We’re galloping towards another end of year and if you’re feeling all at sea instead of the racetrack it’s no surprise. This country’s politics has pitched us all onto the high seas in rocky boats, getting wilder than ever.

Every week there’s another pollie falling on their sword because they’re not legally entitled to be in parliament. There are by-elections, state elections and potentially even a federal election looming faster than we can bare to imagine.

We’ve got a PM who may or may not be there next week, who has actually cancelled a week’s parliamentary sitting to shore up something or other (probably the above). And there’s that indelible image of Julie Bishop sprinting up the steps of Parliament House in tracky dacks, Rocky style, that we just can’t shake.

In a completely ironic twist for the uber conservatives, the same-sex marriage survey might have just unleashed a new army of voters not previously enrolled on the electoral roll who could be inclined to vote for the Greens or for other parties that would like to save the planet and protect human rights.

That’s what Greens leader Richard Di Natale is banking on in Queensland’s election this weekend, as polls in the Labor-held seat of South Brisbane show the party’s 31-year-old Amy MacMahon could unseat sitting deputy premier Jackie Trad.

Queensland has in the past year or so jumped from a state with a dreadful anti-sustainability legacy, thanks to the former premier Campbell Newman, to a lightning rod for energy policy as premier Anna Palaszczuk spurned public funding of the Adani Carmichael coal mine and this week challenged Adani to go right ahead and start construction since they claim to have support and a business case and permissions.

The latest intel on Adani though is that the Chinese may back it and that’s bad news because we know that the Chinese are not as sensitive to public opinion as the big global banks.

Messy? Rocky? In the extreme.

But at least Labor in Queensland is committed to a 50 per cent renewables target by 2030 and a few other pieces of good news including $50 million to start a solar thermal power station with storage.

Dick Smith: what are you doing?

The other big issue that’s emerged is on population thanks to wealthy retired businessman Dick Smith, who should be putting his millions into something more useful.

Smith’s ads over recent months in daily newspapers were annoying enough. They called for population control as the answer to all we hold dear (ourselves, primarily). But in recent days he’s added a red paragraph that says if you care about population then vote for the Sustainable Australia Party or One Nation.


This man goes on the news and says he does not support One Nation except on population. But because Sustainable Australia Party is not running in Queensland that leaves just one choice.

There are two lessons here.

One is that, as sustainability advocates have learnt, it’s that nothing exists in isolation. We live in complex, interconnected systems that need to be dealt with as such and not as a piece of code or plug-in that can be inserted to solve a particular problem.

That’s why sustainability for the planet needs to bring with it social sustainability (and financial, as the enabling tool).

People need to share the burden of action fairly because unfair systems are inevitably targeted for toppling. They’re not sustainable.

So avoid single issue parties or ideologies of any sort.

The other problem with the population question, and one of the reasons it’s so tricky, is that it’s pretty easy to create a sustainable Australia on ecological or any other grounds if you shut everyone else out.

We’re reminded of the wise words of Peri Macdonald from Frasers Property when he was discussing the extreme challenges of meeting the Living Building Challenge outcomes for the company’s Burwood Shopping Centre. LBC asks for projects to produce 105 per cent of the energy they need.

It would be simple if you were asked to meet net zero energy for a stand alone box with no people in it, Macdonald said. But this is a shopping centre whose specific purpose is to draw to it as many people as possible to it. That’s what makes the challenge hard. And it’s also the reality we face on the planet.

Smith wants Australia to cut immigration to its traditional yearly quota of 70,000 people a year, instead of the current rate of nearly 200,000 a year.

But we’re not sure what he proposes when millions on our doorstep are flooded out of their homes as the waters rise.

Turn off the lights so they think no one’s home?

And we haven’t mentioned foreign policy complications of going down the Swiss route.

NSW – who exactly is in charge? And who is the culprit?

This Dick Smith notion of shoring up our own patch without thinking about the consequences on others seems to be the thinking behind the outrageous politics that occurred in NSW this week.

An excellent bill on non-compliant building products had been widely and deeply debated by industry and stakeholders, endorsed in spirit and intent by ministers, and was set to sail through to legislation. But somewhere between the debate, the approval and the Lower House reading, the bill was mysteriously and utterly eviscerated.

No one claims responsibility. No one says they don’t like the bill.

The bill is shaved, shorn, defrocked, de-clawed. It’s sent limping into the Upper House, like a spindly newborn unable to stand on its own feet, cut down before it get a chance.

A classic whodunnit, worthy of the best Danish noir.

Someone has leant close into the ear of the minister or raised that famous bushy eyebrow. Just a tad.

Many industry sources said they were furious.

The Australian Steel Institute was not impressed. Chief executive Tony Dixon said third-party certification schemes to uphold supply quality, were not upheld in the bill.

“This is a core recommendation of the Senior Officers’ Group of the national Building Minister’s Forum (BMF) group of which the NSW government is represented, as recently as September this year,” he said.

The Greens said they were hammered relentlessly to do something about bringing back the teeth.

The bill passed through the lower house – a small clip on the hind quarters –and it sprinted through the Upper House.

Emergency meetings between all the independents, even the Shooters Party, but not Fred Nile, failed to get the important clauses reinstated.

Deleted clauses related to:

  • issuing product recalls
  • banning the supply of non-conforming or non-compliant products
  • making it an offence to use non-conforming products
  • powers to issue directions for building inspections or audits
  • duties for all parties in the supply chain to provide evidence of product conformance and suitability
  • consumer protections.

What’s going on?

The Housing Industry Association denies they had anything to do with the nobbling. They wanted it passed in its original form.

Industry sources said the MBA lobbied to weaken similar changes that occurred in Queensland. They and the Property Council were asked for comment but did not return calls.

Labor’s shadow minister for better regulation, Yasmin Catley, told The Fifth Estate that minister Matt Kean had come out in July “all bravado” that the government was going to make sure every person in the building supply chain would be held accountable.

Non-compliance and non-conformance were a very serious problem, she said, but the bill as it was passed just “skirted around the edges” and was nothing but “limp legislation”.

Just one amendment of many proposed by the Greens and Labor, and supported by all the Upper House cross-benchers – except Fred Nile – was added: that all occupants of a defective building would be notified, not just the owners corporation.

At least tenants would be made aware if they lived in a property that posed a threat to their safety, she said.

But there is no mechanism in the bill for the auditing of buildings, and no firm directives. “May” appears instead of “must” in many instances.

“The Bill is a reactive bill. The government doesn’t want to fix the problem broadly – it is just tinkering around the edges,” Catley said.

“Not one home in New South Wales will be made safer as a result of this legislation.”

Karen Stiles, chief executive of the Owners Corporation Network, said the bill had promised to be groundbreaking legislation. But peak industry and consumer bodies were shocked, she said, to discover a very different bill than the one they had been consulted on and fundamentally supported.

“How often does an industry embrace more regulation? Yet that’s the opportunity government lost here,” she said.

Another high-up industry source, who didn’t want to be named, was even more scathing.

“Now that this hopeless and ineffective bill has passed, Matt Kean should be renamed the Minister for Betrayal and Bad Regulation, because this is what the government has served up to the building owners of NSW,” the source said.

“This bill is simply a mopping up and ‘pin the blame on the building owner after a disaster’ piece of legislation. It will not prevent dodgy, poor quality and dangerous building products from entering the supply chain. It fails to meet the government’s commitment to the Building Ministers Forum to develop sound legislation to eliminate the incidence of non-conforming building products in NSW.

“But worst of all it is a betrayal of the NSW consumers and the building industry, that they were being given better legislation that would help prevent a Grenfell type disaster in this state. Congratulations NSW Government on betraying us and lumping us with yet another piece of crap legislation (and we thought the previous government was the epitome of corruption and incompetence…)”

So how about we try to find out what happened here? Which lobby group or individual developer swayed the government? Send clues to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

We may not be able to offer the same security to protect your identity as Wikileaks but we can promise the strongest journalistic non-disclosure and source protection code of ethics we can muster.

 Clover’s party

A funny introduction welcomed guests to City of Sydney Lord Mayor’s annual Christmas reception to skite about the achievements during this latest year of her long reign. It was in the form of a very loud town crier, who called up the spirits of the early colonial settlers at Christmas eve, with celebrations by all and even the convicts gathered on the shoreline enjoying double rations.

In view of the building products legislation, still to hit our desks but maybe known to Moore, and in view of the other appalling vandalism of recent political actions at state level. including removing the highly competent planning minister Rob Stokes (still bemoaned at public events) or any number of silly and destructive decisions (such as WestConnex), you can’t help thinking the town crier’s antics might have been Moore’s quiet middle finger  to the long-lived rum state still operating at full throttle.

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