The Guardian 2024-04-09 01:04:22


Tanya Plibersek rejects Toondah harbour project over impact on globally significant wetlands

Walker Corporation had proposed 3,000 apartments, marina and shops for the site, which is a critical habitat for the endangered eastern curlew

Toondah Harbour: should a wetland home to endangered birds become $1.3bn worth of shops, high-rises and a marina?
To the moon and back with the eastern curlew

The environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek has announced she will reject an apartment and retail development on an internationally important wetland at Queensland’s Moreton Bay.

Plibersek said on Tuesday she would refuse Walker Corporation’s Toondah Harbour project first proposed eight years ago, and opposed by a long-running community campaign backed by scientists and conservationists – because it would have an unacceptable impact on the Ramsar site.

“I have made my proposed decision, which is to protect Moreton Bay from unacceptable impacts from a proposed development,” Plibersek said.

“These wetlands are rare, unique and important to prevent the extinction of animals like the eastern curlew and loggerhead turtle.

“My proposed decision says that we can’t destroy portions of this internationally important wetland.”

The proposed decision, if finalised, would bring to an end an almost decade-long battle for environment groups and residents who have fought to protect the wetland. The site is habitat for migratory birds, including the critically endangered eastern curlew which uses the wetland to recuperate and feed after its annual migration from the northern hemisphere.

Moreton Bay is also habitat for dolphins, dugongs and several species of marine turtles.

The site is protected under the Ramsar convention, an international treaty established to halt the global loss of wetlands.

Walker Corporation proposed transforming the area into a residential and commercial complex with more than 3,000 apartments, shops and a 200-berth marina.

The development would have carved out more than 50ha of the Ramsar site.

The project has been controversial after the former environment minister Josh Frydenberg went against the initial advice of his department in 2016 that the development was “clearly unacceptable” because of the impact it would have on the wetland’s ecological character.

Frydenberg sent the project to the next stage of the assessment process, a decision that was contrary to advice from the attorney general’s department, which warned it could put Australia in breach of its international obligations.

Documents released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information in 2020 showed the former minister had considered removing the protections from an area of the wetland after he was lobbied by Walker Corporation.

The chief executive of Birdlife Australia, Kate Millar, said the organisation and community campaigners that had fought to protect the site for a decade said they were thrilled “Minister Plibersek has proposed to overturn this completely inappropriate development at such a spectacular and internationally significant site.”

“We thank everyone who’s worked so hard to get to this milestone. We also thank Minister Plibersek for listening to us and understanding the importance of these wetlands to the world’s birds and the local community.”

“While we welcome this proposal to reject, this proposal should never have progressed as far as it has,” she said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the announcement was a “landmark decision for nature and people”.

“Walker Group’s marina and high-rise apartment plan would have destroyed irreplaceable feeding grounds for migratory birds, a big chunk of the Ramsar wetland and mature eucalypts that are home to koalas and other wildlife,” ACF’s chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said.

“This draft decision is a testament to people power. More than 24,500 people have directly contacted Minister Plibersek, urging her to reject this proposal.

“Thousands have taken to the streets calling on the Albanese government to save Toondah.”

O’Shanassy said the development was an example of why Australia needed strong new nature laws and an independent environment protection agency that allowed for a “fast no” to projects with unacceptable environmental impacts.

“The truth is, a proposal for a massive real estate project on a Ramsar wetland should have been rejected when the department recommended that to then Minister Frydenberg in 2015,” she said.

Plibersek’s proposed decision finds that in addition to having an unacceptable impact on the Ramsar site, the development would have an unacceptable impact on a range of threatened and migratory species including loggerhead and green turtles, the eastern curlew and the grey-tailed tattler. It would also have a significant impact on dugongs, dolphins and other shorebirds.

She said the proposed decision would be exhibited for public comment before she makes a final decision.

She said had formally advised Walker Corporation and the company had 10 business days to respond to the proposed decision.

Comment has been sought from Walker Corporation.

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • Birds
  • Animals
  • Wildlife
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Australians on welfare are struggling to survive one of the toughest cost of living crises in decades as payments fail to cover necessities, a new report shows.

Research by Anglicare Australia shows households with the lowest incomes are bearing the brunt of the nation’s worst inflationary period since the 1980s.

Despite the soaring cost of essentials such as food and housing, most Centrelink payments are only raised through indexation and are not keeping up, the report says.

Households on lower incomes spend a greater proportion of their budgets on essential items and have less capacity to absorb higher prices or reduce their discretionary spending.

The report found in the past two years, housing costs went up by 22% while food and groceries prices rose 17% and electricity costs 17%.

It has become clear over the past 18 months that many Australians are living too precariously to cope with the shocks brought on by rising living costs.

The charity urged the federal government to raise the rate of all social security payments above the poverty line.

It also called for the establishment of an Independent Social Security Commission which would have the power to set and adjust income support payments based on the cost of living.

– from AAP

New footage shows Australian couple beginning hike moments before Taiwan earthquake

Search continues for couple who have not been seen for six days after they began their hike on the mountainous Shakadang trail before the 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck

Rescue efforts are still under way in Taiwan’s Taroko national park to find two missing Australian nationals, who have not been seen for six days after a massive earthquake hit the island.

The couple, identified by local government officials as Neo Siew Choo and Sim Hwee Kok, went missing after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the island at 7.58am on Wednesday.

The quake, Taiwan’s largest in 25 years, has left 13 confirmed dead and more than 1,100 injured.

Taiwan’s eastern Hualien county, which lies only kilometres away from the epicentre of the quake, was particularly hard hit.

Rescue efforts initially focused on people trapped within collapsed buildings in Hualien city but have since moved to the surrounding Taroko national park, where the earthquake triggered significant landslides.

While 33 people remain trapped but accounted for within the park, five are still thought to be missing, including three Taiwanese nationals.

Rescue services have now narrowed down their search to the mountainous Shakadang trail, a popular tourist hiking route in the mountains of the national park, according to Jian Hong-cheng, director of the Hualien county fire department’s rescue operation.

CCTV footage shows the couple, who are also Singaporean passport holders, alighting from a bus near the trailhead. Another video, shared with the Guardian by a German tourist, shows the couple beginning their hike about 500 metres down the path, just 25 minutes before the quake struck.

“So far, we have been unable to locate them,” Jian said.

But a spot about 800 metres along the trail had been identified as an area of interest for the search.

With rubble and rocks filling the gorge that the Shakadang trail snakes along, rescue workers are struggling to make progress.

“There is no way for us to cut through the rock by hand and so we have to wait for the excavator to arrive,” Jian said. “But at the moment, the route is blocked by large boulders.”

With more than 785 aftershocks recorded in the region since Wednesday and more still being felt, rescue operations may continue to be hampered by the risk of further landslides.

“We are still constantly experiencing intense aftershocks,” Jian said. “This is the greatest risk to the workers carrying out the rescue. It’s very dangerous.”

The situation could also be made worse by a turn in the weather. “Because of the heavy rain in the afternoon, we could only carry out the search and rescue operation between this morning and midday,” he said.

As emergency services begin their sixth day of operations, and with downpours forecast to continue throughout the coming days, the rescue is turning into a race against time.

“A normal person who is trapped in this environment has little chance of survival after seven days,” Jian said. “Things are moving towards a point where we are becoming less optimistic.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Taiwan
  • Earthquakes
  • Asia Pacific
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Australia among hotspots for toxic ‘forever chemicals’, study of PFAS levels finds

Australian limits on acceptable levels of these toxic chemicals in drinking water ‘orders of magnitude’ higher than in US

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

High levels of so-called forever chemicals have been found in surface and groundwater all over the world, with Australia one of several hotspots for toxic PFAS, a University of New South Wales study has found.

Researchers examined groundwater samples from around the world and found 69% had per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at levels above Canada’s safe drinking water criteria and 32% had levels higher than the US proposed drinking water hazard index.

They found Australia was one of several “hotspots” relative to the rest of the world, along with China, Europe and North America.

More than 14,000 human-made chemicals are PFAS, including PFHxS, PFOS and PFOA. They have been used in firefighting foams, insecticides, food packaging, non-stick frypans, clothing and cosmetics. They were created for their high heat tolerance, and water and oil repellent properties.

They were dubbed forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment or the human body. PFAS have been linked to cancers, thyroid disease, altered sex hormone levels, reduced kidney function and lower birth weight in babies, but have not been proven to cause these conditions.

The study author, engineering professor Denis O’Carroll, said Australia’s limit on acceptable PFOA in drinking water was “orders of magnitude” higher than in the US.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

Australia’s PFOA limit is 560 nanograms per litre, while PFOS and PFHxS is limited to 70n/gl. Canada limits all PFAS to 30 ng/l, and the US limits PFOS and PFOA to four ng/l.

“Australia has much higher limits than the US, but the question is why,” O’Carroll said. “Both health bodies would have different reasoning for that, and there’s not a really strong consensus here.”

And we are “likely underestimating the environmental burden posed by PFAS”, he said. “There’s a real unknown amount of PFAS that we’re not measuring in the environment. Commercial products like garments and food packaging have a lot more PFAS in them than we realise.”

While surface and groundwater is usually filtered before it becomes drinking water, O’Carroll warned that some water providers – including Sydney Water – did not routinely measure PFAS in drinking water.

Sydney Water has said there is “no current evidence that PFAS is an issue”. It tested water in 2019 and 2023.

O’Carroll said drinking water was generally safe but should be monitored.

“The source water is the source of our drinking water, so we should be concerned about PFAS or other chemicals we put into the environment,” he said.

“For me, I drink water from the tap without hesitation, so I don’t worry about it. But I think we need to make sure we protect our source.”

The Australian government says most people are “very likely to have very low levels of PFAS in their bodies through exposure to everyday household items like carpet and upholstery protective sprays, cosmetics, sunscreens and some non-stick cookware”.

People who live near sites where PFAS has been released into the environment in large amounts may have higher levels, especially if they have been drinking contaminated bore water.

The government says studies of the potential health effects have had mixed results. Its PFAS expert health panel found that “although the scientific evidence in humans is limited, reviews and scientific research to date have provided fairly consistent reports of an association with several health effects”.

“The health effects reported in these associations are generally small and within normal ranges for the whole population,” the government’s statement says. “There is also limited to no evidence of human disease or other clinically significant harm resulting from PFAS exposure at this time.”

New Zealand plans to ban PFAS, while the European Union is phasing out their use. Some states in the US have restricted their use.

The Australian government has begun restricting PFAS use and plans to introduce new controls from 1 July next year so that PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS will be banned or severely restricted.

The study, the first to quantify PFAS in this way, was published in Nature Geoscience.

Explore more on these topics

  • PFAS
  • Health
  • Water
  • Pollution
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Australia among hotspots for toxic ‘forever chemicals’, study of PFAS levels finds

Australian limits on acceptable levels of these toxic chemicals in drinking water ‘orders of magnitude’ higher than in US

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

High levels of so-called forever chemicals have been found in surface and groundwater all over the world, with Australia one of several hotspots for toxic PFAS, a University of New South Wales study has found.

Researchers examined groundwater samples from around the world and found 69% had per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at levels above Canada’s safe drinking water criteria and 32% had levels higher than the US proposed drinking water hazard index.

They found Australia was one of several “hotspots” relative to the rest of the world, along with China, Europe and North America.

More than 14,000 human-made chemicals are PFAS, including PFHxS, PFOS and PFOA. They have been used in firefighting foams, insecticides, food packaging, non-stick frypans, clothing and cosmetics. They were created for their high heat tolerance, and water and oil repellent properties.

They were dubbed forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment or the human body. PFAS have been linked to cancers, thyroid disease, altered sex hormone levels, reduced kidney function and lower birth weight in babies, but have not been proven to cause these conditions.

The study author, engineering professor Denis O’Carroll, said Australia’s limit on acceptable PFOA in drinking water was “orders of magnitude” higher than in the US.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

Australia’s PFOA limit is 560 nanograms per litre, while PFOS and PFHxS is limited to 70n/gl. Canada limits all PFAS to 30 ng/l, and the US limits PFOS and PFOA to four ng/l.

“Australia has much higher limits than the US, but the question is why,” O’Carroll said. “Both health bodies would have different reasoning for that, and there’s not a really strong consensus here.”

And we are “likely underestimating the environmental burden posed by PFAS”, he said. “There’s a real unknown amount of PFAS that we’re not measuring in the environment. Commercial products like garments and food packaging have a lot more PFAS in them than we realise.”

While surface and groundwater is usually filtered before it becomes drinking water, O’Carroll warned that some water providers – including Sydney Water – did not routinely measure PFAS in drinking water.

Sydney Water has said there is “no current evidence that PFAS is an issue”. It tested water in 2019 and 2023.

O’Carroll said drinking water was generally safe but should be monitored.

“The source water is the source of our drinking water, so we should be concerned about PFAS or other chemicals we put into the environment,” he said.

“For me, I drink water from the tap without hesitation, so I don’t worry about it. But I think we need to make sure we protect our source.”

The Australian government says most people are “very likely to have very low levels of PFAS in their bodies through exposure to everyday household items like carpet and upholstery protective sprays, cosmetics, sunscreens and some non-stick cookware”.

People who live near sites where PFAS has been released into the environment in large amounts may have higher levels, especially if they have been drinking contaminated bore water.

The government says studies of the potential health effects have had mixed results. Its PFAS expert health panel found that “although the scientific evidence in humans is limited, reviews and scientific research to date have provided fairly consistent reports of an association with several health effects”.

“The health effects reported in these associations are generally small and within normal ranges for the whole population,” the government’s statement says. “There is also limited to no evidence of human disease or other clinically significant harm resulting from PFAS exposure at this time.”

New Zealand plans to ban PFAS, while the European Union is phasing out their use. Some states in the US have restricted their use.

The Australian government has begun restricting PFAS use and plans to introduce new controls from 1 July next year so that PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS will be banned or severely restricted.

The study, the first to quantify PFAS in this way, was published in Nature Geoscience.

Explore more on these topics

  • PFAS
  • Health
  • Water
  • Pollution
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Victorian Labor party members to stage revolt over public housing tower redevelopment

Exclusive: Rank and file group wants a doubling of social housing at the 44 tower sites and a guarantee all the land will stay in public hands

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Rank and file Victorian Labor party members will use an upcoming state council meeting to push the government to guarantee no public land will be sold off to private developers when it knocks down the state’s 44 public housing towers.

Labor for Housing – a non-factional advocacy group within the Victorian Labor party that advocates for better housing policies – will also use May’s state conference to call for a doubling of the social housing contained in the planned redevelopment.

“We know that the only way through the housing crisis is to increase supply through both government and private development,” said Julijana Todorovic, the Labor for Housing co-convener and co-founder. “But we also know that once we sell a government asset, we can’t get it back.

“When we sell government assets, it’s working people who lose out.”

In September 2023 the then premier, Daniel Andrews, released the Victorian government’s housing statement, which included plans to redevelop Melbourne’s 44 high-rise public housing towers.

He described the redevelopment as the biggest urban renewal project in the nation’s history, with “crumbling”, “out of date” and “derelict” towers to be gradually replaced by new energy-efficient apartments, which would accommodate three times as many residents over the next 30 years.

But according to the plan, only 11,000 of the 30,000 people living at the estates by 2051 would be in “social housing” – an increase of just 10% on current figures. The remaining 19,000 residents were expected to be private owners and “affordable” housing tenants.

A draft of Labor for Housing’s motion, seen by Guardian Australia, said the 10% uplift in social housing was “not enough to address our mounting housing crisis, where over 80,000 people are on the social housing waiting list”.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

It calls on the Allan government to increase the number of social housing dwellings on the 44 sites from 11,000 to 20,000, ensure there is no net loss of public housing dwellings across the sites and guarantee all the land remains in public hands.

The motion suggests the government instead adopt the ground lease model it has used in the past, where public land is leased to a privately owned consortium to build, operate and maintain for 40 years.

Labor for Housing’s motion also includes a broader moratorium on the sale of any surplus government land that may be suitable for housing, pending analysis by the state’s land coordinator general.

Todorovic said the group was keen to work with the government to ensure there was “more housing for people on the lowest incomes”.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to significantly increase the number of social housing dwellings on these sites and provide sustainable, secure homes for Victorians on land already owned by the government,” she said.

“We acknowledge that this will come at a significant financial cost. But we have a great opportunity … to get this right.”

Labor for Housing has written to Labor branches across the state urging their support.

Last year the group’s motions to make housing a human right, introduce a mandatory inclusionary zoning scheme and provide affordable housing for young people all passed unanimously.

Another motion to introduce a cap on the number of nights each year an owner can rent out a property as short stay accommodation, and recommending to national conference that it “remove negative gearing tax arrangements” for properties used for such a purpose also passed.

The motions are non-binding but play an important role in guiding Labor policy. Just months after the conference, the Victorian government introduced a 7.5% “Airbnb levy”.

The first public housing towers due for redevelopment are in Carlton, Flemington and North Melbourne, with a completion date of 2031.

But the plan is facing a legal challenge from Inner Melbourne Community Legal, which is set to return to the supreme court later this month.

The class action is being brought on behalf of about 1,000 residents of the three towers, with IMCL alleging the government failed to properly consider the human rights of residents when it decided to redevelop the towers.

It also challenges the legality of the cabinet’s approval of the plan, rather than the sate’s housing agency, Homes Victoria.

Explore more on these topics

  • Victorian politics
  • Labor party
  • Housing
  • Victoria
  • Melbourne
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Tony Abbott didn’t want women in his senior ministry, former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop claims

Former foreign affairs minister recalls ‘ferocious’ discussion with new PM about having only one woman in 20-member cabinet

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Julie Bishop – the only woman in Tony Abbott’s 2013 federal cabinet – believes that the then prime minister really wanted an all-male senior ministry and only included her because her elected position as deputy leader meant he could not avoid it.

The former foreign affairs minister remains convinced that Abbott’s preference was to have no women at all.

“I wasn’t appointed by Tony, I was there in my own right as the elected deputy leader, so they had no choice but to have me in cabinet,” Bishop says in a lengthy podcast interview with Helen McCabe, founder of professional development and advocacy organisation Future Women.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

“I suspect that had I not been deputy leader, I would not have been in cabinet, so there would have been no women in the cabinet.”

Eleven years after she was appointed foreign affair minister and five since she quit politics after the Liberal party rejected her as prime minister in favour of Scott Morrison, Bishop reveals what she calls “a quite ferocious discussion” with Abbott and his leadership team after he won the 2013 election and unveiled a 20-member cabinet with her as its only female member. He appointed himself the minister for women’s issues.

In the podcast, part of a series of eight with high-profile women, Bishop says she challenged his decision, not just because of “the optics” but also on behalf of “the other women who were perfectly capable of holding a cabinet position, if not more capable than many of those men chosen”. But she says she chose not to express her concern publicly out of a mix of cabinet solidarity and self-preservation.

“I knew that if I went out at that point as the only woman in cabinet said, ‘This is unacceptable, it’s 2013, get your act together,’ then that would have caused a rift that would have been irreconcilable between me and the rest of the cabinet,” Bishop says.

She wishes others, including the media, had expressed more outrage at the time.

“I think there were ways that we could have all done more and maybe some of the issues that arose down the track could have been circumvented.”

While she does not elaborate, that appears to be a reference to the Liberal party’s struggle to attract the support of female voters. She does refer to its inconsistent record in preselecting women and appears to ease her previously firm opposition to introducing quotas.

“I wish the Liberal party had introduced at least targets that they were held accountable for,” Bishop says. “I mean, you can have a target, but if you’re not held accountable for it, it means nothing. So I guess if you’re held accountable, it’s like a quota.”

In a discussion about diplomacy, Bishop also takes a swipe at Morrison’s handling of the China relationship, saying successful diplomacy requires a leader to “speak your mind, but in a way that’s not going to so offend the other nation”.

“So offend the other nations such that they then impose tariffs on you, for example, or exercise economic coercion over you,” she says, citing an unnamed example that “just pops to mind”.

In more direct criticism of other former colleagues, she says Barnaby Joyce and Bob Katter get away with utterances that others cannot.

“Could you imagine a woman saying some of the things that Barnaby says?” she asks. “No, you can’t.”

Bishop’s reflections come just days after Abbott called for the party to choose more women after a run of Liberal preselections in which there were either no female candidates or they were overlooked. In one of them, to replace the now-retired Morrison in his safe southern Sydney seat of Cook, Abbott is understood to have advocated against the only woman in the field, Gwen Cherne.

On Saturday the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Abbott as calling for the parliamentary Liberal party to “have more women and to be more diverse”.

Bishop, who was deputy to four Liberal leaders and elected to the position six times, says Abbott’s 2013 cabinet configuration was driven by political paybacks.

“He obviously owed a lot of people favours and he had worked out his cabinet and the gender disparity clearly didn’t occur to him,” she says. “And when it was pointed out that this is not good enough, it didn’t go over well.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Julie Bishop
  • Women
  • Liberal party
  • Tony Abbott
  • Gender
  • Coalition
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

‘Tone deaf’: Melbourne council criticised over plans to restore ‘heritage’ concrete roads

Historian supports preserving some of the interwar period roads, but Yimby activist criticises Boroondara council plan

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A Melbourne council has developed a plan to restore several concrete roads it deems to be of “heritage significance”, despite admitting it costs up to three times as much as asphalt and is less safe for drivers.

Community consultation closes this week on a plan by the City of Boroondara to restore about 15% of the council’s 22km of concrete roads, which were constructed during the early 20th century across suburbs such as Balwyn, Camberwell, Glen Iris, Hawthorn and Surrey Hills.

Daniel Freer, the council’s director of places and spaces, told Guardian Australia that 3km of road had been earmarked for restoration within its heritage precincts, including Boroondara’s oldest concrete road.

“Boroondara’s first concrete road, Compton Street, Canterbury, was constructed in 1925, and roads in the Hassett and Golf Links Estates suburbs were constructed circa 1927,” he said.

“These roads comprise just over 3km of council concrete roads and fall under Boroondara’s heritage precincts as providing a ‘predominantly intact interwar landscape containing concrete roads’.”

According to the draft plan, concrete roads were installed in several subdivisions during the period between the first and second world wars and “contribute to the municipality’s interwar heritage character”.

But it noted many of the roads were “extensively cracked”, “ageing” and “patching”.

Under the policy, the council would undertake “repair and restoration works” to small sections of the heritage-listed roads using concrete “rather than a full road reconstruction”. It would also aim to match the colour of the concrete to the original “as much as practical”.

If repairs are not possible, it would reconstruct the full road using concrete.

The remaining 19km of concrete roads in the area, which are not under heritage overlay, would be reconstructed with asphalt. The plan said this was the council’s “preferred surface”.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The council’s website said concrete roads were “up to three times the cost of replacing with asphalt” and were harder to maintain and repair, as well as less smooth for drivers.

“Concrete roads need to be textured to create enough grip. This can lead to the road surface being more uneven, bumpy and noisy when compared to asphalt roads,” it said.

The new policy also includes a plan to maintain the area’s bluestone kerbs, which it said were “considered by some to contribute to the heritage character of our neighbourhoods”.

Freer said community feedback would be considered by the council before the guidelines were introduced.

The historian Dr James Lesh of conservation consultancy Heritage Workshop said it was important the council maintain some of its concrete roads to preserve its history and uniqueness.

“This is something that contributes to the neighbourhood, like trees, gardens, statues and cast iron fences and other things that are heritage listed,” he said.

“There’s no reason why they can’t be incorporated into conservation protections and it means we don’t end up with every single neighbourhood and every single area of the city just looking exactly the same.”

Lesh said it was not uncommon for roads to be heritage listed, citing the Great Ocean Road, which was built as a memorial to Victoria’s first world war servicemen and women, and St Kilda Road, one of Melbourne’s grandest major thoroughfares.

But Jonathan O’Brien from Yimby Melbourne said it was another example of “overreach” by councils when it comes to heritage protections.

“No one actually thinks concrete roads are a valuable part of society, do they?” he said.

“We don’t live in 1950s America. We live in 2024 Australia in the midst of both a housing and climate crisis and at a time when councils are under a rate cap that means they don’t have any money to fund infrastructure and services.

“But they still insist on allocating their funds towards things like this. It feels tone deaf.”

O’Brien said 32% of developable land in Boroondara was heritage protected. His group has called on the state government to abolish heritage overlays in cases where negative social impacts are greater than the benefits.

“In the case of these roads … the council have made it clear these roads are less safe and more expensive. They know this, yet they’re still doing it.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Melbourne
  • Urban planning
  • Victoria
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Most viewed

  • Tony Abbott didn’t want women in his senior ministry, former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop claims
  • LiveAustralia news live: welfare payments not covering basic essentials, Anglicare says; new ADF chief announced
  • New York appeals judge rejects Trump’s request to delay hush-money trial
  • ‘Tone deaf’: Melbourne council criticised over plans to restore ‘heritage’ concrete roads
  • Bridget McKenzie’s office wanted ‘sports rorts’ funding tripled to pay for target and marginal seat priorities

‘Tone deaf’: Melbourne council criticised over plans to restore ‘heritage’ concrete roads

Historian supports preserving some of the interwar period roads, but Yimby activist criticises Boroondara council plan

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A Melbourne council has developed a plan to restore several concrete roads it deems to be of “heritage significance”, despite admitting it costs up to three times as much as asphalt and is less safe for drivers.

Community consultation closes this week on a plan by the City of Boroondara to restore about 15% of the council’s 22km of concrete roads, which were constructed during the early 20th century across suburbs such as Balwyn, Camberwell, Glen Iris, Hawthorn and Surrey Hills.

Daniel Freer, the council’s director of places and spaces, told Guardian Australia that 3km of road had been earmarked for restoration within its heritage precincts, including Boroondara’s oldest concrete road.

“Boroondara’s first concrete road, Compton Street, Canterbury, was constructed in 1925, and roads in the Hassett and Golf Links Estates suburbs were constructed circa 1927,” he said.

“These roads comprise just over 3km of council concrete roads and fall under Boroondara’s heritage precincts as providing a ‘predominantly intact interwar landscape containing concrete roads’.”

According to the draft plan, concrete roads were installed in several subdivisions during the period between the first and second world wars and “contribute to the municipality’s interwar heritage character”.

But it noted many of the roads were “extensively cracked”, “ageing” and “patching”.

Under the policy, the council would undertake “repair and restoration works” to small sections of the heritage-listed roads using concrete “rather than a full road reconstruction”. It would also aim to match the colour of the concrete to the original “as much as practical”.

If repairs are not possible, it would reconstruct the full road using concrete.

The remaining 19km of concrete roads in the area, which are not under heritage overlay, would be reconstructed with asphalt. The plan said this was the council’s “preferred surface”.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The council’s website said concrete roads were “up to three times the cost of replacing with asphalt” and were harder to maintain and repair, as well as less smooth for drivers.

“Concrete roads need to be textured to create enough grip. This can lead to the road surface being more uneven, bumpy and noisy when compared to asphalt roads,” it said.

The new policy also includes a plan to maintain the area’s bluestone kerbs, which it said were “considered by some to contribute to the heritage character of our neighbourhoods”.

Freer said community feedback would be considered by the council before the guidelines were introduced.

The historian Dr James Lesh of conservation consultancy Heritage Workshop said it was important the council maintain some of its concrete roads to preserve its history and uniqueness.

“This is something that contributes to the neighbourhood, like trees, gardens, statues and cast iron fences and other things that are heritage listed,” he said.

“There’s no reason why they can’t be incorporated into conservation protections and it means we don’t end up with every single neighbourhood and every single area of the city just looking exactly the same.”

Lesh said it was not uncommon for roads to be heritage listed, citing the Great Ocean Road, which was built as a memorial to Victoria’s first world war servicemen and women, and St Kilda Road, one of Melbourne’s grandest major thoroughfares.

But Jonathan O’Brien from Yimby Melbourne said it was another example of “overreach” by councils when it comes to heritage protections.

“No one actually thinks concrete roads are a valuable part of society, do they?” he said.

“We don’t live in 1950s America. We live in 2024 Australia in the midst of both a housing and climate crisis and at a time when councils are under a rate cap that means they don’t have any money to fund infrastructure and services.

“But they still insist on allocating their funds towards things like this. It feels tone deaf.”

O’Brien said 32% of developable land in Boroondara was heritage protected. His group has called on the state government to abolish heritage overlays in cases where negative social impacts are greater than the benefits.

“In the case of these roads … the council have made it clear these roads are less safe and more expensive. They know this, yet they’re still doing it.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Melbourne
  • Urban planning
  • Victoria
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Most viewed

  • Tony Abbott didn’t want women in his senior ministry, former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop claims
  • LiveAustralia news live: welfare payments not covering basic essentials, Anglicare says; new ADF chief announced
  • New York appeals judge rejects Trump’s request to delay hush-money trial
  • ‘Tone deaf’: Melbourne council criticised over plans to restore ‘heritage’ concrete roads
  • Bridget McKenzie’s office wanted ‘sports rorts’ funding tripled to pay for target and marginal seat priorities

Bridget McKenzie’s office wanted ‘sports rorts’ funding tripled to pay for target and marginal seat priorities

Exclusive: FoI documents show senator’s office spoke to other members, duty-senators and some crossbenchers to prioritise marginal and target seats

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Bridget McKenzie’s office proposed tripling funding for the “sports rorts” program to deliver “priorities for target and marginal” seats after consultation with MPs and senators, new documents confirm.

After a three-year freedom-of-information battle, the Greens have secured the release of colour-coded spreadsheets related to the community sport infrastructure grant program and the “talking points” document prepared for McKenzie to pitch to the then prime minister, Scott Morrison, to expand the program from $30m to $100m.

That document reveals McKenzie’s office spoke “to other members and duty-senators and some cross-bench on key priorities – with a priority on marginal and target seats” before discussing the proposed expansion with Morrison.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

“With $29.7m, we cannot fulfil key priorities; with $100m, we can achieve at least two priorities for all our targets and marginals,” the talking points said.

In January 2020 the audit office delivered a scathing report that the program was targeted at marginal or Coalition target electorates, after McKenzie departed from Sport Australia’s recommendations by effectively conducting a parallel assessment process.

McKenzie denied wrongdoing in her administration of the scheme but resigned over an inadvertent undisclosed membership of one of the recipient clubs.

In 2020 the Australian National Audit Office told a Senate inquiry that McKenzie’s office had drawn up talking points to pitch a $70m expansion of the sports grants program on the basis it would help fund 109 more projects in marginal and target seats.

McKenzie has consistently denied that she saw the talking points before her meeting with Morrison on 28 November 2018.

The talking points document notes that expanding the program from $30m to $100m would increase the number of projects in target seats from 32 to 67; and the number in marginal seats from 82 to 156.

Total projects in target and marginal seats would rise from 114 projects worth $21m to 223 projects worth $46.5m.

The talking points suggested the program could be expanded further to $130m, with “$30m for new and emerging priorities for target and marginals”.

Even with $100m there would be “205 total projects” in marginal and target seats unfunded despite receiving a score above 60% from Sport Australia, it said.

The talking points document is written in the first-person, for example, suggesting McKenzie tell the prime minister: “A number of members and senators have made representations to my office and I have taken these into consideration.”

The talking points contain a “communications plan” including to “aim to sign off during final sitting fortnight for year” to “provide time for MPs/duty-senators to fight for projects”.

Successful projects could be announced in the lead-up to Christmas and into the new year, in time for “cutting ribbons from February 2019 onwards”.

“Small projects will be completed very quickly providing opportunities for continual announcements during the early part of 2019.”

McKenzie said she stood by her evidence to the Senate inquiry, which was that applications in marginal and target seats hadn’t been given “any precedence or special treatment”.

“This former adviser’s memo was not used as a basis for my decisions at any stage in the process,” her April 2020 submission said. “The memo was never provided to me or seen by me.”

McKenzie rejected claims project selection had been “negatively politicised” and argued that, although not her intention, Labor seats had done better from the program as a result of ministerial decisions.

She told Guardian Australia: “I resigned for a perceived conflict interest; I did not see these documents and my ministerial decisions were made to broaden the spread of sports and communities who benefited.”

“Some Labor MPs were among MPs advocating their preferred local projects.

“I stand by my decisions as over 680 clubs benefited across the country.”

The freedom-of-information documents include a spreadsheet breaking down the proposed $100m of funding by state and territory; and by the party that held the seat in which the projects were located.

A further colour-coded spreadsheet notes the party that holds every federal seat, with a column for “electorate status” including whether they are “target” or “marginal”.

This document notes the number of applications and number of projects funded, with a column for the “% successful” by both number of projects and value of funding.

The talking points suggest that this spreadsheet “reflects an ask for $100m+ in line with the letter I [Bridget McKenzie] wrote to PM in October”.

The document reflects indicative benefits of expanding the program, rather than the final result of grant rounds.

In her submission McKenzie claimed that the audit office appeared to have based its assertion “there was a marginal seat strategy conducted within my office that influenced the success of grant applications” on this “singular email”.

The Greens senator Janet Rice said the documents confirmed that “the ANAO found there was more funding for projects that didn’t score as well on the assessment in targeted and marginal seats”.

“Any assessment saying this much went to Labor or Liberal seats wasn’t the appropriate metric – the metric was whether they were the seats [the government] were targeting.”

Rice, who will retire from the Senate on 19 April, said it was an “absolute indictment” it had taken three years to release the documents, quipping that FoI had become “freedom from information”.

The health department resisted the release of the documents, and has appealed against the information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd’s decision ordering their release to the administrative appeals tribunal.

In her 1 March decision Tydd said that “disclosure would promote effective oversight of public expenditure by providing documents created by staff in the then minister’s office”.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Bridget McKenzie
  • Coalition
  • Australian Greens
  • National party
  • Freedom of information
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

New York appeals judge rejects Trump’s request to delay hush-money trial

Lawyers had argued trial should be postponed while they seek a change of venue to move it out of heavily Democratic Manhattan

  • Sign up for Trump on Trial: a free newsletter on all the latest court developments

A New York appeals court judge has rejected former President Donald Trump’s request to delay his 15 April hush-money criminal trial while he fights to move the case out of Manhattan.

The decision came Monday, a week before jury selection was set to start.

Trump’s lawyers had argued at an emergency hearing that the trial should be postponed while they seek a change of venue to move it out of heavily Democratic Manhattan.

Trump was ready on Monday to sue the judge in his New York hush-money case a week before the start of the much-anticipated trial, the New York Times reported, detailing yet another attempt by the former president to delay legal proceedings against him.

Citing court records indicating the filing of sealed documents and two unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter, the paper said the aim was to delay trial and challenge a gag order imposed by the judge.

“Mr Trump’s unorthodox move – essentially an appeal in the form of a lawsuit – is unlikely to succeed, particularly so close to trial,” the paper said.

Facing 34 criminal charges related to hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who claimed an affair with him, Trump has pleaded not guilty.

He has repeatedly attacked the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, and members of his family, alleging political bias.

The trial is set for Manhattan next Monday and will be the first criminal trial involving a former US president.

Trump, the Times said, was also expected to ask an appeals court to move the trial out of Manhattan, his home borough before his post-presidency move to Florida but a heavily Democratic area.

That gambit was also deemed unlikely to succeed.

Harry Litman, a US attorney turned law professor and commentator, said: “Trump’s latest desperate move of personally suing Merchan in the appellate division is reminiscent of his initial gambit in Palm Beach [Florida], where judge [Aileen] Cannon permitted him to take the whole action off track [in his classified information case].

“But won’t happen here. Imagine if a criminal defendant could do this … ”

The Times said the suit would be an Article 78 action, under New York laws that can be used to challenge state agencies and judges.

Trump faces 54 other criminal charges: 40 in Florida, over his retention of classified information after leaving office, and 14 over his attempt to overturn the 2020 election – 10 in Georgia and four in Washington DC.

Trump also faces multimillion-dollar penalties in two civil cases, both in New York, one concerning tax fraud and the other for defamation arising from a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”.

Denying all wrongdoing and claiming political persecution, Trump is attempting to delay all cases against him until after the presidential election in November.

If he were to defeat Joe Biden and return to the White House, he could ensure the dismissal of federal charges in the classified information case and in four charges of election subversion. State charges would be tougher to deal with.

In the New York hush-money case, Merchan last week denied an attempt to delay trial until the US supreme court rules on Trump’s claim of immunity regarding any act committed in office, lodged in his federal election subversion case.

Merchan has also rejected one call to recuse himself and is thought overwhelmingly likely to reject another.

Explore more on these topics

  • Donald Trump
  • Stormy Daniels
  • US crime
  • US politics
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

‘A mystical experience’: millions watch total solar eclipse sweep across North America

Almost 32 million people in the path of totality as moon’s shadow crossed the Mexico-Texas border and then traversed 15 states

  • If you missed the total solar eclipse just wait … until 2044
  • Total solar eclipse over Mexico, US and Canada – in pictures

The ethereal spectacle of a total solar eclipse swept across North America on Monday afternoon, giving tens millions of people in Mexico, the US and Canada the chance to witness a rare and dazzling celestial show.

Almost 32 million people were in the path of totality as the moon’s shadow crossed the Mexico-Texas border at lunchtime and traversed 15 states over the next hour and a half, although many, especially in the south and midwest, were denied a clear view by low clouds and rain.

Those who did get to experience it were treated to a remarkable and surprisingly emotional display that won’t be seen again in the US until 2044. Cities were plunged into sudden darkness, chilled by a precipitous drop in temperature, and felt the stillness of twilight in the middle of the day.

“There’s something very mysterious about a total solar eclipse, when literally day turns to night, animals start to behave differently, and we see changes in the Earth’s atmosphere,” Pam Melroy, the deputy head of Nasa, and a retired astronaut who has degrees in astronomy and planetary sciences, told CNN.

“It’s a mystical, mysterious experience. And I love the thought that millions of Americans stood together today, looking up into the sky.”

Tourism officials believe at least 4 to 5 million traveled from other parts of the US to witness the show, making it the country’s biggest travel day of the year and bringing in an estimated $1.5bn economic boost.

Many were up before dawn to stake their place, and cities from Texas to Maine, as well as others outside the path of totality, hosted watch parties and gave away free eclipse glasses.

Joe Biden posted a message from the White House, calling the eclipse an event “worth marveling at”, and urging Americans to use safety glasses to look at the sun.

The Dallas-Fort Worth region was the largest metropolitan area on the path of totality, making north Texas a major destination and creating potential headaches for locals. The cloudy weather left some scrambling at the last minute to change plans and head for clearer skies, but for much of north Texas totality itself was clear.

Ignas Barauskas traveled to Texas from Lithuania, arriving at midnight, just hours before the eclipse began.

“Better than all expectations,” he told the Guardian, after the clouds parted and Dallas experienced almost four minutes of blackout.

“Everyone was screaming, like a concert,” he added.

For many, the experience proved costly, with surging air fares and exorbitant hotel rates. Others found long-held bookings canceled and resold to new customers at up to three times their original prices.

Such was the interest in the eclipse that numerous states and municipalities declared states of emergency in expectation of massive crowds. The entire event, however, appears to have passed off peacefully, amid warnings from US intelligence of a rise in the terror threat, particularly for large gatherings, following last month’s deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall.

Nasa live streamed the event for those who could not see the eclipse directly or lived outside the path of totality. Almost everywhere in North America experienced a partial eclipse of varying percentages depending on the proximity to its center track.

The agency also conducted science experiments. It fired rockets into the moon’s shadow to study how Earth’s upper atmosphere is affected by the momentary dimming of sunlight and the possible impact on communications systems, and it harnessed an army of citizen volunteers to capture images of the solar corona during totality, then help analyze them afterwards.

Meanwhile, at several zoos, researchers joined public volunteers to watch the behavior of animals. During previous eclipses, giraffes ran around frantically, tortoises started rutting and gibbons sang and barked, although television images of zebras at Dallas zoo on Monday showed them largely unimpressed by the event.

The most recent total solar eclipse in the US was in 2017, but an interval of only seven years is unusual. This one had a longer track, and a wider shadow of totality than seven years ago because the moon was closer to Earth.

The time of totality in any given location was also longer. In 2017, the longest duration anywhere was two minutes and 42 seconds. Today it was four minutes and 28 seconds in Torreón, Mexico, while almost every place along the path experienced between three and a half to four minutes of totality, even if those below could not always see the eclipse.

The next total solar eclipse anywhere in the world is 12 August 2026, covering large areas of the northern hemisphere, with totality limited to Greenland, Iceland, Spain, Russia and a small area of Portugal. The UK will see a partial eclipse of more than 90%.

Residents of the mainland US must wait until 22 August 2044, when a total eclipse will be seen in North and South Dakota and Montana, plus northern Canada.

Following that, it is almost exactly one year until the next coast-to-coast total eclipse in the US, on 12 August 2045, spanning California to Florida.

  • Additional reporting by Charlie Scudder

Explore more on these topics

  • Solar eclipses
  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • Americas
  • Space
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Mocking the Abrdn name is ‘corporate bullying’, says chief investment officer

Peter Branner accuses press of making ‘childish jokes’ about rebrand, which would not be acceptable if firm was a person

It is a global company with more than two centuries of managing money but for Abrdn jokes in the media about the lack of vowels in its name is no laughing matter.

After changing its name three years ago, an executive at the fund manager formerly known as Standard Life Aberdeen has accused the media of “corporate bullying” that would not be acceptable if the business was a person.

Chief investment officer Peter Branner pointed a finger at the press, which he said continued to make “childish jokes” about the name change.

“I understand that corporate bullying to some extent is part of the game with the press, even though it’s a little childish to keep hammering the missing vowels in our name,” he said in an interview with the trade magazine Financial News.

“Would you do that with an individual? How would you look at a person who makes fun of your name day-in day-out? It’s probably not ethical to do it. But apparently with companies it is different,” he added.

Unlike individuals who rarely choose their own names, Abrdn paid an undisclosed sum to branding agency Wolff Olins before settling on its new identity in one of the most divisive corporate rebrands in recent memory.

The company, formed by the £3.8bn merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017, was pushed to rebrand after selling its UK and European life insurance business, as well as its Standard Life brand name, to Phoenix Group.

The change prompted immediate criticism of the asset manager’s “ill-thought-out” decision to drop its vowels, which is a strategy more typically employed by TikTok stars and YouTubers such as the Strictly Come Dancing star Hrvy.

Sources said the company rejected using “Aberdeen”, because it would not have been able to control the intellectual property rights for the name of an existing city.

Instead, it settled on Abrdn in the spring of 2021, prompting scorn from City analysts, linguists and the press, who joked the company was experiencing “irritable vowel syndrome”, and was trying to be “too cool for schl”, and that the decision was “rlly stpd”.

Chief executive Stephen Bird – who has been jokingly referred to as Stphn Brd – has since defended the change, and claimed clients had “fully embraced it”.

An Abrdn spokesperson said: ‘‘As Peter made clear in his interview, we appreciate it is for the media to make their own assessments about the companies they wish to write about.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Aberdeen Asset Management
  • Insurance industry
  • Standard Life
  • news
Share

Reuse this content