Chris Johnson, launching the tall buildings campaign

On building up, looking backwards and ignoring facts

5 June 2014 — The last time they tried planning reform in NSW the massive community backlash pretty well cost the minister his job. Along with the property and mining related development scandals that ended up in the Independent Commission Against Corruption you could say planning issues also cost the premier his job and forced a complete changing of the guard at Macquarie Street.

Former planning minister Brad Hazzard was praised for keeping to his word and listening to the community. Ahhem..maybe not quite what was expected.

Now we have two people in charge of planning. Call them good cop bad cop.

Former Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward has a track record with one of the toughest portfolios you could imagine, dealing with an almost endless litany of failures of vulnerable children and families. As a former journalist though she seemed to handle the toughest inquisitions into these matters with firmness. Not a bad call to make her the planning minister.

Assisting the minister is Rob Stokes. Not many people realise but he’s got a PhD in planning. And guess what part of planning? Community consultation. In his Northern Beaches constituency he has gained significant popularity by defending a local council’s right to say no to a big Meriton development.

In March, the Manly Daily reported that Stokes warned that inappropriate development could development could “rise like a zombie” under current planning regulations.

As minister for Pittwater, Stokes “raised the issue of spot rezoning and the gateway process, which can allow a development to be approved even if it doesn’t meet local development controls”, the newspaper said.

It was a Meriton development at Warriewood Valley and though knocked back three times by the the local council, Stokes warned it could rise again like a zombie, until it was approved.

Now we wonder where Stokes got that idea?

As parliamentary secretary for renewable energy Stokes was an impressive speaker at a Green Capital event a year or in 2012 and won over many of the sustainability crowd. See our report here.

So what has the affable Stokes taken on now?

A first taste was a big missive from Goward this week that Sydney needed to go super tall.

Yes, Sydney’s land mass is constrained. An incisive analysis by SGS Economics and Planning a few years back found that Sydney’s potential for commercial land supply compared to Melbourne’s was woeful.

The call by Goward echoed the latest campaign launched by the Urban Taskforce at a breakfast a few weeks back for the same thing. Chief executive Chris Johnson started with some images of some of the world’s tallest towers showing how dismal and puny Sydney Tower looked by comparison.

Now the Urban Taskforce campaigns are nothing to sneeze at. We all recall Johnson’s push for a revitalisation and densification of Parramatta Road that ended up on television. Next he went for density and planning reform (one minister down, but it’s not over yet). And now he’s jumped onto the tall buildings call enlisting the help of The Daily Telegraph.

It will be interesting to watch the political ramifications because if anyone in NSW thinks that politics in this state is not intimately and intricately bound with planning then they’ve just arrived from somewhere else.

Yes there are arguments that greater density is sustainable. It reduces the need for roads and makes public transport viable.

In many ways it’s replicating the ancient village, where walkability was the key driver of design. Density increase lifestyle opportunities, community interaction, health and commercial outcomes.

But how dense is sustainable? Are really tall buildings going to provide enough benefits to offset the greater need for resources – concrete, steel, lifts, electricity to run the more intense services?

Can you use fresh air ventilation in a skyscraper where the winds are at almost sonic speeds?

Will technology rise to the challenge and find sustainable solutions?

These are the questions our team delved into this week.

But it’s an ongoing conversation. Send along your input because this is an issue that will only get bigger, like our cities.

Innovation being scrapped

This week saw a number of exciting sustainability ventures announced, including Swinburne University’s Advanced Manufacturing and Design Centre, Toyota installing the largest solar system in Victoria on its engine manufacturing plant’s roof, and the CSIRO revealing a “game changing” breakthrough in solar thermal technology.

What’s the common thread? No, it’s not that the announcements are great news for local industry (though they are), it’s that all these projects received funding from government programs that have now been scrapped entirely by the Abbott government.

Swinburne received $30 million in funding for its fantastic new building through the Education Investment Fund, now scrapped.

Toyota used funding for its cost-saving solar system through the Clean Technology Investment Program, a merit-based grants program to support Australian manufacturer competitiveness. Scheme scrapped

And the CSIRO’s groundbreaking supercritical steam innovation technology for solar thermal was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, a body the federal government said they supported before the election and then summarily removed all funding from. The CSIRO itself has suffered a $115 million hit from the Feds, which has led to the body channelling money for renewables and energy efficiency into unconventional gas and mining. Double whammy.

These amazing projects might not have seen the light of day without support from the government, and it’s sad to think about all the future amazing buildings and innovations that will now stay locked in the mind of a forward-thinking sustainability manager, scientist or chief executive.

The devastation of the cuts on Australia’s innovation potential was summarised in a report released this week from the Australian Council of Learned Academies, which said that improved productivity in Australia would require increased investment in research and development. It also suggested the success of Australia’s future manufacturing industries would depend on technological innovation.

“The ACOLA report lays out in black and white the central role that innovation, science and technology play in driving the creation of smart industries that will guarantee prosperity in the future,” chief executive of Science and Technology Australia Catriona Jackson said.

“It is quite clear that Australia cannot sit back and rely on resources to fuel our economy – those days are gone. It is time to harness the natural talent we already have in science and technology, and turn it to the best advantage, creating smart industries and good jobs. Planned, consistent investment in innovation, science and research is critical for our prosperity and that of future generations.

“Investment for the long term is not an either/or proposition. If we are not in the game, Australia will fall behind other first world nations and that is not place any of us wants to be.”

The cuts are affecting more than our innovative capacity too. The Fifth Estate this week received a press release from a community group devastated that the federal budget cuts meant they’d no longer be able to fight the rise of white supremacist ideology in Australia – an ideology that has grown in support across Europe in recent years, and one they fear could blossom here.

“Exit is the only not-for-profit program in Australia dedicated to preventing the recruitment of individuals by far-right extremists,” the statement said.

“It works to undermine white supremacist recruitment through debunking myths and conspiracy theories and providing forums and dialogue challenging white supremacy ideology.

“Exit targets young people who are most at risk of extremism and in the past six months alone over 10,000 individuals across Australia have accessed Exit’s online resources.”

The program was funded through the Building Community Resilience Grants program, which is now, you guessed it, now cut in its entirety.

US furthers climate gap with Australia

President Obama’s announcement that the US will now work to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 has furthered the gap between our two countries.

Back in April, Heather Zichal, former lead US White House advisor on energy and climate change, called out our government for its lack of action, saying it was “a mistake” not to take the issue seriously.

The US has said it wants climate on the table when Australia hosts the G20 summit in Brisbane in November, though Tony Abbott has said the focus will be economic development.

Asked about whether climate change would be on the agenda, Mr Abbott was today reported as saying, ”It’s also important to ensure that these international meetings don’t cover all subjects and illuminate none.

“The focus of the G20 will overwhelmingly be our economic security, our financial stabilisation, the importance of private sector-led growth.”

Greens Leader Christine Milne retorted: ”Our Prime Minister is so backward he doesn’t seem to understand the connection between climate change and economics.”

China may step up too

Rumours are that China will for the first time put absolute limits on carbon emissions from 2016.

“The government will use two ways to control carbon dioxide emissions in the next five-year plan, by intensity and an absolute cap,” He Jiankun, the chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference in Beijing.

He later clarified the statement, saying the proposal was still under consideration by the government.

But the trend is clear. Australia is moving further and further away from what is being done to tackle climate change in other countries, which will have an affect on its standing in a carbon-constrained world economy.

The government has its head in the sand on science and innovation, to the detriment of the country.

The climate deniers are in for another round

Watch out for another blitzkrieg from climate sceptic Ian Plimer with yet another book which he and his pals will promote heavily in coming weeks.

The sad thing is that The Australian Financial Review bothered to allow one of its best financial journalists to write a long and adoring article that celebrates Plimer and the idea that climate change isn’t happening, without some basic fact checking.

Plimer is billed as an academic in the headline, but what’s interesting is that the book seems to be all about politics and anecdotes no better than the one about the grandmother that “smoked till she was 90 and didn’t get cancer so cigarettes must be harmless”.  (And no we are not going to read the book or buy it; our point is the adoring article, not the book itself).

The worst bit about the article is that Plimer’s book has a forward by Patrick Moore, billed as a Greenpeace founder now campaigning against climate change. But no checks to see if this is correct information.

This is some of what the article said:

Professor Ian Plimer has never been renowned for moderation in his opinions about the extremist elements of the green movement and in this book he launches on them in a full-blooded, broken-bottle attack.

In his own words: “What started as a laudable movement to prevent the despoilation of certain areas of natural beauty has morphed into an authoritarian, anti-progress, anti-democratic, anti-human monster.” That Plimer should attack the greens is no surprise.

 More impressive is the book’s foreword, written by Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, who fully supports Plimer (our emphasis).

He congratulates Plimer for a book that provides a “different… and extremely rational look at the agenda of the green movement today”.

“In many respects, they have become a combination of extreme political ideology and religious fundamentalism rolled into one,” Moore says.

 “There is no better example of this than the fervent belief in human-caused catastrophic climate change.” Moore even rejects the core green belief that carbon dioxide emissions are harmful.”

 Most subs would by now have the alarm bells not just ringing but banging a cacophony.

The AFR isn’t the only one to get it wrong about Moore. Here’s a list of other major fact checking failures by other major media outlets around Patrick Moore.

 They include The Washington Times,, the Daily Caller, Newsmax, and the Daily Mail.

“In every case, Moore was characterized as a co-founder of Greenpeace. [The Washington Times, 2/26/14;, 2/26/14; Daily Caller, 2/25/14; Newsmax, 2/27/14; Daily Mail, 2/27/14]

Here is what Greenpeace says about Patrick Moore

Background – December 7, 2010

Patrick Moore, a paid spokesman for the nuclear industry, the logging industry, and genetic engineering industry, frequently cites a long-ago affiliation with Greenpeace to gain legitimacy in the media. Media outlets often either state or imply that Mr. Moore still represents Greenpeace, or fail to mention that he is a paid lobbyist and not an independent source. This page contains information about how to accurately describe Mr. Moore and to judge his credibility.

Patrick Moore is a Paid Spokesperson for the Nuclear Industry

In April 2006, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the principal lobby for the nuclear industry, launched the Clean And Safe Energy Coalition and installed former Bush Administration EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and Mr. Moore as its co-chairs. The Clean and Safe Energy Coalition was part of a public relations project spearheaded by the public relations giant Hill & Knowlton as part of its estimated $8 million contract with the nuclear industry.(1)

Patrick Moore Does Not Represent Greenpeace

For more than 20 years, Mr. Moore has been a paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries, including the timber, mining, chemical and the aquaculture industries. Most of these industries hired Mr. Moore only after becoming the focus of a Greenpeace campaign to improve their environmental performance. Mr. Moore has now worked for polluters for far longer than he ever worked for Greenpeace. Greenpeace opposes the use of nuclear energy because it is a dangerous and expensive distraction from real solutions to climate change.

Patrick Moore Did Not Found Greenpeace

Patrick Moore frequently portrays himself as a founder or co-founder of Greenpeace, and many news outlets have repeated this characterization. Although Mr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace. Phil Cotes, Irving Stowe, and Jim Bohlen founded Greenpeace in 1970. Patrick Moore applied for a berth on the Phyllis Cormack in March, 1971 after the organization had already been in existence for a year. A copy of his application letter and Greenpeace’s response are available here (PDF).

Patrick Moore Has Provided Inaccurate Information on Nuclear Power

In 2004, Mr. Moore published an article in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) journal entitled “Nuclear Re-think.” According to Mr. Moore, “Three Mile Island was a success story. The concrete containment structure did as it was designed to do: it prevented radiation from escaping into the environment.”(2)

Contrary to Mr. Moore’s claim, the damaged reactor spewed radiation into the environment for days. It appears that Mr. Moore didn’t even bother to check his facts. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s fact sheet on Three Mile Island (TMI) acknowledges that the meltdown resulted in “a significant release of radiation…”(3)

Even the International Atomic Energy Agency, which published Mr. Moore’s article, acknowledges that the TMI meltdown released radiation into the surrounding community. As a result, the IAEA ranks the accident as a Level 5 on a scale of 7, an Accident With Wider Consequences. (Only Chernobyl & the Soviet nuclear waste tank explosion in 1957 rank worse than the Three Mile Island meltdown.)(4)

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 10 million curies of radiation escaped the damaged reactor core. However, nuclear engineers who reexamined the accident estimate that as much as 150 million curies of radiation may have escaped from the reactor.(5) The meltdown at Three Mile Island turned a multimillion dollar asset into a multibillion dollar liability overnight and helped seal the fate of nuclear power in the United States. To claim otherwise is nothing but public relations spin.

Unfortunately, Mr. Moore’s pro nuclear spin is not confined to the Three Mile Island meltdown. While praising the Bush Administration for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol(6), Moore promotes nuclear power as a solution to global warming because,”(i)t produces no harmful greenhouse gases…”(7)

However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) already determined in 1999 that the Nuclear Energy Institute’s claims touting nuclear power’s supposed environmental benefits were misleading because it did not disclose the fact that the production of nuclear fuel produced greenhouse gases. The FTC concluded that NEI’s claims could not be substantiated, “(s)ince there is not yet any permanent disposal system for radioactive waste and since the process of uranium enrichment that fuels nuclear reactors emits greenhouse gases…”(8)

Patrick Moore’s Own Words

Consider Patrick Moore’s own words when considering his claims and those of the nuclear industry: “It should be remembered that there are employed in the nuclear industry some very high-powered public relations organizations. One can no more trust them to tell the truth about nuclear power than about which brand of toothpaste will result in the sexiest smile,”(9) he wrote before becoming a spokesman for polluters.


1. “False Fronts.” Columbia Journalism Review. April, 2006. (

2. Moore, Patrick. “Nuclear Re-Think.” IAEA Bulletin. Vol. 48, No. 1. September, 2006. p. 56-58. (

3. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Fact Sheet on the Three Mile Island Accident” (

4. International Atomic Energy Agency and OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. “INES – The International Nuclear and Radiological Scale.” (

5. Allen, Scott. “Findings underplayed disaster, 3 say” The Boston Globe. March 28, 1999. (

6. Morano, Marc. “Former Greenpeace Co-Founder Praises US for Rejecting Kyoto” December 8, 2005.

7. Whitman, Christine Todd and Patrick Moore. “Nuclear should be a part of our energy future.” The Boston Globe. May 15, 2006. ( oped/articles/2006/05/15/nuclear _should_be_a_part_of_our_energy_future/)

8. Bernstein, Joan Z (Director, Federal Trade Commission). Letter to Joseph Colvin, President and CEO, Nuclear Energy Institute, December 15, 1999. (

9. Moore, Patrick. “Assault on Future Generations.” Greenpeace Annual Report, 1976.

Here’s more from the AFR piece:

 Plimer’s thesis is that the real agenda of green groups (often registered as charities) is nothing less than the destruction of modern civilisation and that a key aim is to kneecap the global energy industry which provides society with electricity. It has always seemed odd that greens are so hostile to a gas which is vital for the life of trees. As a trained geologist, Plimer is well aware that the planet’s climate has been changing since its birth 41?2 billion years ago. “If the Earth’s climate did not constantly change, then I would be really worried,” he says.

What’s not mentioned is that the Plimer has now strayed far from so-called science into politics. And that it’s the speed of  climate change that is the issue.

And this:

What he contests is that manmade carbon dioxide has anything much to do with such change. It must be comforting for left-wingers to blame evil industrialists for destroying our planet, but in fact carbon dioxide accounts for only 0.04 per cent of the atmosphere and man-made carbon dioxide accounts for maybe 4 per cent of that, so Plimer regards the proposition as nonsense.

Yes carbon is natural but what is unnatural is that the sensitive balance of carbon in the atmosphere is unbalanced by fossil human-induced emissions.

Other junk science comes out and is so insulting to the intelligence that it’s astounding in a so-called paper of quality.