the tunnel's construction.

Friday's massacre brings the number of felled trees to 18, with another 22 to go before the end of the refurbishment project later this year.

Already 20 out of the 80 plane trees -- to replace those which are being felled -- have been planted.

Footpaths are being widened on William St, along with a new dedicated cycle lane and transit lane introduced, because its traffic levels will drop after the opening of the tunnel.

A spokesman for Cross City Motorway chief executive Peter Sansom, said the trees were often planted too close to existing buildings, were stunted for their age and had distorted forms.

While the footpath upgrade project and tree removal is being overseen by the motorway consortium, it's been approved by Sydney City Council.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has not intervened to save these trees, saying that the project was inherited from a previous city council.

"The upgrade provides an opportunity to plan properly for trees so that they can thrive into the long term," Ms Moore said in a letter to a resident last year.

However, Sydney city Liberal councillor Shayne Mallard complained that the removal was unnecessary.

"The council and the Roads and Traffic Authority have promoted the planting of 80 new trees in the upgrade to legitimise this wasteful destruction," he said.

"But the new trees could take at least 20 years to provide shade and shelter similar to the mature trees being chainsawed."

Anonymous said...

Clover, you're off the rails

By MARK SKELSEY Urban Affairs Editor
Daily Telegraph

January 19, 2005

SYDNEY Lord Mayor Clover Moore had a shouting match with her deputy over her desire to return trams to the city centre, it was claimed yesterday.

Ms Moore and John McInerney were heard having a heated argument after he told a weekend newspaper it would be "very difficult" to get state political support and funding of light rail into the CBD.

Their exchange happened to be overheard by an employee from the State Chamber of Commerce, who was waiting outside Mr McInerney's office at Sydney Town Hall on Monday afternoon.

The introduction of light rail into the city is strongly backed by Ms Moore, who believes the centre is being clogged by buses that are ineffective for moving big crowds.

But Mr McInerney, a former Sydney City Council chief planner, is not convinced trams are the answer, preferring the idea of an expanded underground train system.

When confronted by claims of a clash at the Town Hall, the State Chamber of Commerce issued a statement that: "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a private meeting, but there does seem to be evidence of some tension in the Lord Mayor's office."

Mr McInerney denied there was a problem between him and Ms Moore at the meeting.

"I have no disagreement with Clover. There's no tension at the moment," he said.

He said any raised voices overheard may have been in relation to general difficulty of getting funding for a new mass transit system.

Mr McInerney said a combination of different inner-Sydney transport options -- including an underground London Tube-style train system, light rail and buses -- were being examined by the NSW Planning Department.

Trains were an option due to their ability to carry many passengers.

"There may be a combination of different forms of mass transit systems," he said.

Mr McInerney said the council had yet to develop a final position on what mass transit system was best.

While Ms Moore is elected in her lord mayoral position until 2008, Mr McInerney must seek re-election from his councillors in September. He's one of five out of 10 councillors who ran on Ms Moore's ticket.

Mr McInerney, regarded as one of the country's pre-eminent planners, has been quite candid, and occasionally critical, in some of his comments about Ms Moore's decisions.

Late last year, he told the Daily Telegraph that Ms Moore had made a "fundamental error" in re-appointing former general manager Robert Domm to the job.

Anonymous said...

What on earth is NOT going on at the Rex Building?

BEFORE the conversion to residential, the tenants in the council owned community units were:
KX Community and Information Centre,(KXCIC)
The Early Childhood Centre,
The KX Library,
An airless meeting room

SINCE the conversion, the library after many moves is now operating in Darlinghurst Rd., the Earlly Childhood Centre has space in the Reg Murphy Activity Centre and the KXCIC after intense lobbying has returned to the Rex. However, the space is at rhe rear of the building
The council owned units are nnow of commercial lease and what of the area that that library occupied? It will, supposedly, be acommunity space. Has anyone seen the area? It is behind a latched door! Latest news is that it will be ready for use in April, 2005.
In the meantime, community groups are denied space for various projects and have to scrounge around for commercial space or have their projects postposed if not abandoned.
Why is KX always the poor relation when it comes to community facilllities?

Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

A member of the community went to see the Place Manager at the KX Neighbourhood Service Centre(NSC) requesting a grant for a community project and was told the cupboard was bare. Today, I read in the Sydney City Mag of council grants available. The place to collect the necessary info kit is from your NSC from Feb 7.