Walking around Sydney’s big, gaudy bicentennial showpiece Darling Harbour recently, the place just seemed so sad. The word dowdy doesn’t do it justice. Imagine stepping out in the suit or dress you wore to your Year 12 formal. Now imagine you’d been wearing it every day since.
Just down the way, and soon to be linked by a waterfront walkway, lies the former port area of Barangaroo. All manner of shiny plans for the site have been drawn up, rejected, put forward again, and debated to death – mostly by those who consider any building without a picket fence a monument of brutalist architecture and an affront to humanity.
The latest from Barangaroo is that James Packer wants to build an even bigger tower and casino than originally planned. The plans are bound to bounce back and forth between various planning bodies and perhaps even the courts. But former PM Paul Keating gave it the thumbs up today, and that’s good enough for us.
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Eighteen trillion dollars. Yes, “trillion” dollars. That is the broadly accepted working estimate of the amount needed for vital economic infrastructure such as roads, ports, and rail facilities among Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group partners. And that’s just in the current decade to 2020.
It is a staggering sum even considering the large populations and massive growth often associated with this part of the world. For Australia, such an explosion of capital investment portends great opportunities and suggests that in addition to the mining boom, we are situated precisely where you would want to be as the locus of global power swings decidedly eastward.
For the pan-Eurasian colossus of Russia, this tectonic shift is being adapted to with maximum haste because geographically, if not culturally, the former super-power has a foot in both camps. The Russian capital may be closer to western European centres like Helsinki and Stockholm, but its vast territory extends to a coastline nine flying hours and eight time zones to the east. Which is why its President Vladimir Putin, who returned to the top job earlier this year, is now so eager to stress his country’s Asian links.
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The concept of high speed rail travel was dismissed by 19th century scientist Professor Dionysius Lardner, who warned that “passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia”.
The passage of time (and the development of physics) has proved Lardner wrong, with the proliferation of extensive high speed rail networks on every inhabited continent - except for Australia.
That’s not to say it has not been considered here. Far from it. Australia has been through at least three serious considerations of High Speed Rail (HSR) in the past 30 years.
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In the exciting world of statistics and public policy, one set of findings often begets another diametrically opposed set of findings. For example, there appears to be a direct link between worrying about multiculturalism and living in those parts of Australia untouched by multiculturalism.
Take a trip up the Queensland coast to Caloundra or go to a hinterland town such as Gympie. Aside from lemon chicken at the local Chinese, there is no discernible non-Anglo influence in these communities. Most of their residents wouldn’t know a burqa from a beer mat. Yet these were the same places which elected One Nation MPs in bid to protect their gloriously monocultural lifestyle, despite that lifestyle being under siege from absolutely nothing.
Over the past 12 months there have been three different surveys which have all identified Adelaide as the most liveable city in Australia.
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Three years ago I interviewed former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett about the lack of a bold, long-term vision for Adelaide.
“I absolutely believe that by 2030 there is a very real chance that South Australia will be one of the high-speed economic states of Australia,” said the man credited with transforming Melbourne. “Adelaide is a lovely city, but in my opinion it still hasn’t identified its core.”
Fast forward to 2011. And in the same week that a possible trillion-dollar mine was tipped within the Woomera Prohibited Area, SACA members yelled YES to changing the face of Adelaide forever. Hallelujah.
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It has taken humanity less than a million years to claw its way to the top of the food chain. Just because we’re number one it shouldn’t follow that we act like humanoid equivalents of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, madly devouring everything in our path and laying waste to the lesser creatures. And that includes cuttlefish.
This isn’t intended as some animal rights rant. Groups like PETA are off with the fairies. Vegetarianism seems a militant lifestyle choice when pursued as a matter of morality, rather than simply as a valid response to not liking the taste of meat, especially on the part of those who can see no inconsistency between rejecting flesh but happily wearing leather shoes.
That said, there are some members of the human race who don’t seem to have evolved far beyond the T-Rex in their hostility towards the more vulnerable and less intelligent members of the foodchain.
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Recently in the Cook Islands I had the opportunity of having breakfast with some of the Cook Islands’ most prominent female citizens.
Nikki Rattle, the CEO of the Cook Islands Red Cross, is a warm and engaging woman with boundless energy.
I grew up the son of Victoria’s first Equal Opportunity Commissioner and Nikki reminded me of the many women I met in my mother’s company during my childhood: emotionally intelligent and very strong.
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Tony Abbott’s suggestion of cutting aid to Indonesia to fund Queensland flood reconstruction was met with immediate fury from aid experts, who declared the decision morally bankrupt.
Yet Mr Abbott’s announcement has raised an important issue that should not simply be brushed under the carpet: the need for aid effectiveness.
When he announced the proposed cut, Mr Abbott said funding would be “deferred” subject to a full review of the effectiveness of the program.
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The NSW Government this week announced new zoning for some of our more leafy suburbs, allowing for the development of medium and high rise apartment buildings along the North Shore rail line.
You’d think building apartments near railway stations in a city choked by cars and a rental crisis would be a good idea, but from the reaction you’d think they’d authorised the concreting of a National Park.
While Federal Politicians argue about Big Australia, and just how big is Big, the issue of density has stayed in the sphere of the local skirmish. And while people complain about the urban sprawl of Australian cities, we’re still acutely averse to the concept of raising our children without the luxury of our own back yards. And that’s what back yards are, a luxury. Well a luxury that you have to mow.
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When rock stars Bob Geldof and U2’s Bono stomped through the United Nations a decade ago, demanding rich nations stump up billions of dollars in extra foreign aid, the world took notice.
Even John Howard signed up to this ``Make Poverty History’’ chant, determined to avoid being seen as a global Mr Scrooge.
But with Australia preparing to double annual foreign aid spending to $8 billion-plus by 2015, the time is right to pause and take account of how we are managing the current program.
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When you think of Canberra’s more secretive agencies, Australia’s spy agencies – ASIO and ASIS – usually come to mind.
It’s likely that the agency responsible for delivering bikes to poor Aids ravaged Africans, in a country with little or no public transport like Namibia, is not top of the list.
Yet as today’s News Limited investigation shows, AusAID is an agency with a secretive culture that rejects the accountability and transparency it demands of aid recipients such as the Bicycle Empowerment Network.
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