Tag Archive | “Urban Trawl”

Lord mayor passes buck for her serious misconduct as overseas trips come back to haunt her.

Scaffidi blames staff, shoots messenger


OPINION: When this afternoon I received a text from Channel Nine asking if I’d like to “chat” about the Corruption and Crime Commission’s opinions of serious misconduct about Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, I warily thought: “why me?”

Except for the occasional appearance on a late night 6PR talkback show, I tend to keep my distance from the handful of national and international conglomerates that now dominate Perth’s media landscape.

However, the text message had me intrigued.

Lisa Scaffidi CCC serious misconduct findingsI called Nine back, and learned that Mrs Scaffidi had blamed me for her avoidance of my question to her in 2009 on whether she had declared on the Perth council gift register her attendance at the Beijing Olympics which had been paid for by global mining giant BHP Billiton.

Back then, when I revealed that BHP Billiton had paid for Mrs Scaffidi’s trip, I was not to know that six years later the company would be ordered to pay a $US25 million penalty pursuant to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over its sponsorship of about 60 guests, including Mrs Scaffidi and her husband Joe, to the Olympics.

After BHP Billiton’s prodigious penalty, the Australian Federal Police told WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission about the company’s gift to Mrs Scaffidi, and a local investigation ensued.


During a private CCC hearing, Mrs Scaffidi admitted it looked like she had avoided my question, but added: “I probably was just not wanting to give him any further fuel because of the way he had treated me in the past”.

The CCC investigation report reveals that in an email to BHP Billiton’s Ian Fletcher, while Mrs Scaffidi was on another of her many offshore odysseys, she’d claimed that “someone” was “doing me over back home”.

“It’s been nasty media request after nasty media request,” Mrs Scaffidi stressed.

“Purely FYI in case you get a call.

“Of course it’s been registered.”

Problem is, I was merely trying to determine, on behalf of the people who elected her, whether the lord mayor had been following the rules.

The CCC says that even after its grilling of Mrs Scaffidi it has no idea what she was talking about when she told Mr Fletcher the Beijing trip had been “registered”.

“As Mrs Scaffidi had completed her annual return a few weeks earlier, without referring to the Olympic hospitality package, it is difficult to understand what she meant by: ‘Of course it’s been registered’,” the CCC report asserts.

“Mrs Scaffidi was given many opportunities in examination to explain this statement.

“She was unable to do so.”


Over the past decade, I’ve received gushing praise, and copped venomous sprays, from Mrs Scaffidi. Less than a year before I’d asked if she’d declared her Beijing freebies, she’d called to me from the back seat of her chauffeur-driven limo’ as it glided to a halt in Hay Street. She summonsed me over and, with a hug delivered from the back window of the big black car, wished me a “Happy Christmas”.

Ten months later to her BHP benefactor, then earlier this year to the CCC, she saw fit to shoot me as the messenger of her serious misconduct.

As a journalist who takes accountability of public officials very seriously, I’ve long recognised this kind of thing as an occupational hazard.

But I was also once a senior public official. And one thing that turns my stomach is when a style-over-substance pollie confronted with the premature death of her high-flying political career uses professional council staff as scapegoats for her serious misconduct.

At the CCC, Mrs Scaffidi accepted responsibility for not declaring relevant elements of the $36,826 Beijing sojourn she and her hubby had received for free. She also claimed ignorance and blamed council staff for not giving her more guidance.

“Because of the number of inconsistent explanations that Mrs Scaffidi has proffered, the Commission is unable to be satisfied that her motive and purpose for accepting the Olympic package was to advance the interests of the city,” says the CCC report.

“It is more probable than not Mrs Scaffidi became aware she should not accept, or alternatively should withdraw from, the trip but chose instead to avail herself of the opportunity of an all-expenses paid trip to the Olympics, followed by a side trip to Shanghai, where she paid for her own accommodation.

“Attempts to blame others and systemic weaknesses within the City of Perth ignore the fact that Mrs Scaffidi at all times knew where she had travelled.

“In failing to disclose, she signally failed in her duties as lord mayor.”


The $36,826 BHP Billiton hospitality package gave Mrs and Mr Scaffidi luxury hotel accommodation, business class airfares, and tickets to events.

“Notwithstanding her explanations that she forgot or overlooked her obligation or that there were systemic failings, the Commission is more than satisfied that the decision not to disclose the Olympic hospitality package was deliberate,” the report opines.

“At best Mrs Scaffidi was recklessly indifferent to the possibility that BHP Billiton might be intending to seek council authorisation for something.”

For failing to disclose a gift from Hawaiian property developers of three night’s accommodation at Cable Beach Club Resort and Spa in Broome for she and her property developer husband, the commission formed a second opinion of serious misconduct about Mrs Scaffidi.

After she accepted the accommodation, Mrs Scaffidi, as chair of a council meeting, voted with the council to approve a grant of $180,000 to a consortium including Hawaiian to conduct a feasibility study.

“The acceptance of accommodation and incidentals at a time when Hawaiian was part of a consortium seeking $180,000 from the city was a prohibited gift which was never disclosed,” the report states.

“Mrs Scaffidi did not even make an impartiality declaration.

“It should have been obvious to Mrs Scaffidi that Hawaiian … would benefit from the city’s approval of $180,000.”

For failing to declare accommodation, tickets and hospitality she received in relation to a Chris Isaak concert at Leeuwin Estate winery in 2009, again courtesy of BHP Billiton, the CCC formed a third opinion of serious misconduct. The cost of accommodation for two people was $490. The meal cost $135 dollars a head.

No findings of corruption were handed down.


At a hastily convened press conference just before deadline for tonight’s TV news, Mrs Scaffidi claimed, by way of mitigation, that she was a “brand new” mayor when she accepted the Beijing and other trips.

To claim she was a babe in the woods, I think, is disingenuous. Before her 2007 election as lord mayor, Mrs Scaffidi had been a Perth city councillor since 2000 and head of a prominent industry lobby group of which BHP Billiton had been, in the CCC’s words, “a very strong member”.

After she refused to stand down as lord mayor this afternoon, a Channel Nine reporter asked me if I thought Mrs Scaffidi should fall on her sword.

I said something to the effect of: “No. The people who put her there will soon get the opportunity to decide if she stays there.”

City of Perth residents and ratepayers, by the council voting deadline of October 17, I urge you to exercise your democratic right – in droves.


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Eastern state take on Perth merger mania


OPINION: I lived in Perth from 1970 to 1991 – in Applecross to 1973, then Wembley Downs in 1974, and then West Perth until the end. I also spent shorter times in Subiaco, North Beach and Claremont.

Perth council mergersMore recently, when I saw the state government’s proposal to put Wembley Downs into a Western Suburbs council, I thought this was not right.

Wembley Downs relates to Scarborough, not Claremont. The government had pushed the border northwards to Cobb Street in order to clock up 100,000 residents for the Western Suburbs, not because Wembley Downs belonged here or there.

They said the University of Western Australia was sick of dealing with three councils so they gave it all to Perth when logically it should have gone to the new Western Suburbs council.


Perth council mergersI set about re-arranging the government’s proposed 15 council borders (pictured below, left) in a more friendly way as pictured, right.

I’ve drawn upon past experience as a Census counter to compile the following population figures for each of my mooted council areas. They are derived from officially adjusted stats for June 2011 from that year’s Census:

Swan-Mundaring 146,100
Gosnells-Kalamunda 142,900
Joondalup 141,500
Wanneroo 140,900
Canning 136,200
Melville 124,900
Rockingham 123,300
Stirling 122,900
Bayswater 104,000
Scarborough-Sorrento 103,900
Western Suburbs 98,500
Perth 94,600
Fremantle 86,900
Cockburn (Jandakot) 82,200
Armadale 74,900

Wanneroo has grown so fast since June 2011 it would now be the largest council in my list.


perth council mergersIt seems the City of Perth is in the business of collecting assets, so I’ve given them more – an airport, a zoo and another racecourse and university (as pictured, top, right).

I’ve added the south Causeway area and Maylands Peninsula to the City of Perth because they are home to two ideas from my fantasy mind – “Southbank” – an riverside arc stretching from Burswood to Hurlingham Road in South Perth, and the upstream Swan River Drive, and idea from the 1950s which failed to take off.

Most borders in my pictured map are near the midpoints between suburban hubs or council offices.

I’ve added Kalamunda to Gosnells because the two at least have the area below the escarpment in common.

Kwinana has always related to Rockingham, rather than areas such as Cockburn to the north.

With Cockburn losing coastal areas as it moves further inland, I’ve renamed it ‘Jandakot’.

Keralup development zone is split between Rockingham and Murray, but is closest to Mandurah – so that’s where I’ve put it.

A new City of Scarborough-Sorrento would have tourist and commercial value – the Gold Coast with sunsets.

The smallest councils, Armadale and Cockburn, are fast growing and would rapidly reach 100,000.

An Alkimos-Yanchep council might be needed north of Hester Avenue within 10 years.


I was brought up in Sydney and had to return when my parents were getting old. The next rent rise will probably force me up to Brisbane or the Gold Coast.  I keep up to date on Perth developments and miss the sunsets over the ocean.

We don’t have any of those in Sydney, just dark blue nothingness, and very few boats in view.

That’s why I want Scarborough to be elevated to city status.

I wrote to the local member about it.

I’ve got a beautiful hanging, clanging mobile which I bought from the Jandakot Nursery 40 years ago, which could explain my preference for the name ‘Jandakot’ over ‘Cockburn’.

So my memories might be clouding my views, but sometimes you can see better from afar.

Half my brain seems to be in Perth.


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Vincent merger blunder


OPINION: Precisely why Colin Barnett wants to carve up Perth’s most diverse local council area boggles the mind.

Splitting the City of Vincent between the inner City of Perth and outer City of Stirling – as Mr Barnett wants to do – is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Chris Thomson PerthThis week, without warning, the Premier decreed that half of Mayor Alannah MacTiernan’s quirky inner city borough – the chunk north of Vincent Street – would be lumped in with WA’s most populous municipality.

This was contrary to the expert review conducted by Professor Alan Robson which last week recommended all of Vincent go to the City of Perth.

The same recommendation was made by the Local Government Review Panel in October last year.

Back then in this column I urged Mr Barnett to get on with implementing the panel’s recommendations – rather than going out as he did for more consultation which would drag his tortuous reform process into its fifth year.

The reasoning behind Mr Barnett’s splitting of Vincent – contrary to the findings of two major reviews – is unclear.

But one thing is certain. Most affected Vincent locals – that is, the majority of the people who live in the suburbs of Mt Hawthorn, North Perth and Mt Lawley south of Walcott street – want no bar of Stirling.

And the feeling from Stirling is mutual. That city’s mayor, David Boothman, confirmed as much this week.

But why is a metropolitan website such as oneperth.com.au – which for years has ardently and consistently supported council mergers – singling out Vincent for special attention in the metropolitan council amalgamations debate?

Well, it’s because the Vincent split is the most obvious cock-up in an otherwise largely reasonable set of mooted metropolitan mergers.

It’s also because I run oneperth.com.au.

And I love Vincent.


I don’t live or work in Vincent.

But I have lived and worked there in the past, fondly remember those days, and am a regular blow-in.

Over the past half decade I have written more news stories about Vincent than anyone else on the planet.

From the sobering distance of my south-of-the-Swan desk, I have long recognised Vincent as the most lively local council area in Perth.

Like the city’s same sex relationship register, Vincent is a beacon of diversity.

Like the street prostitutes of Highgate, stories lurk around most corners waiting to surprise.

Like the council’s penchant for garish public art, Vincent is larger than life.

It’s got an inner city vibe that is hard to beat.

And that’s why it should be part of inner city Perth.

It’s not surprising then that in front of a jam-packed public gallery last night, a special meeting of Vincent councillors unanimously resolved to oppose Mr Barnett’s plan to plonk half their city into Stirling.

Spurred by the support of the gallery, the council decided to campaign hard to have the whole of Vincent included in Perth.


Good luck to the council, and the scores of engaged Vincentians who showed up last night, I say.

Leave inner city suburbs to inner city councils, and outer city suburbs to outer city councils.

Sensible boundary reform is about grouping places together that have a common community of interest.

Today, Vincent mayor Alannah MacTiernan said she would happily have worked with Mr Barnett to achieve a merger with Perth.

She said Mr Barnett had never put the Stirling option on the table for public discussion.

Ms MacTiernan rightly pointed out that hip inner-urban villages such as Angove and Fitzgerald streets in North Perth, and Mount Hawthorn’s Scarborough Beach Road strip, would go to outer-urban Stirling.

The Mt Lawley cafe strip south of Walcott Street will also be annexed by Stirling.

Meanwhile, the Leederville café strip will go to Perth and the rest of that avant-garde inner suburb north of Vincent Street – including Luna Cinemas – will drop into Stirling.

“The close-knit community on Beaufort Street (north of Vincent Street) will be split down the centre between Stirling and Vincent and become Bayswater after Walcott Street,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“Even Beatty Park – built by the City of Perth and a much-loved facility that helped put Perth on the map, plus a home to various Perth City swim clubs – will become part of Stirling.”

Way to kill a community, Colin.


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12 towns to rule them all



OPINION: Recommendations released today to slash the number of Perth’s local councils from 29 to 12 should have been adopted months ago by the wishy-washy state government.

Instead, the Barnett Government sat on the Metropolitan Local Government Review Panel recommendations for three months before releasing them.

And now, yet another round of consultation will occur three-and-a-half years after Colin Barnett foisted his tortuous local government reform process on the great sandy state.

It is not as if the tribes have not already spoken about Perth council mergers.

Last year the 29 councils all lodged fulsome reports in response to the government’s mooted mergers. Most of these tomes – including from Perth’s several ‘suburb-councils’ – were no more than self-serving scripts complaining that each inefficient fiefdom should carry on unmerged.

The public comment period for today’s report will last a ludicrous six months – until April 5, 2013. This means Mr Barnett will have served his entire first term as state premier by the time the late consultation mail rolls in.

The April 5 deadline falls after the next state election, scheduled for March 9. So all bets will probably be off should the anti-amalgamation Labor Opposition wrest control of the state from Mr Barnett.

The failure to fix WA’s local government system in the four years allotted to Mr Barnett smacks of a conservative premier inept in the art of reform.

For far too long the world’s most isolated metropolis has been stunted by regulatory inconsistencies across, and the lack of vision of, the outmoded 29 councils.

Too small to see the big picture, suburb-sized councils including East Fremantle, Peppermint Grove, Mosman Park, Bassendean and Cottesloe have long been quagmired in parochialism.

Even the larger councils – with the exception of the two or three biggest – have been too small to attract the required level of political and technical expertise.


Perth council mergersThe report’s authors say the current 29 councils should merge into 12 – centred around central Perth, Claremont, Fremantle, Cockburn, Rockingham, Stirling, Joondalup, Wanneroo, Morley, Midland, Cannington and Armadale.

While the new groupings would each need to find a new name relevant to their entire constituencies – critical to reinforcing their communities of interest – the proposed dozen towns look good to me.

Perth for instance would annexe the quirky borough of Vincent, and parts of Cambridge, South Perth and Victoria Park.

This bigger entity would strengthen Perth’s role as the state’s capital, and do away with some of the byzantine decision-making that has made the City of Perth the least impressive state capital in Australia.

By widening the pool of political talent available to the capital, this amalgamation would increase competition for spots on the council. A fresh breeze of professionalism would clean out the musty old City of Perth.

This would also be the case in Fremantle – long starved of sustainable development thanks to parochialism wrought by a handful of ageing beret-wearers.

The panel has recommended that Fremantle merge with the suburb-council of East Fremantle (a no-brainer really), most of Melville and the Freo-like Cockburn suburbs of Coolbellup, part of Hamilton Hill and North Lake.


Perth council mergersPerth’s posh western suburbs – including North Fremantle – would be ruled by one council centred on Claremont, thereby ridding that part of the world of much local government amateurism.

Rockingham would merge with, and thereby abolish, the recently and ridiculously self-styled ‘City’ of Kwinana, population 30,443.

Out east, the ‘Cannington’ council would encompass the current City of Canning (minus Canning Vale), part of South Perth, parts of Melville, and part of Victoria Park.

The Armadale council would take in the current City of Armadale, most of Gosnells, and most of the outlying Serpentine-Jarrahdale which would join the Perth metropolis for the first time.

North of the Swan, the cities of of Joondalup and Wanneroo would stay as is – a good thing as those cities are already big enough and growing.

The state’s largest municipality by population, Stirling, would lose its title to Joondalup in the short term and eventually to the rapidly-growing Armadale.

Stirling’s relegation would occur because its inner suburbs of Coolbinia, Inglewood, Menora and Mount Lawley would go to Perth.

This would be a sage move, as these suburbs have much more in common with their inner-Perth neighbours than they have ever had with their outer suburban counterparts.


A new council centred on Morley would take in unsustainable Bassendean, parts of Swan and Stirling, perennially dysfunctional Bayswater, and Belmont.

Belmont’s inclusion in the Morley council, rather than in the planned Cannington one, is puzzling given it would be split from its ‘Morley’ neighbours by Perth’s main physical boundary, the Swan River.

The rationale cannot be population-based, as shifting the existing City of Belmont from ‘Morley’ into ‘Cannington’ would actually make the populations of the two mooted cities more equal – from 161,000 (Morley) and 116,000 (Cannington) to 124,000 (Morley) and 152,000 (Cannington).

Despite Mandurah’s now substantial transport and employment links to Perth, the panel resists the temptation of adding the former holiday town to the Perth metropolis.

I welcome the panel’s recommendation to make local elections compulsory, because this will make local government more representative.

Another recommendation with wide-reaching benefits for local democracy is to return decision making for larger development projects back to the local governments. In a distinct vote of no-confidence in WA’s 139 municipalities, state planning minister John Day had ripped this power from councils in 2009.

The panel’s recommendations strike an excellent balance between the efficiency of single-council capitals like Brisbane and the democracy purported to exist in overly-governed cities like Perth.

Residents of suburb-councils who fear their voices will no longer be heard down at town hall should bear in mind that the recommended 12 cities is still four times the number of councils that govern the single-council capitals of Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin combined.


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Tawdry tones of Alan Jones


OPINION: This week a male shock jock has once again made headlines across Australia for an outlandish comment about a woman.

In this case, motormouth Alan Jones was recorded saying off air that the father of Prime Minister Julia Gillard “died of shame” because of his daughter’s political “lies”.

Oh, Mr Jones, how so very sensitive of you.

I, for one, am tired of men such as Alan Jones, Kyle Sandilands, and even the non shock jocks of radio, thinking that because their programs are classified ‘Entertainment’ they can push opinions that offend and upset the public at large.

Most of the time, the reason the comments they make are so offensive is because the comments are so misogynistic.

Sandilands specialises in crass radio comments about and to women. Except in the case where a 14-year-old girl was hooked up to a lie detector and on live radio quizzed about her sexual history, only to discover she had been raped. Once the girl revealed she had been raped when she was 12, Sandilands delicately replied: “right … is that the only experience you’ve had?”

Sandilands was sacked from his job as a judge on Channel 10’s Australian Idol show because of fallout from the tawdry lie detector stunt. But 2Day FM kept him on their books.

You could argue that, as shock jocks, it is the job of Jones and Sandilands to shock.

But I oppose the vast amount of licence this ‘professional’ title apparently gives these men.

And I believe it is not just the shock jocks that have a tendency toward the anti-feminist.

Listening to Nova FM back in April I was stunned when I heard avuncular comedian and radio host Dave Hughes say he had seen a young woman wearing “the shortest miniskirt available to the public” walking home around midnight.

‘Hughesy’ was clearly gobsmacked by this extraordinary event.

He proclaimed that “if a girl is wearing a really short skirt they should not be going home at 11.30pm on a Saturday night”.

Sorry, Hughesy, but what else was she meant to be doing?

Clearly, if a woman wears a short skirt out on a Saturday night it signals she is definitely going to go and get wasted, stay out until 4am and then stagger home with a conga line of randy men in tow.

[Insert sarcasm above.]

Hughesy next requested women wearing miniskirts to call him up and let him know what time they were leaving the pub so he could get “inside their minds”.

I think that might be a bit harder to do than you imagine, Hughesy.

So it is clearly not just the shock jocks – and their daily, diarrheic diatribe – that are making offensive and generalised comments to and about women.

It is time for the radio companies to look past the quick advertising bucks these blokes pull in and take a strong stand against their misogynistic bulldust.

Photo: Jeremy Buckingham, Wikimedia Commons.


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Dullsville versus Vegas


OPINION: I’ve just returned from a week cruising the highways and byways of the busy Queensland capital.

Perth vs BrisbaneSome 20 years ago, Brisbane – until then the forgotten step-sister of Sydney – cast off the shackles of its Cinderella status. In what quickly became an annoying cliche, local hipsters facetiously dubbed their city ‘Bris Vegas’ in recognition of its newly energised condition.

Remote Perth is now at the point that bigger Brisbane was two decades ago, shedding its Dullsville tag but still constrained by a Conservative mindset.

Here’s a potted comparison of the two urban outposts …


Visionary stadium upgrades between 10 and 15 years ago delivered Brisbane the world’s best Rugby and League ground (Lang Park), and an AFL/cricket stadium (Gabba) that puts both Subiaco and the WACA to shame. Pull your finger out, Perth.


Way back when globetrotting Lisa Scaffidi was a TAA airline hostess, her blue-blooded lord mayoral prototype in Queensland, Sallyanne Atkinson, started calling Brisbane the ‘River City’.

‘Salaryanne’ as many Brisvegians now remember her was eventually booted from office but her one lasting legacy – the River City moniker and resulting appreciation of the serpentine Brisbane River – stuck.

That said, Brisbane’s brown waterway is crap compared to Perth’s majestic Swan.

One notable exception is the Citycat fast ferries that zigzag between the north and south banks of the river between Brisbane’s eastern and western suburbs from sunup to midnight.

They are loved by locals and tourists alike.

With Perth’s 29 puny councils lacking clout compared to single-council Brisbane, and the Barnett government lacking vision, it’s hard to see Perth gliding into the Citycat era anytime soon.


Mr Barnett seems hell-bent on defiling Perth’s waterfront by ripping up a grassy park, erecting 10 towers of dubious design, and gouging out a rectangular marina for the rich and semi-famous.

In comparison, Brisbane’s South Bank and its predecessor World Expo 88 cleaned up a derelict stretch of abandoned riverfront warehouses.

Modern buildings were cleverly placed at the back of the South Bank site, away from the river. They covered an ugly railway line years before a similarly laudable but costly project got underway in Perth’s Northbridge.

Unlike the rectangular marina planned for Perth’s pleasure-cruising millionaires, South Bank’s sprawling swimming lagoon caters for patrons of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.


From Rockingham in the south to Yanchep in the north, Perth’s golden beaches beat Brisbane’s mudflats sands down.

Still, the Brisbanites do have plenty of sand to kick around when they day trip to the gold or sunshine coasts.


A big shout-out to Perth’s restaurateurs here with the WA capital sporting way more diversity and quality on the cafe front.

With the possible exception of West End in Brisbane’s once-rough inner-south, the chain outlets have taken over Brisbane’s latte strips. The default meal in Brisbane is a deep-fried one.

However, cafe and restaurant service in the Queensland capital is far superior to that in Perth. Queenslanders with their glitzy Gold Coast and cruisy Cairns have embraced the service game rather than suffered it.

Brisbane eateries strike the right balance between attentiveness (without being too clingy), friendliness and efficiency.

Unlike in Perth, it’s rare in Brisbane to see wait-staff plonk a butt-cheek on your table and make your dining experience all about them.


Brisbane Airport – and every other capital city airport from Hobart to Darwin – is better than Perth’s.

All things considered, though, Perth is the better of the two cities.

Contrary to urban myth, Perth is far from the most laid-back place on earth. But it is very scenic and you can still get a patch of white sandy beach to yourself.

Perth’s rate of improvement – driven by small business and artistic innovation rather than grandiose government schemes – is more impressive than that of Brisbane which, frankly, has been resting on its laurels in recent years.

With a good dose of local government reform, and a change of state Premier, there would be nothing stopping Perth.

As country crooner Mike Nesmith once yodelled …

“I love it here on the range.

“But I would love it more if it changed.”


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Sister city stupidity


OPINION: Mandurah City Council is set to become the latest of WA’s 138 local authorities to jump on the sister city gravy train.

To date, Mandurah has resisted the urge to join the likes of Cockburn, Rockingham and Perth councils on their feeding frenzy of international junkets.

But that is likely to change on Tuesday night when Mandurah’s elected officials vote on a draft ‘International Relations Policy’ put to them by city staffers.

All members of a council committee that recently endorsed the unwieldy nine-page document five councillors to nil are on the 13-strong city council so the policy looks set for approval.

After recent approaches from foreign municipalities, Mandurah’s bureaucrats have recommended that no sister city agreement be entered into just yet. However, their draft policy paves the way for such an eventuality.

When asked by their political masters to draft such a policy, a more responsible crop of city administrators would have come back to the elected officials with a one-sentence manifesto like:


After all, the Feds are the only level of government with any constitutional responsibility for foreign affairs.

Given the number of offshore jaunts undertaken by our local councils you could be forgiven for thinking that – despite being the only level of government not mentioned in our Constitution – councils controlled the nation’s international relations and trade.

Take for instance the puny, 12.7 square kilometre, City of Perth – which has an outlandish eight international sister city agreements and four ‘charters of mutual agreement’.

I believe the most valuable of these agreements is the one with Grenoble, established in 1985, which is inactive.

That means Perth city fatcats have little opportunity to contrive and execute ratepayer-funded junkets to that city, nestled in the foothills of the French Alps, for the sole benefit of they and their political masters.

Like Bill Heslop, the self-serving councilman from Muriel’s Wedding, these local amateurs cut across the work of real diplomats – at public expense, at some risk to Australia’s reputation and with little public benefit.

If sister cities were simply the organisational version of pen pals, I’d have no beef with them.

They would not be the most strategic relationships on Earth, but for the price of a stamp they’d be harmless enough.

But, in reality, sister city agreements are very expensive to maintain.

Last financial year, the budget for sister city schmoozing at the City of Perth alone was $314,064.

Once pronounced, sister city marriages are difficult to annul – foreign bedfellows are easily riled by any suggestion that their next visit to Burswood may be at risk.

Western Australia – with its ludicrous number of local councils is more susceptible to sister city blowout than any other state or territory.

A quick whip-round reveals WA has the second highest number of municipalities servicing sister city agreements of any Australian jurisdiction – behind New South Wales whose population is about three times ours.

The diplomatic powerhouses of Albany, Augusta-Margaret River, Belmont, Broome, Busselton, Bunbury, Canning, Cockburn, Esperance, Exmouth, Fremantle, Greater Geraldton, Joondalup, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Manjimup, Northam, Rockingham, Perth, Subiaco, Swan, Vincent and Wanneroo all service bilateral relationships.

All these municipalities will tell you there sister city agreements fulfil ‘key strategic objectives’.

My point is – that with the state divided up among 138 local authorities, many with populations less than some Perth high schools – how strategic can these objectives be?

If WA’s councils want some company, why don’t they try instead to get on better with their neighbouring local authorities – or better still, amalgamate with them?

As long as one pothole remains unfilled, one planning application unprocessed or one median strip unmowed, our city, town and shire councils have no business wasting ratepayer dollars on international forays.

I would hope that Mandurah’s councillors have enough conscience to reject the allure of offshore junketing when they next meet on Tuesday night.

I suspect that parochial self interest will prevail though.

As Bill Heslop says: ‘You can’t stop progress’.



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The great Perth Waterfront swindle


OPINION: Good on State Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee for highlighting glaring omissions in the planning process for the increasingly contentious Perth Waterfront project.

The committee’s recent Review of selected Western Australian Infrastructure Projects confirms what most waterfront watchers suspected – that the pros and cons of a ‘do nothing’ approach were never weighed up.

In the absence of a truly innovative design emerging, Perth could do worse than do nothing.

Yes, we should scrap the project and leave the tree-lined parks of The Esplanade and foreshore alone.

The great foreshore swindle that’s being pulled here – under the guise of ‘riverfront activation‘ – is that a public park is set to be dug up and replaced by a rectangular lake and private sector skyscrapers.

By way of balance, the committee’s review highlights that the South Bank redevelopments in Melbourne and Brisbane have been great for those cities. If done well, the review says, the Perth waterfront project could similarly benefit the WA capital.

However, the review fails to mention that the Brisbane and Melbourne South Banks were created by demolishing rundown warehouse areas – not by building over precious inner-city parkland as proposed in Perth.

The committee warns that the secrecy of Perth waterfront planners and a lack of public consultation could jeopardise the success of the $2.6 billion project.

The review hints that the middling project now being spruiked by the Barnett Government may not be good enough to fully energise the waterfront.

It’s a stretch to call any skyscraper squat. But the 10 mid-rise cuboids now planned for a rectangular backwater off the Swan appear remarkable only for their unremarkability.

At least the big, Dubai-like tower conjured up in 2008 by now-ousted premier Alan Carpenter had landmark value and a touch of pizazz.

So, why not leave the rolling front lawn of Perth to sprawl in all its verdant glory a while longer? – (It is perhaps Perth’s most enduring postcard image) – and concentrate on getting the massive Northbridge Link project right.

It’s not like the Link does not require attention – with the adjacent Perth Arena being a shambles from its inception and massive cost blowouts already dogging the Link itself.

Nobody seriously argues that sinking the ugly rail line that splits Northbridge from Perth should not proceed full steam ahead.

Northbridge’s long-occupied position on the wrong side of the tracks mirrors the once-rundown riverfronts of Brisbane and Melbourne more than the picture postcard image of the Swan foreshore ever did.



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Build it and they will come


OPINION: I have two things in common with high-profile AFL convert Karmichael Hunt who booted his first AFL goal to much celebration on the Gold Coast last night.

Like me, Special K was raised in the outer Brisbane suburb of Algester. And like me, as a boy the Kiwi immigrant played his first rugby league game in this country with the mighty Southern Suburbs Magpies.

And there the comparison ends.

For unlike he, I shall never don the hallowed maroon jersey of the greatest rugby league team the world has ever seen – Queensland.

Nor shall I ever get to wind up and dob my inaugural AFL goal from 55-metres out at Carrara Stadium as Hunt did last night.

More disturbingly, I will not see a decent AFL stadium built in my adopted hometown of Perth any time soon that’s the equal of the pictured ground where Hunt launched his prodigious punt.

Why does a holiday town a third the size of Perth and indifferent to AFL have a better footy stadium than the footy-mad WA capital?

I posed this question on Twitter last night, and an instantaneous response hit the nail on the head.

“Maybe their government got off their butt and built one,” fired Todd AKA Perthstorm.

Nilfiskvacuumdr AKA Andy Hawcroft shed further light on the situation.

“Queensland knows what tourism needs, WA only knows about dirty big holes in the ground,” Nilfiskvacuumdr lamented.

It’s hard to disagree with either tweeter.

But also perhaps, Queensland, like Hunt and his punt, is more willing to wind up and go for it.

Me and my mate Snackman were fortunate enough to be at the inaugural Brisbane Bears game at a rudimentary Carrara in 1987 where the only available parking for his Ford Cortina was on an adjacent boggy paddock in the middle of nowhere.

The traffic that clogged the single-lane access road resembled the final scene from A Field of Dreams where a baseball diamond made by a farmer in an Iowa cornfield miraculously attracts his late baseball star father, the Chicago Black Sox and a massive crowd.

Few at Carrara in 1987 knew the rules of the Mexican hatdance unfolding before us. The Bears lost to their eventual merger partners the Fitzroy Lions, and the Cortina got bogged before the long drive back to Brisbane.

But the match signalled the arrival of a new sport that at the peak of the Brisbane Lions’ triple-flag success 15 years later would rival rugby league for popularity north of the border.

As the Field of Dreams farmer was advised by a supenatural voice during the movie: ‘If you build it, he [his late baseballer dad] will come’.

This is often misquoted as: ‘If you build it, they will come’ – which is more convenient for this piece.

Anyhoo, since 2005 Carrara has received its massive makeover, Brisbane’s piecemeal Gabba has morphed into a footballer’s paradise, and the jaded Lang Park cauldron transformed into the world’s best rugby ground.

Over the same period, WA has spent $1.7 million on a major stadia report that now gathers dust while some Subiaco patrons still brave butt-splinters from the remaining wooden benches.

After five years of dithering, in 2008 the then Labor government accepted one of the report’s recommendations to demolish Subi and build the new stadium next door at Kitchener Park.

This would have seen a world-class footy and cricket stadium built in Perth by 2016.

However, after Labor was ousted, new premier Colin Barnett scrapped the Subiaco plans and has only recently announced a tentative preference for a stadium at Burswood.

This is paralysis by analysis and way too risk-averse for a state whose two AFL teams would have no trouble filling the stadium regularly.

A word of advice from the Twitter community, Mr Barnett:

Take a leaf from the Book of Karmichael and JUST DO IT.



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Abolish Western Australia



OPINION: As the WA government fumbles over which local authorities to merge, the councils under the microscope should be checking the use-by stamp on Western Australia itself.

The state’s tortuous council ‘reform’ process, ‘steered’ by Local Government Minister John Castrilli has spluttered along for two years – with little to show for having bumped our cities, shires and towns from the driver’s seat.

Now, in the same way the operations of our councils have been investigated, the continued relevance of Western Australia – indeed of all the Australian states – must be probed.

The states are an archaic construct of the late nineteenth century, enshrined in the Australian Constitution when the nation was federated 110 years ago.

Inflicted upon Australia more out of parochial expediency than any rationality were two unwieldy tiers of government.

Local government became the third tier – but 11 decades on, the Constitution still dare not speak its name.

And with good reason in WA – the last state to embark on local government reform and home to 139 councils which is at least two-thirds too many.

In a smarter Australia, we would have no states and no local councils, but regional governments that deal direct on one hand with their citizens and on the other with the federal government.

The regions would assume most responsibilities of the current states and local councils.

In one fell swoop this would rid the nation of a useless layer of bureaucracy, improving consistency of decision-making while ensuring regional diversity.

It happens that the Feds, through Regional Development Australia, have already drafted a map of what the new order would look like:

The map sees everything west of South Australia not as some monolithic Constitutional dinosaur, but as nine good-sized regions each competing on its unique strengths and responding to its particular challenges.

The only change I would suggest would be to roll the Peel region into Perth – cutting the number of fiefdoms to eight and recognising Mandurah’s emergence as the southern part of the world’s most isolated metropolis.

Of course the map is self-serving for the Feds who would love to divide the states and conquer the nation.

This is where a whole new Constitution – with the nine Westralian regions and the Feds as signatories – would need to guard against insidious power creep to Canberra.

The rub is that the existing state of Western Australia would need to surrender its Constitutional birthright so a new deal could be brokered between the Feds and the regions.

A far-sighted state premier or governor could help broker the agreement to do themselves out of a job. The selfless act would earn them a legacy and admiration beyond their wildest dreams.

You may say I’m a dreamer.

But the map’s very existence shows I’m not the only one.



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Footy clubs selling our soul


OPINION: Perth Football Club has sold the naming rights of Lathlain Park to dairy company Brownes without approval from the ground’s owner.

Brownes Stadium Lathlain ParkThe Town of Victoria Park owns Lathlain Park, which has been The Demons’ home ground since 1959.

News of the club’s naming rights deal was published on the West Australian Football League website on February 25 – just one day after The Demons lodged an application for the council to approve the rebrand.

When the town’s councillors next meet on Tuesday, I urge them to refuse The Demons’ application.

The footy club has treated the town council – and by extension the local community – as a rubber stamp.


It can now be revealed that The Demons sold the naming rights to Brownes for $75,000 a year.

The town has asked the club to conduct a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis of the planned rebrand.

In response, The Demons have lodged nine strengths and opportunities.

By contrast, the following ‘analysis’ of weaknesses and threats was provided:

1. No identified weaknesses and threats at this point.

Come on, Demons!

Your application must be ruled out of bounds simply for playing the local community for fools.

A basic review of your plans throws up one fundamental weakness – you are selling the soul of a ground that you don’t even own.

Lathlain Park is owned by the community and used by other sports – none of which will receive a brass razoo from your rebrand.

In a separate submission to the council, you acknowledge the ground’s ‘iconic’ status.

This means Lathlain Park is a landmark.

As with all of society’s institutions, the names of landmarks should not be changed lightly.


Demons, you recently asked the town to cover the cost of maintaining your playing surface.

You also received a $25,000 increase in your annual handout from the town.

So the town has every right to cast a critical eye over your plans, and dismiss them at least until a proper SWOT is conducted.

Seen in isolation, your rebrand is not such a big deal, Demons.

Lathlain Park is hardly a household name, and you already sold out in 2003 by hocking the ground’s moniker to broadband company Eftel.

Bassendean Oval, Leederville Oval and the hallowed home of football at Subiaco have also been slapped with corporate rebrands in recent years.

But there lies the rub.

Corporate branding of Perth’s public parks is spreading like cancer.

Football grounds are among Perth’s most recognisable landmarks. The historic ones in particular add character, legibility and authenticity to our city.

Renaming them every few years, such as at Perth Oval, AKA Members Equity Stadium, AKA ME Bank Stadium, AKA nib Stadium screws with people’s minds.

Recently the City of Subiaco rightfully opposed the WAFL’s rebrand of WA’s most famous stadium and asked WA’s Heritage Council to comment on the Patersons Stadium rebrand debacle.

In a limp response, the Heritage Council gave the go-ahead as long as the words ‘Subiaco Oval’ remained on one historic set of ground gates.

As at Perth and Bassendean ovals before it, lettering on a solitary set of gates will be the only reminder of the ground’s original name.


This is a cop-out by the Heritage Council which is supposed to protect WA’s landmarks.

Stripping the original names from stadiums rips out their heart.

Bit by bit it hits at our heritage, messing with our language. The Nyoongar people know from bitter experience this is the most insidious form of cultural tampering.

Stadiums across the nation are becoming corporatised.

Many footy fans have given up trying to figure out whose home grounds the names Suncorp, Skilled and Etihad represent.

Even if it means footy clubs lose much-needed corporate sponsorships, WA should not just go with the flow on this one.

The identity of our cities is at stake. What next, the BHP Bell Tower, Swan Lager River, Burger King’s Park?

Footy clubs have long demanded poker machines be introduced to top up their coffers, and the state government has steadfastly refused.

Through the Heritage Council, the government must take an equally principled stand and step in to stop the spiritual destruction of our sporting landmarks.



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