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No tender for lucrative planning role

A CONSULTANT to the planning department reprimanded for contact with the Labor lobbyist Graham Richardson was given his $667,000 job on the basis of a one-page letter from him to the planning boss, Sam Haddad, after the department failed to tender on it.Norman Johnston was awarded the job as general manager of Western Sydney Employment Area Lands without a tender because the job was expected to cost less than $30,000, the department said in answers to the McGurk parliamentary inquiry, for which hearings resume today. But Mr Johnston, a former Commerce Department executive, ended up being paid $667,000 for his work from January last year until this year.As part of his job he managed the controversial proposal by the developers Ron and Roy Medich to rezone land near Badgerys Creek, the subject of the parliamentary inquiry following the murder of Michael McGurk, a former Medich business associate.At the inquiry Mr Johnston has admitted to five contacts with Mr Richardson during the latter’s time lobbying for the project. Mr Haddad has said he told Mr Johnston to cease contact with Mr Richardson. Mr Johnston said Mr Richardson was the only lobbyist he met in his 1½ years with the department. He had first met him when he was general manager of the state’s property portfolio in about 2005, he said.Asked if there was a tender process for the western Sydney lands work, the department said: ”The department made the decision to engage Mr Johnston as the best-qualified specialist available to meet the [short] deadline. Advice was that a tender was not required under the procurement policy as the quantum for the initial phase of the project was not expected to exceed $30,000. It was intended that an open tender would follow.”The Herald has learnt from government sources that Mr Johnston was known for a pro-developer stance in his previous work with the Department of Commerce. At one point he was reprimanded there, government sources said, for hiring a PR agent with taxpayer funds to promote himself. Mr Johnston repaid the funds, the sources said.Mr Johnston, Mr Richardson and Mr Haddad, as well as the former planning minister Frank Sartor, are all expected to appear before the inquiry.Invoices referred to in the documents show Mr Richardson has earned $264,000 as a lobbyist to the Mediches since 2005.Documents given to the committee also show Mr Sartor and Mr Haddad met the Mediches on May 5 last year, the day before Mr Sartor cruelled an early rezoning. That meeting was not previously revealed in a planning department submission to the inquiry.The letter from Mr Johnston to Mr Haddad that earned him the lucrative work talks of his ”16 years [of] senior executive experience in the public sector at ministerial advisory level”.It says: ”If this role is still available, and if under discussion with the minister, I would like you to consider these [key performance indicators], which respectfully no private sector incumbent could have with a commercial background”.Mr Johnston did not return calls, and a department spokesman would not comment.In other documents given to the inquiry, Ron Medich said he did not ”make political donations in order to improve my chances of getting projects approved”.It has emerged that the Medich brothers donated more than $200,000 to the Labor Party after they employed Mr Richardson and began lobbying to have the Badgerys Creek land rezoned.”In my experience, the bureaucrats take the lead in relation to development decisions,” Ron Medich said. ”They are generally very good people and … the way forward is to co-operate with them and take notice of what they say.”
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Turnbull wins first round on ETS

MALCOLM TURNBULL has not ruled out a deal with the Government on climate change before the end of the year, despite encountering stiff resistance from sections of his backbench during a marathon party-room meeting yesterday.Mr Turnbull won the first round of the internal fight by securing party-room agreement to negotiate changes to the Government’s emissions trading scheme. He promised to consult the party room again before making a final decision.About 50 MPs and senators – or half the caucus – spoke during the tense 4½-hour meeting..While permission to negotiate was unanimous, sources said about 15 stated openly they would defy the leader and vote against any scheme before the Copenhagen climate change conference in December, regardless of how many amendments Labor accepted.A majority supported Mr Turnbull’s assertion that the Coalition needed to be ”in the game” on climate change.Mr Turnbull, who has staked his leadership on being able to negotiate, said afterwards that if the Government’s response to the amendments was satisfactory, he could swing the backbench behind a deal, before Copenhagen.”I would be confident we would secure that support,” he said. Labor would have to give a lot of ground. ”Tonight we are putting the ball back in Kevin Rudd’s court.”But he indicated he would not push for a deal before the end of the year. He rejected a Labor offer for extra sitting days if necessary and said he expected debate to go well into next year.The amendments include a permanent exclusion for agriculture, greater exemptions for emission- intensive industries, and the classification of food processing as emission-intensive industries.The Coalition also wants exemptions for methane emitted by coalmines, and either more compensation for power generators, or a different model for the generators in which they would pay only for permits after hitting a certain threshold. Either would limit the price rises for businesses and households.The emissions trading spokesman, Ian Macfarlane, said the scheme, if amended, would still be revenue neutral and cut greenhouse gases by the same amount.Before the meeting, the most outspoken rebel, Wilson Tuckey, said any negotiation would be tantamount to capitulation. He backed down from his threat to move that there be no vote before Copenhagen.The Nationals said they would not vote for any scheme, regardless of the amendments.”It’s case of turning down this ridiculous CD before you turn it off,” Senator Barnaby Joyce said.The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said a failure to secure a commitment to a vote next month when the legislation would be debated would be a failure of Mr Turnbull’s leadership.
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Minister’s unlawful act scuppers 7200 homes

THE state’s biggest housing project has collapsed after the Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally, admitted she acted unlawfully in approving the 7200-home Hunter Valley proposal.On the eve of a court challenge by residents opposing the Huntlee New Town project near Branxton, Ms Keneally and the developer of the $1.8 billion complex have conceded the minister’s approval of the concept plan and a rezoning application breached planning laws.Her concession sounds the death knell for a project the planning department had ranked last of 91 potential housing development sites in the Lower Hunter, and which was approved only after the Labor Party donor behind it hired the lobbyist and former Labor minister Graham Richardson.On Thursday the department wrote to lawyers acting for the Sweetwater Action Group, which represents opponents of the project, conceding ”the minister took into account irrelevant considerations” when approving Huntlee, that ”there was a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of the minister” when granting approval and that the approvals “should be quashed”.The letter, obtained by the Herald, was sent four days before a court case due to begin today and says the department and the developer, Huntlee Holdings, will agree to the court making orders to stop the building of homes for 20,000 people.Revelations that the Government acted unlawfully comes on the day the upper house inquiry into planning will resume.Huntlee was conceived and backed by one of the biggest donors to the NSW Labor Party, Duncan Hardie’s Hardie Holdings, a part owner of the project.Ms Keneally’s admission appears certain to unravel a host of agreements for other new estates in the Lower Hunter, which the Government wants to take an extra 160,000 people by 2031. Others under threat include developments with Hardie Holdings for Sanctuary Villages, near Cessnock, and with Coal & Allied for Catherine Hill Bay and Gwandalan, and nearby sites at Minmi, Link Road, North and South Stockrington and Black Hill.Once the court approves the orders, the Huntlee land will revert to rural zoning. Approval for a new development would require the Government again to declare it a state significant site.In rezoning the land in January and approving the concept plan a month later, Ms Keneally breached the law because her predecessor, Frank Sartor, had signed a separate land-swap memorandum of understanding under which Huntlee would give almost 5900 hectares of its conservation land to the state as part of the project approval.In August, the Land and Environment Court’s Justice David Lloyd, said such land-swap deals were ”land bribes” when he overturned planning approval for another big Labor donor, Rose Group, to build 600 houses at Catherine Hill Bay.Justice Lloyd said that deal, under which Rose Group gave the Government conservation land, meant the minister might have appeared biased when approving the project.Electoral Funding Authority records show that in the four years to the election last year, companies associated with Duncan Hardie donated $174,600 to NSW Labor and Rose Group, gave $143,500.A spokesman for Ms Keneally said the Government did not comment on court cases.Hardie Holdings could not be reached.
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High tide for housing

THE NSW Premier will give beachfront property owners threatened by coastal erosion and sea level rises more rights to build sea walls and barriers to protect homes, despite fears it will severely damage some of the Australia’s best beaches.Announcing the new measures today, the Government will name 19 ”hot spot” beaches where owners are under threat from coastal erosion.They include Sydney’s northern beaches – Collaroy, Narrabeen, Mona Vale and Bilgola – Batemans Bay and Mollymook to the south, and Pearl Beach, MacMasters, Old Bar, Lennox Head and Byron Bay’s Belongil to the north.The measures will force councils covering the hot spots to prepare emergency storm plans; introduce a code of practice for ”temporary protections to threatened properties”; and give councils and the state government powers to stop owners building unapproved sea walls.But in a highly controversial move, the government will be able to override councils which refuse to allow beachfront residents to build defences. If residents are willing to pay to build the defences they will be able to appeal either to the planning or environment minister, who will decide if it is ”environmentally feasible and sustainable”.Nathan Rees said the measures would be enforced by laws to ensure ”existing home owners can act to protect their properties and share the financial responsibilities, subject to stringent environmental impact assessments”.The plans will put the Rees Government on a collision course with Byron Bay and other coastal councils. Byron council is involved in a long legal battle with owners at Belongil over demands to build a defensive barrier on the public beachfront.Andy Short, who has written extensively on the coastal crisis, said: ”My concern is that the Government is prepared to sacrifice some of the best beaches in Australia to save a handful of beachfront property owners who have known for decades they are in a high-risk area.” Professor Short said the plans were ”crisis management at its worst”. But it will become a key part of the Government’s response to sea level rises caused by global warming.The deputy director of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Simon Smith, rejected the claim that beachfront property owners would be allowed to build barriers at the expense of public beaches.”It’s not just, ‘I’ll build a wall, it’ll protect me and I’ll be right mate’,” he said. Owners would have to ensure the works did not transfer the erosion from one spot to another. Erosion studies show a sea wall built in one spot is likely to transfer erosion because sand tends to move from south to north.Owners would have to commit permanently to paying for sand replacement. He said the number of properties under threat was likely to rise hugely. ”The Opera House will be under water if we don’t make changes, so you have to prepare for that … People are still spending $3 million, $5 million or $7 million buying properties that have big risks.”
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Exposure to greats inspires Parry’s nephew to turn pro

TWO years ago when Craig Parry finally realised his dream of winning the Australian Open at The Australian course in Sydney, his nephew Matt Thomas was on the bag and read every putt along their family victory walk together.Now, Thomas, 23, has decided he, too, will turn professional.Ask him about the time in 2006 when he qualified for the open at Royal Sydney and he’ll probably tell you he beat Parry. Omitted might be the not-so-significant fact that they both missed the cut.”Caddying for me, Matty has been able to mix with some of the players, like Tiger [Woods] at Isleworth, and been able to see first-hand the level that he needs to get to the next level,” Parry says. “He’s not far away from playing really well. He works hard and has a great short game.”Meanwhile, Parry has work to do to retain his player’s card to the Japan Tour. He is 71st on the tour’s money list with the top 70 exempt in 2010. CELEBRITY CHALLENGE On Monday, December 7, a day after the Open ends at the NSW layout, Sydney golf fans will be treated to a unique Australia versus New Zealand celebrity skins challenge at Moore Park. The respective captains will be Geoff Ogilvy and Michael Campbell. Other golfers include Kiwi Greg Turner, Peter O’Malley and Lucas Parsons. Others in action include Jimmy Barnes, Phil Kearns and Matt Burke and INXS’s Tim Farriss.Channel Ten will telecast the event, and entry is free. SENIOR AT THE SENIOR Peter Senior, who is 10th on the European Seniors Tour after playing just three tournaments, will make his Australian seniors debut at Royal Perth this week – in the $300,000 Australian Senior Championship in which Wayne Grady will defend the title he has won in the past two years at Concord.Apart from the usual suspects – Rodger Davis, Mike Clayton, Brian Jones, Terry Gale, Mike Harwood – there will be an international flavour with American Mac O’Grady and Frenchman Marc Farry. O’Grady is eccentric and outspoken, and capable of breaking par either right-handed (his natural side) or left-handed. Farry was one of the first players to be drug-tested on the European Tour. Negative of course, but he does smoke rich-smelling French cigarettes. WELCOME COLLECTION Tom Moore is passionate about golf history and also founder of the Australian Golf Heritage Society which has a marvellous museum on Parramatta Road in Granville.For years, he has had his eyes on a private collection of clubs and balls assembled over 50 years by 79-year-old Edgar Oakman in his journey as a club pro which started when he worked at the old Carnegie Clark factory in Rose Bay and progressed to Moss Vale, Papua New Guinea, Katoomba, Nelson’s Bay and Wentworth Falls. Oakman, 79, has donated his collection to the museum and it will be on show soon. SCOTT REFOCUSES Adam Scott has acknowledged playing in the Presidents Cup as a Greg Norman wildcard selection got his game back on track.”I’m really close to firing on all cylinders and being part of the Cup gave me the confidence I’ve been lacking for a few months,” Scott said. He’s back in Australia practising for a couple of weeks before playing the Singapore Open, HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai and then the Australian Masters. Source: The Sun-Herald
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